Robert J. Samuelson’s March 4 op-ed column [“How JFK’s mistake led to the sequester mess”] spurred me to think about how to impose some discipline on Congress. Mr. Samuelson noted that a balanced-budget amendment could be ruinous, but I wonder if a more refined version might be beneficial.
Congress should be required to balance non-capital, operating spending (including interest on debt) against income, while capital expenditures (for such things as roads, park land and military hardware) could exceed income. While bonds would not be issued for these items, accounting would be kept to show what we are buying and what interest would be paid to borrow the money to pay for these things.
This approach would be particularly useful in economic downturns. Enhanced spending on capital projects would get people back to work and spur the economy. Heaven knows that we currently need a substantial amount of capital spending to repair decades of neglect of our roads, ports, rails, parks and other structures.
The federal government is about the only entity not required to separate capital spending from operating costs. This approach would impose the discipline that most individuals, companies and state and local governments must meet.
Carl E. Nash, Washington
Robert J. Samuelson’s column on the “sequester mess” was mind-boggling. The top marginal income tax rate in 1963 was 91 percent, a level set during World War II and maintained for no less than 18 years after the war ended. Mr. Samuelson did not mention this fact. President John F. Kennedy’s “mistake,” as Mr. Samuelson described it, was to reduce the top rate to 70 percent. That produced deficits of less than 1 percent of gross domestic product until the Vietnam War grew in scope. Is Mr. Samuelson suggesting that the 91 percent rate should have remained in place forever? Is he not aware that the 1960 campaign theme on which JFK ran after two Eisenhower recessions was “Let’s get America moving again”? How can anyone seriously blame today’s sequester mess on a 50-year-old decision to reduce tax rates from 91 percent?
A better reference point for Mr. Samuelson’s thesis might have been President Ronald Reagan, who cut taxes further in the 1980s and racked up several annual deficits of 4 percent to 6 percent of gross domestic product, the largest peacetime deficits seen up to that time.
Jerome Libin, Washington