Share this article

print logo

DEMOCRATS, BUDGET CHIEF CLASH OVER ECONOMIC FORECASTS, DEFICIT FOES WILL FIND IT TOUGH TO SURMOUNT PRESIDENT'S STRATEGY, OWN DISARRAY

For all the passion of their attack, the Democrats who control Congress will have no easy time refiguring the 1991 budget that President Bush has handed up.

There are two basic reasons. First, the Bush budget is rich in the reassuring symbolism, and little of substance, that put him into the Oval Office in 1988.

Budget Director Richard Darman boasts that the administration is making major inroads on the deficit. However, the real deficit is about the same size it was in 1982, 1984 and 1987.

Bush is claiming a "paper" deficit of only $63 billion. But the real deficit shows in the amount being added to the national debt in 1991: $200 billion.

Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady said the budget holds the line on taxes. But Social Security payroll taxes increased an average of $600 per household last New Year's Day.

Bush was going to be the education president. Yet he proposes rolling back aid programs designed to help the nation's young people get through college.

Bush is the environment president, proposing to elevate the Environmental Protection Agency to departmental level.

Yet in reality, he would slow down Superfund and has withdrawn from some global efforts to improve the environment.

In the campaign, and in his inaugural address, Bush comforted a nation grown restive over Reagan's machismo by invoking a "kinder, gentler nation."

Yet Bush would slash aid that helps elderly people pay their heating bills, reduce money for school lunches, and trim special school aid for the handicapped, the blind and the deaf.

The second reason the Democratic-controlled Congress will have trouble making broad changes in the budget deals with the mind-set of the Congress itself.

Perhaps no post-World War II Congress has been less popular than this one, with constituent resentment over ethics and self-dealing on the rise. Its majority is preoccupied with the question of political survival, not program.

Any cohesive base that House Democrats had for attacking the Bush administration was lost in last year's ethics brawl, which saw the departure of Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas, and his third in command, Minority Whip Tony Coelho, D-Calif.

In Wright's place is Speaker Tom Foley, D-Wash., who has begun his first full year in a backstairs dis
agreement with his own leadership over what to do about Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., and his call for a roll-back in Social Security payroll taxes.

Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., who harbors presidential ambitions, wants the House to support Moynihan. Foley has said he wouldn't vote for it today.

Judging from the way the Bush administration has reacted to Moynihan's call for a $57 billion reduction in payroll taxes, the Moynihan bill may be all the majority party has going for it.

Although none of the Democratic leadership has endorsed Moynihan's plan, Republicans approach it with the fervor of an old Cold War adversary. Alfred Delli Bovi, undersecretary of housing and urban development, gratuitously called it "the Moynihan tax increase bill." Bush charged the Democrat's plan is a mask for a tax increase.

The administration even recruited Michael Boskin, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, into the campaign against Moynihan. Boskin warned Monday of the dangers to the nation of "yanking large amounts of money out of the revenue base."

The Democrats are not without rhetorical opportunities. Gov. Cuomo's man in Washington, Brad C. Johnson, called Bush spending plan "a Cold War budget" because of its cuts in social programs and continued spending on big weapons systems.

But cohesion and discipline are what the Democrats don't have. Without it, they're going to have a nearly impossible task reshaping the outline of a budget that allegedly cuts the deficit, calls for no new taxes, and pays homage to the nation's concerns about the environment and education.

Budget Director Darman was asked in a briefing whether the administration's willingness to spend billions for a super collider project while cutting aid to mass transit wasn't "placing more importance on moving protons than on moving people."

Darman struggled for an answer, and then said something about "a difference in philosophies about federal responsibility."

The philosophy may be about winning.

There are no comments - be the first to comment