Magazine article Insight on the News

Reducing the Debt Should Be Congressional Priority

Magazine article Insight on the News

Reducing the Debt Should Be Congressional Priority

Article excerpt

With President Clinton's recent vetoes of legislation that would have eliminated the "marriage-tax penalty" and the death tax, federal lawmakers are down to two options as they decide what to do with next year's $268 billion budget surplus. They either can use it to reduce the national debt or they can spend it.

The president has made his choice: more spending. He's threatening more vetoes -- this time aimed at the fiscal 2001 budget bills winding their way through Congress -- unless lawmakers agree to boost funding for some pet White House projects that will cost an estimated $25 billion to $40 billion.

Of course, with so much public support for debt reduction, and the importance both parties attach to avoiding another budget "train wreck," these must be very important projects, right?

Let's see: Clinton may veto the energy and water appropriations bill because the House placed a $150 million limit on contractor travel after congressional investigators found many government contractors were making weekly trips between Washington and California at taxpayer expense.

Evidently paying down the debt is less important than securing free frequent-flier miles for government contractors.

Then there's the Commerce/Justice/State appropriations bill, which the president may veto because it gives the Legal Services Corp. (LSC), a quasi-federal agency that provides free legal aid to low-income clients, only $141 million -- considerably less than the $340 million he requested.

Never mind that the General Accounting Office, the official government auditing agency, has found the LSC overbilled or double-billed on more than 5,000 cases last year -- or that the agency has been shown to have inflated its client list in an effort to get more funding.

The president may also veto the Treasury/Postal appropriations bill because he strongly objects to the "deeply inadequate" funding given to the IRS ($409 million below his request). That may sound like a lot, but the bill already provides $8.5 billion for the IRS -- and most of the president's proposed increase would go toward agency-restructuring efforts that will be completed before the budget takes effect. …

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