THE ADMINISTRATION has put Congress in the uncomfortable position of having to vote for another round of harsh budget cuts and, even so, being left with an enormous budget deficit next year. There will be much hand-wringing and haggling as Congress tries to find a more palatable way to satisfy the electorate's desire for a balanced federal budget. What are the choices? Practically none --at least within the framework set by the administration's insistence on further cuts in taxes and increases in defense spending.
To understand the dilemma that Congress--and the country--now faces, you only need to look at what you could afford to buy if you were trying to make the government live within its means. Next year the administration predicts that the government will collect about $666 billion in taxes and other revenues. That's an optimistic number--it assumes strong economic growth and also that Congress will enact several billion dollars in tax "enhancements" that it almost surely won't--but it will do to start. That sounds like a lot of money, but 90 percent of it is needed just for defense, interest on the debt, Social Security and other pension obligations and for scaled-back versions of Medicaid and Medicare.
>That leaves about $65 billion to play around with --except that the government has some other inescapable obligations. Unemployment insurance, for example, has its own state-raised trust fund that is already counted on the revenue side, so it must be paid. And even if Congress buys the administration's cuts in veterans' programs, these will still cost over $24 billion. Then you might want to keep the FBI and courts functioning, the White House, IRS, OMB and other bookkeeping operations in business, conduct foreign affairs, and it would be nice ...
>Wait a minute. You just ran out of money.
That's it. That's all a balanced budget would buy. There would be no money for space probes or scientific resarch, no environmental protection, Coast Guard or air traffic controllers, no national parks or Washington Monument, no National Cancer Institute. No aid for highways or subways or schools or housing or soil conservation. No student loans, no farm subsidies, no training or job programs. No welfare or food stamps or hot meals--not just for poor kids but for the aged and disabled as well. No "big swap" for states and cities--just a big dump.
There wouldn't even be any money in the pork barrel. Not one red cent for locks or dams or waterways or courthouses. That's how tight the budget would be.
Now you can understand why the budget isn't balanced. Balancing it would require dismantling most of the federal government. Since there is no higher mathematics involved in this calculation-- just simple addition and subtraction--you may wonder why Congress didn't recognize the dilemma it was getting into when it let the administration persuade it to vote for record tax cuts and defense increases. Perhaps it didn't want to know.