How will you balance budget?

Senators such as Tom Harkin, who supported the amendment, should tell voters before re-election time.

For your information from The Light Party

AMES, Iowa - Dear Sen. Harkin: Your father instilled in you an "absolute abhorrence of debt," you told The New York Times the other day. And that, you said, is why you flip-flopped and supported the amendment to balance the budget.

It wasn't politics, you said.

Of course not.

Nor was it politics that prompted four other senators up for re-election next year to switch and support the amendment. Their fathers probably instilled in them an absolute abhorrence of debt, too.

And it's just good luck, presumably, that the politically wise think that your newfound views will help the five of you get re-elected. But be it principle or politics, if those seers are right you'll be representing Iowa in the Senate in the year 2002. And that's the year - amendment or not - that you want the budget balanced.

So don't you think you and your colleagues should tell us in this coming campaign exactly how you intend to do it? This is the last chance we'll have to vote you and the 32 other senators in - or out - before that 2002 deadline.

Aren't we entitled to know your plans, to see your blueprints?

Isn't this what next year's senatorial elections should turn on? Isn't this the most important issue there is? Isn't this what voters should be demanding answers to?

President Clinton's budget for the coming fiscal year totals about $1.6 trillion and includes a $207 billion deficit. Let's assume the deficit is no larger in 2002, although the Congressional Budget Office and others think it will be closer to $325 billion.

How do you propose to balance it, senator?

Of the $1.6 trillion, about two-thirds - or nearly $1.1 trillion - is considered "mandatory" spending for Social Security and Medicare and the interest on the debt. It's impossible to balance the budget by just cutting out a third of the remaining spending, the so-called discretionary spending. Nearly half of that is for defense, and no one wants to wipe that out.

That leaves $287 billion-money spent on education and transportation and health and justice and energy and the like - in which to find that $207 billion. And that simply can't be done.

So senator, what do you have in mind?
What do you have in mind for agriculture?

There are 100,000 farms in Iowa, and they receive about $660 million a year from federal programs. Even Sen. Bob Dole, campaigning for president in Iowa the other day, said a balanced budget would require cuts in farm programs. What would be cut, senator, and by how much? Shouldn't you tell farmers before the election?

And what do you have in mind for Social Security?

Iowa has the highest proportion of old people in the nation. Some 532,000 Iowans receive nearly $4 billion a year in Social Security payments. Would you cut those payments, senator? Social Security is the largest item in the budget, ;and most non-politicians say it will have to be fiddled with eventually if the budget is to be balanced. Do you agree, senator? How much will be cut and when?

The same goes for Medicare (465,000 Iowans get $1.2 billion in Medicare payments annually) and Medicaid (279,000 Iowans, $855,000 in payments). What cuts do you plan?

You get the idea, senator.

If you have an abhorrence of debt, presumably you abhor it even without the Constitution telling you to. You and virtually every other politician in Washington have refused to say how you'd balance the budget.

But isn't now the time to change that?
Isn't now the time to come forth with a plan?
Isn't now the time to show us a blueprint?
This is something that will affect our lives, senator. And yours, too.

(Reprint, USA TODAY, March 7, 1995 Issue, Article by Michael Bartner)

Copyright © 1996. The Light Party.

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