President Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., should abandon their tax-cut plans and join in attacking the deficit.
If there ever was a perfect time to work on spending cuts and toward balancing the budget in about seven years it is now.
The economy is booming and unemployment is about as low as it is likely to get in the near future. People may complain but this is one of the best periods in American history.
Among the better parts of the rosy scene is that the prospects of major war in which the United States would become engaged are very low.
Unfortunately, Gingrich is planning to bring a tax-cut bill to the floor of the House this week. It would cost $189 billion over the next five years. The GOP tax-reduction bill calls for a cut in the capital-gains rate that would mainly benefit the rich, a tax credit of $500 per child for parents earning up to $200,000 and other provisions that mainly would benefit the affluent.
(In a break with their party's leadership on the "Contract With America," more than 100 House Republicans last week asked GOP leaders to limit a $500-a-child tax cut to families earning $95,000 or less.)
The effect of this super-generous tax-cut bill would be to increase red ink by almost $200 billion. Most economists agree that the only way to balance the budget between now and the year 2002 would be to sharply reduce the increase in spending and not reduce taxes.
Fortunately, the Founding Fathers had the good sense to create a government with a legislature of two houses.
On the House side, Gingrich is moving ahead like a bull in a china shop. One political pollster described him as follows:
"He burst on to the scene, apparently with enormous power, and nobody knew him. Then he has these scary ideas, and he communicates them in a scary way. His tone is strident and aggressive and dismissive. There is anger in his voice."
Over on the Senate side of the Capitol, there is much more reason and restraint.
Chairman Bob Packwood, R-Ore., of the Senate Finance Committee, last week said Republicans and Democrats on his committee are prepared to make spending cuts of up to $700 billion over the next seven years to wipe out the federal deficit.
Sen. Packwood spoke following a weekend meeting on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin also attended the conclave. In a speech last week to the National Association of Manufacturers, Packwood stated: "If there are any spending cuts of any magnitude that are real, we ought to consider -- before we consider tax cuts -- whether or not we would like to use that money to reduce the deficit."
Another senator who attended the weekend meeting was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y. His opinion on when to attack the deficit was expressed in a single word: "Now."
Packwood pointed out that federal spending is expected to increase by about $3 trillion over the next seven years. He emphasized that if that growth could be reduced to about $2 trillion the deficit would probably be eliminated. The Clinton administration is reporting that the deficit is on a downward course in terms of its size relative to the total U.S. economy.
Much has been said about the effects of budget cuts on living Americans. But one thing is certain, the best thing this generation of Americans could do for future generations would be to move in these good times to slash spending and begin early in the next century with a balanced budget.