FY 2002's First Day
October 1, 2001
We launched the appropriations season with the luxury of
lockboxes. The federal coffers were flush – overflowing in fact – and the
years of plenty spread a feast of spending possibilities. Partisans tussled over prescription drugs and faith-based
initiatives, education and missile defense. They dreamed of bridges and
libraries and statues for their districts, each bidding for a slice of the
surplus. For a time, it seemed
there would be something for everyone. Until
September 11. “They are not
long,” wrote Ernest Dowson, “The days of wine and roses.”
Today marks the first day of the new fiscal year, and the
ledger sheet opens to a grim forecast. We
close the books on FY 2001 with a $121 billion surplus, significantly less than
the $304 billion projected by the Congressional Budget Office just this spring.
As Washington opens its wallet to answer the attacks, Democrats on the
House Budget Committee say that next year’s $2 trillion budget could run
between $8 billion and $70 billion in the red.
Projections are inexact as analysts cannot precisely factor the
economy’s ability to bounce back or the depth and duration of our anti-terror
Late last week, GOP leaders in the House pounded out a deal
with Senate Democrats to spend $686 billion – significantly more than the $661
billion budget resolution limit, and $7 billion more than Republicans previously
supported. Big ticket items in the
upcoming budget include $26 billion in emergency spending, aid to the struggling
airline industry, and a soon to be announced stimulus package.
Details on the economic engine starter have yet to be announced, but
experts suggest it could weigh in at $100 billion in the form of payroll tax
rebates to low-income workers. The
capital gains rate cut proposed prior to Sept. 11 has fallen out of favor.
If the economy continues to decline despite federal efforts
to stabilize it, increased welfare and unemployment pay-outs as well as
decreased federal revenue from capital gains, payroll and income taxes and
corporate profits could further drain reserves. The surplus is a prediction, not an account already banked
Thus, the case for restraint. In an effort to match the
country’s cohesion, legislators have taken pains not to appear contentious,
but in so doing have muzzled the usual watchdogs.
The $40 billion emergency relief package passed before either the White
House or the Hill had figured out to spend it, and more blank checks await.
Democrat Robert Matsui warns, “We have basically opened the door for
anything. This is the real
As we dig out from terror’s rubble, a degree of new spending is justified. Defense and security measures, relief and reconstruction rightly headline the budgetary priority list. But with our fortunes failing, we cannot fund these necessities while financing a surplus-style expansion of other federal programs. Unfortunately, we’re still trying to have it all. Much as the tug-of-war over the Social Security trust fund grated on the nation’s nerves, it provided a measure of restraint missing since the tragedy. With the lockbox’s combination cracked, every spending item is suddenly essential to the fight against terrorism, and dissenting votes draw disapproving glares. Yet those asking budget-busting programs to wait in line – or better still to hold the line – make better sense than their free-spending compatriots. Until we know the dimensions of this war and the resilience of our economy, Congress must show compassion by means other than an unlimited credit line, for dark though these days may be, this is not time to confuse profligacy with patriotism.
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