THESE DAYS when you think of the "truly needy," the name at the top of the list is OMB Director David Stockman. As he burns the midnight oil, Stockman desperately needs to find more federal programs to cut in his quixotic quest for a blanced budget.
He's in a terrible quandary. He can't touch Social Security of the military budget, yet all the easy, painless cuts have already been approved by Congress. What he dreams of discovering are a few more ill-conceived and ineptly run Great Society program. Like these five new nominees for the budget ax:
1. Wine and Cheese Stamps :
Often ridiculed as "food stamps for the rich," this $879 million feeding program was originally developed in 1971 by the now-defunct Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. Its goal was to foster "crime awareness" in suburban neighborhoods plagued by high rates of burglaries and break-ins. A $13 million study by the Rand Corporation recommended a neighborhood self-help effect centering around wine and cheese parties that would feature an LEAA outreach worker as guest speaker. Since LEAA funds could not be used for the purchase of alcholic beverages or imported cheeses, Congress approved a direct federal subsidy program for participating neighborhoods. Thanks to heavy pressure from the dairy lobby and leading California vineyards, the program survived the death of LEAA and is now administered by the Food and Nutrition Service in the Agriculture Department. Based on 1979 redemption statistics, French brie and California chardonnay are the programs's most popular items.
2. The National Regulatory Training Institute :
Since it was established in 1975, after skillful congressional lobby by Ralph Nader, the $373 million National Institute has quietly gone about its business training the cream of the crop of young regulators from agencies such as OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency. Here, amid the pastoral calm of a campus overlooking the Pacific Ocean near Carmel, Calif., these young regulators learn the fine points of harassing small business. Standards are strict, with regulators graded on how many violations they can find during mock inspection tours of the Institute's own factories. But it's not all work and no play for these dedicated federal employes. Classes end at noon, leaving time for wine-tasting, hiking and strenuous physical exercise on the Institue's 14 tennis courts.
3. The Federal Home Library Assistance Corporation :
This is another of those off-budget government loan programs that have drawn Stockman's ire in the past. First proposed in Lyndon Johnson's 1968 State of the Union Message, the assistance corporation began as a $50 million demonstration project in fiscal year 1969, but now has more than $1.4 billion inoutstanding loans. Its laudable goal is to enhance the continuing education of any duly certified graduate of a college, university or vocational school that meets accreditation standards established by the commissioner of education.
Low-interest HOLAC loans of up to $1,500 per annum can only be used for the purchased of quality paperbacks for one's personal library. The quarterly meetings of the blue-ribbon advisory committee of prominent academics which establishes the approved reading list have often been the scene of bitter quarrels. Stockman himself appeared before the advisory committee last February to plead the case for George Gilder's "Wealth and Poverty," which the OMB director called "Promethean in its intellect." Ever since the advisory committee rejected Gilder's book, Washington insiders have known that the assistance corporation was high on the OMB hit list.
4. The Homemaker Relief Act :
When asked about his Senate career, former Vice President Walter Mondale would always point to this $1.1 billion program as "my favorite example of Democratic compassion." He was vice president, however, when the bill was finally approved by the Congress in the spring of 1977. But the program itself is vintage Mondale, combining his passion for federally funded day care with his long interest in private charity or, as he calls it, "the voluntary sector." It was during the initial 1973 Senate hearings that Mondale first expressed the rationale for the relief act: "Why must financial need be a requirement for day care? What about the millions of college-educated homemakers who are trapped at home all day carring for screaming, unappreciative children? What a tragic waste of talent as voluntary agencies like the Junior League wither on the vine from a shortage of volunteers."
Mondale's bill solved both problems. Upon furnishing the government with a volunteer voucher from any tax-exempt organization, a homemaker is entitled to 20 hours a week in free day care. Since its inception, however, the relief act has been plagued by scandal. Congressional investigators found that in Shaker Heights, Ohio, counterfeit volunteer vouchers were fetching $750. Another "voucher ring" was discovered operating out of the Bloomingdale's in Stamford, Conn. Strongly supported by feminist groups and charities like the March of Dimes, the relief act, however, emerged as one of the "safety net" programs exempt from the first round of Reagon budget cuts.
5. The Bolling-Long-Thompson Act :
Affectionately known on Capitol Hill as the "BLT Act," this proposal first surfaced in the 1964 Democratic platform as the AFL-CIO's top legislative priority. During the presidential campaign that year Barry Goldwater heaped ridicule on the idea with the applause-gettingline, "There is no such thing as a free lunch." Goldwater lost and the BLT Act passed Congress in the summer of 1965. This law, which supplements the controversial Davis-Bacon Act, provides a free and nutritionally adequate lunch to union workers on federally funded construction projects. The BLT Act, which had been little noticed for more than a decade, emerged as a conservative target in 1977 following publication of a AEI study which estimated its cost to the taxpayers at over $300 million a year.
Up to now, organized labor has beaten back all attempts to rescind the act. However, a 1980 Senate filibuter by Orrin Hatch prevented passage of a Carter administration proposal that would have given covered workers the choice of the free lunch or its cash equivalent. OMB now claims that its annual cost is $550 million, but a recent statement in defense of the BLT act by AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland called this "a small price to pay to guarante that the American worker is the best fed in the free world."
There you have it, five liberal programs costing about $3 billion a year that could restore the smile to David Stockman's lips and bring the color back to his cheeks. Too bad they only exist the fantasy, because in the troubled times Stockman needs all the help he can get.