The eleventh-hour budget compromise announced this past weekend came as no surprise to most astute observers. With congressional elections just five weeks distant, there was little doubt that negotiators would come up with some kind of an agreement preventing the 33 percent automatic budget cut required by the Gramm-Rudman Act from taking effect Oct. 1 as promised.
While the package sounds good, especially when the deficit-reduction is presented as a five-year figure - $500 billion is more impressive than this year's savings of $40 billion - it raises all kinds of questions.For example: If $100 billion worth of automatic budget cuts were threatened in order to meet Gramm-Rudman targets, how can negotiators produce a package that only cuts $40 billion from the 1990-91 budget and still say they have met Gramm-Rudman guidelines?
Although there are cries of pain and talk of great compromises and sacrifices, the whole thing still reeks of the sleight-of-hand usually associated with federal budgetmaking.
The deal worked out between the Bush administration and congressional negotiators must still be passed by the House and Senate this week. Congress will not let the federal government financial structure collapse any more than the negotiators did.
The $40 billion deficit reduction contained in the budget compromise for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 is trifling at best. Even with the cut, the United States will register an all-time $254 billion deficit this year - nearly triple last year's estimate.
An angry American public ought to demand a detailed explanation as to how such a thing is possible. Especially since last year's budget agreement announced that Gramm-Rudman targets would be met. What makes Congress think this year's budget deal is going to work out any better?
This record-setting deficit results from the sneaky practice of building budgets on over-estimated revenues and under-estimated expenditures. Given past performances, it is unlikely that this mind-set will change any time in the near future.
Much of the burden in achieving the $40 billion deficit cut in the coming year will fall on those least able to afford it. The elderly will see a reduction in health care benefits while paying more for the remaining services. Others will see the 1.45 percent payroll tax for medicare extended to apply to a larger share of their earnings.
The gasoline tax will jump another 12 cents per gallon by next July, and consumers can expect additional fuel price increases as oil companies pass on the cost of a 2 percent refinery tax on petroleum products that will go into effect Jan. 1 if the plan receives final approval.
Despite the bombast and rhetoric, it is unlikely that the plan will prove much of a deficit cutting device over the long-term - despite promises of $500 billion in deficit reductions over the next five years.
The budget approved each October at the start of the fiscal year, without exception, bears little resemblance to the finished product the following September. And a cynical Congress knows that from the beginning.
While there is always hope that Congress may someday come to grips with the need for serious deficit reduction, there is little optimism at this point. The greater likelihood is that Congress will continue its spendthrift ways and the annual deficit will continue to grow.