A very long time ago, when I was just a youth, I attended my first office Christmas party and there drank my first martini. And my second and possibly my third, although by then I could no longer count. As a result, I (1) got into a fight with a colleague, (2) made a pass at the head of the steno pool, and (3) offered my supervisor an assessment of her personality. I told her she was a witch.
All this did wonders for my career in the insurance business and for a single night's work it is probably unmatched. The only thing that comes close is the performance of Congress, which having gone on a toot of its own, has waked up to discover that the budget is not going to be balanced in the foreseeable future and that the deficit for the next fiscal year alone might be $100 billion.
Oh, to hear the moans. Oh, to hear the oaths. Oh, to hear congressman after congressman, senator after senator, denounce the fiscal situation as unacceptable, wonder how it all happened and insist that the president do something. All of this moaning and groaning, complaining and imploring, is being done as if the budget deficit is a totally unexpected surprise. It seems that few people in Congress could figure out that if you cut taxes and raise defense spending you are going to have a deficit.
But of course, they all knew. At least they should have known. Back during the Republican presidential debate in January 1980, when the question of how you cut taxes, increase defense spending and balance the budget was put to all the major candidates but Ronald Reagan (who did not participate in the Iowa debate), not one of them could answer the question with any specificity. The one who did, John Anderson, put it this way:
"How do you balance the budget, cut taxes and increase spending at the same time? It's very simple. You do it with mirrors."
As for the others in the debate, Sen. Robert Dole, George Bush, Rep. Phil Crane, Sen. Howard Baker and John Connally, they all seemed to assume it could be done if expenditures were cut sufficiently. Even so, Bush later characterized this plan, the core of the Reagan economic program, as "voodoo economics," and as late as August 1981, Baker acknowledged that "what we are doing is really a riverboat gamble . . . We are gambling that this new economics will work, and it will, in my judgment."
Having said that, Baker waxed virtually poetic on Face The Nation: "I expect that after we pass this program on Monday and Tuesday of this coming week, that the country will pitch in and do what it must do, that industry will accelerate the business of new jobs and new investment, that men and women who work will work more diligently and efficiently and effectively, and that churches and philanthropic organizations will begin picking up the slack on social concerns and responsibilities. And you're going to see an esprit de corps in this country that will be as important as the direct economic benefits of this program."
Talk about mirrors! This was not economics. This was drivel. Where were the numbers? You did not hear from Baker, or from the other Republican leaders, the sound of someone doing addition, figuring how in the world you can cut taxes, increase defense and still balance the budget. All you really heard was the sound of men like Baker and Bush swallowing their intellectual convictions so they could go along with the program--even ignoring the confessions of David Stockman. Given a choice between Stockman as propagandist and Stockman as the administration's CPA, they preferred the former.
It is probably not fair to single out these men when most of Congress simply rolled over and played dead last year. It went on a bender. It would not heed the warnings of more cautious types who kept yelling, in the manner of some fiscal Cassandra, that the numbers did not add up--that there was not all that much fat in the domestic side of the budget and that the tax cut was too big. When it came to turning a deaf ear, the Republicans took the lead, but the Democrats--many of them, anyway--were only too glad to follow. They made wonderful collaborationists.
So now it is the morning after and all around is strewn wreckage from the night before. I know the feeling, gentlemen, but I was drunk.
What's your excuse?