There are needs. There are wants. But we face the highest deficits in our nation's history.
Reaganomics has failed to provide economic stimulus as promised. Massive increases in defense spending and a massive loss of revenue all at once have locked the economy into a deep freeze. Business, ready to take advantage of new tax incentives and lower interest rates, has withheld investment for fear of future economic instability. It sees little hope in projected federal deficits of $200 to $250 billion.
Laudably, people are now saving at a rate of 7 percent of the Gross National Product. But a deficit at 4 to 5 percent of GNP leaves only 2 to 3 percent for industrial expansion. Such a result can only lead to economic disaster and a return to 18-to-20-percent interest rates. No new machinery or expansion program will be launched in that atmosphere. So, business is sitting back, investing in financial paper and mergers and waiting for Congress to thaw the economy with lower deficits.
But in dealing with our problems, we are jockeying for our wants. Congress wants more increases for veterans, civil service and congressional retirement, more education, more housing, more transportation. The president wants more defense and more tax cuts.
Now, we can dance around the fire over these wants, have another standoff like last year, cut a little bit here, add a little there and refuse to come to grips with needs. We can muddle along a path of high deficits, high unemployment and no investment. Or we can give America a chance.
To give it a chance, let's begin by being realistic about our needs.
1) There is a need to balance the Social Security budget--not balance the federal budget on the backs of Social Security recipients.
2) There is a need to prevent further cuts in much-needed social service programs.
3) There is a need to provide for a strong defense and provide for a modest buildup.
4) There is a need to check the flow of lost revenue.
5) And there is a need to prevent the leaving of a debt-paying burden to future generations.
In order to meet these needs, we will be required to deny all wants. What is called for is a discipline of sacrifice, a shared sacrifice across the board.
Just as FDR closed the banks to save them and plowed under the crops to save the farms, we must freeze the federal budget to thaw the economy. We must freeze tax rates, freeze defense spending and freeze entitlement growth linked to automatic cost-of-living ajdustments. This, combined with an accommodating monetary policy, is a no-nonsense plan to revive our economy.
Freezing taxes means that we put a tourniquet on the revenue hemorrhage. The business tax cuts commencing Jan. 1, 1981, plus the 5 percent personal tax cut starting Oct. 1, 1981, were to join the psychology of expectations to give us a boom of 5 percent real growth in GNP in the last quarter of 1981. Instead, it was 5 percent negative growth. The 10 percent tax cut of six months ago was supposed to really get us going. But still no growth.
It should be obvious now that the need is not for stimulation but for lower deficits. The need is not for increased taxes but a holding of the line and a deferring of the 10 percent personal tax cut scheduled for this July. And to make sure the budget doesn't start bleeding again, the need is to cancel the indexing of revenues.
Freezing defense means that we limit ourselves to the 3 percent real growth commitment made to NATO. There is a need to slow down the enormous defense increases of '81, '82 and '83, which have led to a whopping $97 billion cumulative increase. With d,etente during the 1970s, we cut defense and stepped down our military-industrial complex. It cannot be reincarnated overnight. It will take a gradual buildup of about five years.
There is no way the Pentagon can efficiently absorb such large increases. Last year, Paul Thayer, former chairman of LTV Corp. and now deputy defense secretary, told the president the Pentagon wanted to spend money faster than contractors could produce materiel. For the good of defense, as well as the economy, a deliberate phase-in of these increases is in order.
Freezing entitlement growth means for one year those on federal pensions, Social Security and those receiving federal pay would do without an increase for cost of living. That would be followed by a 3 percent cap on cost-of-living adjustments in 1984 and 1985. Food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid and supplemental security income would be exempt--people on these programs have sacrificed enough already. Under such a plan, entitlements and pay, including Social Security, would not be allowed to increase uncontrollably, but they would not have to suffer the fear of more Draconian cuts. No one would lose his or her eligibility or current benefits. The programs would remain, and future generations would not be left to pay their own bills and ours.
I am not saying that my plan will be easy or without pain, but it is workable. It doesn't cut spending. It doesn't raise new taxes. And it will save $175 to $200 billion over the next three years. All it requires is a president leading the call for all Americans to sacrifice. In this way, the country will be united in the drive for recovery, and Congress will know that the best politics is no politics.
But if the president leads for his wants, Congress will lead for its wants. There will be no discipline, no sacrifice, no recovery.
So, Mr. President, if not you, then who? If not now, then when?