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[From the Evening Star and Daily News, Washington, D.C., Oct. 16, 1972]
SPENDING POWER SHIFT-A RADICAL DEPARTURE
(By Richard Wilson) The temptation to exaggerate runs strong in examining the $250 billion spending ceiling which Congress apparently will grant President Nixon power to impose. But it is potentially the most important new legislative proposal in this session of Congress and perhaps during the whole life of the Nixon first term.
The President would be authorized to limit, curb, revise or perhaps entirely eliminate spending programs adopted by Congress to keep within a $250 billion spending ceiling.
That means President Nixon assuming his re-election, would go into his second term with recognized powers and under mandate to reverse Congress and suspend the expenditure of many billions of dollars already appropriated. Estimates of how much this would involve run from $7 to $15 billions. Opponents claim the entire brunt of budget cuts would come from the $75 billion alloted to programs for education, health, environmental protection, manpower training and other "socially desirable" projects.
A grant of power on this scale is a radical departure from basic understandings of how the government operates. While it is true that presidential authority to reserve the expenditure of funds exists and has been exercised, there never before has been such a direct recognition of a nonreversible presidential veto on congressional spending powers.
This expansion of the presidential authority, taken together with all the other powers which have flowed to the presidency in recent years, could make President Nixon the strongest chief executive in history.
Nixon asked for this authority and he will get it, if the Senate now acts favorably, in large part through the good offices of the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Wilbur Mills of Arkansas.
Said Mills in the closing minutes of debate in the House: “. . The political power of this worries me greatly. If we abdicate here any willingness to join in controlling spending and thereby reducing inflationary pessures, all in the world that the President has to do is go before the American people on TV and ask for a Congress as a result of the vote on Nov. 7, a Congress that will cooperate with him in getting control of spending and in doing something about inflation.
"I tell you—you are playing with your own political lives and destinies.
The House passed the spending limit, the Senate Finance Committee endorsed the proposal and the Senate finally held the key on whether or not there would be limitations on this unusual grant of authority.
The scene was rather pathetic in the House. Congressman after Congressman rose to wring his hands over Congress' uncontrollable will to spend which could only be overcome by a stern President. Others said the hallowed Constitution was being torn to shreds as Congress abdicated its power of the purse to an all powerful presidency. And there were those ready to shed tears over Mills' willingness to surrender congressional prerogatives to a presidency already regarded as too strong.
Mills, the past symbol of conservatism, jealous guardian of congressional rights, was giving in to the political power of the White House. But for how long?
There are those who say Congress will snatch back its authority at the first good opportunity after the election. In any case, the spending limit would, if finally adopted, apply only for one year.
But snatching back this authority will be hard to do, once the principle has been established that Congress cannot control itself in the willy-nilly voting of new spending programs with no advance calculation of how they will totally add up.
In that one year, termed an "experiment" by one member of Congress, the President could shift funds from one project to another. He could bring some programs he deemed ineffective to a virtual halt. If he were all-wise he could make work programs Congress knows are badly administered, wasteful and off the mark but so politically entrenched that Congress has lost its power orer them.
The damage to the Constitution, if any, is probably not so great that it cannot be risked in the interest of seeing if a president of the United States can bring spending under some semblance of control. The incumbent President has not been able to do so but has built up some of the biggest deficits in history with the aiã of an uncontrollable Congress. The prevailing sentiment seems to be that if he now thinks he has found a way to kick the habit, let him try.
(From the Washington Post, Oct. 3, 1972]
THE SPENDING CEILING—Is IT A DOMESTIC "TONKIN GULF"?
(By Hubert H. Humphrey) After nearly four years of fiscal mismanagement, the Nixon administration is now preparing an election year argument to tell the American people that a Democratic Congress is to blame.
The scenario has been carefully constructed. Here it is: The Congress has been on an inflationary spending spree. The President courageously calls the nation's attention to this and then demands a halt to carefree congressional spending. He proposes a $250 billion ceiling on federal expenditures and then asks the Congress to give him blank check authority to cut any programs above this limit. He knows that he has 535 members of Congress over a barrel. Either they consent to his plan and hand over to the White House unprecedented authority to control appropriations or he will label them all “spendthrifts." In an election year, being labeled a spendthrift is to be blamed for inflation, budget deficits, and high taxes.
Richard Nixon dispatches his Treasury Secretary to the influential Ways and Means Committee to make them an offer they can't refuse. They don't refuse. The spending ceiling seems on its way to approval. White House lobbyists are already walking the halls of Congress spreading the word that a rote against the ceiling is a vote for a tax increase. But the plain fact is that, on the contrary. the administration's spending ceiling is an election year ploy; a perversion of prudent fiscal management; a cover-up of a failure to halt inflation; a protective shield for an oversized military budget; a way to erase the social progress of the 1960s; and an outright theft of congressional authority.
Perhaps the greatest danger a spending ceiling poses is not what it will do to individual programs and millions of people that it will affect, but what it will do to the relationship between Congress and the Executive Branch. I spending ceiling places unprecedented power in the hands of the Chief Executive. In effect, it tells Congress : There is no need to scrutinize the budget, there is no need to appropriate funds, indeed, there is little or no need for Congress. The public has been alarmed at the erosion of congressional authority in the field of foreign policy. Now the President asks us for a domestic Gulf of Tonkin resolution.
The Nixon request is a natural outgrowth of the way the administration conducts this nation's fiscal affairs. Consider for a moment the growing power and influence of the Office of Management and Budget over budgetary decisions which were formerly the prerogative of Congress. The spending ceiling is nothing more than a device to augment this power and place it in the hands of persons not responsible to any electorate.
How well does the charge that Congress has overspent stand up to eramination? The answer is: not at all. For the past four years the Congress has out the President's budget requests by over $16 billion. This year alone Congress has already eliminated $1.4 billion of presidential spending. This represents careful, prudent budget review by Congress--not a spending spree. In fact, the Congress has never failed in the past 25 years to cut a President's budget.
The public must not forget that the President has the initial responsibility for the creation of the budget. Whether the presidential budget will be lean or fat is his perision to make. The ('ongress has the right not only to reduce a Presi. dent's moet, but to change his budgetary priorities. This is what members of (wogress are elected to do and this is certainly what this Congress has done.
Do we need a spending ceiling to fight inflation? There are more effective ways, I believe, to control inflation. We should have begun inflation control four years ago---instead of on August 15, 1971–-with wage and price guidelines that had bite. Since we did not, inflation control can best be achieved now through a truly effective wage-price mechanism covering those large firms that have a significant impact on the economy. A spending ceiling is only a ruse and cannot substitute for the needed mechanisms to halt inflation. Much of the reason for deficit financing and inflation is the slow-down of the economy, causing reduced revenues and higher welfare costs.
If the Nixon administration were serious about controlling inflation it would move forcefully in such areas as ending wasteful procurement practices, improving inadequate anti-trust enforcement and revising weak regulatory practices.
If a spending ceiling were to be enacted what programs would likely be eliminated? Just looking at Richard Nixon's veto record gives the clearest indication of what programs this administration considers expenable: education, health care, job creating and training programs and other social service programs that benefit the poor, the hungry and the elderly. It is clear that the spending ceiling offers the administration a convenient way to eliminate or cripple programs relating to human needs without leading a politically unpopular frontal assault on them.
To be sure, the Nixon administration has its budgetary sacred cows such as military procurement and defense spending that won't be cut one nickel. Added to this list must be other generally recognizable untouchables such as interest on the public debt. Medicare, social security and some subsidies. Aside from the vulnerable social service programs, it is likely that the brunt of any cutbacks would be in grants to state and local governments—badly needed programs like water and sewer grants, anti-pollution control funds and transportation aid. It would be ironical if the spending ceiling and revenue sharing came into effect at approximately the same time. The Nixon administration would then be a promoter of a federal funny money game giving revenue with the right hand and taking it back with the left.
It is the responsibility of the Congress to be frugal with the taxpayer's dollar, to search out waste and not to overspend. I am confident that it can continue to do these things without Executive Branch interference or handing the President an item veto over our appropriations.