Balanced-Budget Bid Is Gaining Support in the New Congress Critics Say It Would Endanger the Economy but Concede US Debt Problem Is Worsening
John Dillin, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
HERE it comes again - the explosive proposal that horrifies government bureaucrats, worries President Clinton, but thrills many taxpayers. It's the proposed balanced-budget amendment to the United States Constitution.
Within weeks, Congress begins debating the 308-word amendment that would touch every American's pocketbook. Advocates are optimistic. Strong support is coming from Republicans and Democrats, including the House and Senate freshmen class.
Foes are revving up their opposition, though. Sen. Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia, a strident critic, denounces the amendment as a spineless retreat by lawmakers afraid to make tough budget decisions. He condemns the amendment as "a cop-out" that is as "phony as a $3 bill." He claims that it would put the economy in a constitutional straitjacket.
Critics warn that if the amendment were passed, and if Washington were forced to live within its income, taxes would rise, Social Security payments would be cut, health-care reform would be killed, and jobs would be lost.
Mr. Clinton, writing to Senate majority leader George Mitchell (D) of Maine, urged the amendment's defeat, saying it would "endanger our economy" by cutting outlays during recessions. "A balanced-budget amendment could threaten the livelihoods of millions of Americans," the president said. "I cannot put them in such peril."
Sen. Paul Simon (D) of Illinois, the Senate's leading champion of the amendment, counters that unless deficits are eliminated, every federal program is put at risk.
He told an American Association of Retired Persons meeting last year:"If we do not act, interest payouts will spiral upward until they consume not only Social Security, but also health care, education, transportation investments...."
Senator Simon warns: "A rising tide of red ink sinks all boats."
Even opponents of the amendment agree that there is a deepening problem with the national debt. The numbers appall both taxpayers and congressmen.
For example, in 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected president, the total debt owed by the federal government was $909 billion - or $4,012 for every man, woman, and child in the US.
By this week, federal officials say the debt had risen to $4.834 trillion - or $18,636.02 for every American. A family of four owes, through its federal government, $74,544.08 to creditors.
Like any debtor, American taxpayers now find their obligations coming due. …