The federal budget deficit targets set by the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law over the next three years "appear to be both politically attainable and economically sound, given the current state of the economy," according to a group of prominent Brookings Institution economists.
"The specified downward path of deficits is not likely to be so steep as to precipitate a recession," the economists wrote in a review of the federal budget, which is scheduled for release today. "Indeed, the fall in oil prices and further declines in the value of the dollar and interest rates can be expected to stimulate the economy and offset the restrictive effect of deficit reduction."
Authors of the review, "Economic Choices 1987," include Alice Rivlin, former head of the Congressional Budget Office, and Charles L. Schultze, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Carter administration. The others are Henry J. Aaron, Harvey Galper, Joseph A. Pechman and George L. Perry. Rivlin is director of economic studies at Brookings and the others are senior fellows there.
Even after the first round of mandatory spending cuts under Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, the deficit for the current fiscal year is forecast to be $200 billion or more, an amount equal to about 5 percent of the gross national product. Gramm-Rudman-Hollings sets a target of $144 billion for the fiscal 1987 deficit, with each succeeding year's target lowered by $36 billion and the budget balanced in 1991.
While the authors endorsed the deficit targets through 1989, they urge that they not be achieved just by spending cuts concentrated in a limited number of nondefense programs, as recommended by President Reagan in his 1987 budget. They also rejected the process of automatic cuts in defense and some nondefense programs required by Gramm-Rudman-Hollings if the targets are missed by more than $10 billion.
Instead, the authors proposed a set of smaller spending cuts supplemented by a tax increase that would raise about $50 billion in fiscal 1989. Whether the deficit should be eliminated after the following two years would depend upon economic developments between now and 1989, they said.
The Gramm-Rudman-Hollings process of automatic cuts is a sort of "doomsday machine" that everyone wants to avoid at all costs, they said. "Slashing defense spending as much as would be required under the package that preserves Gramm-Rudman-Hollings priorities would be risky to national security," they argued.
Similarly, they added, under Gramm-Rudman-Hollings "deep cuts in civilian programs would curtail important government services. Programs that hardly anyone regards as wasteful -- scientific research, medical care for low-income people, job training, and maintenance of the nation's highways and bridges -- would be cut."
The president has proposed "some sensible cuts and reforms in various programs," the authors said, but "his continued commitment to defense growth and opposition to a tax increase force him to subject social programs to cuts that are both excessive and politically unacceptable."
The economists listed several options for tax increases to raise $50 billion in 1989, including higher excise taxes on gasoline, alcohol and tobacco and a new tax on domestic and imported crude oil, a 4 percent value added tax and higher income taxes.
They said they prefer an increase in corporate and personal income tax rates once this year's tax code overhaul is completed. Either a 2 percentage point increase in personal and corporate rates or a 9 percent surcharge would raise the required amount, they estimated.
The authors also urge consideration of changes in the current budget process, which they said has been severely strained by the impasse on how to deal with the deficit.
Gramm-Rudman-Hollings ought to be repealed and the rest of the budget process greatly simplified, they said, with budgets adopted for two years and the authorization and appropriation functions handled by only one committee.