During the decades when Democrats controlled the United States
Congress, Republicans referred to some of the sleight-of-hand that went
on to get around budget constraints as “smoke and mirrors.” What the
Republicans are about to do with the FY-2000 budget will make the old
fashioned “smoke and mirrors” game look tame.
As the public began to worry about the amount of our annual budget
deficits and the growing national debt, our legislators began passing
multi-year budget outlines that placed limits on the amount of their
discretionary spending. The first such restriction was the Byrd balanced
budget law, passed in 1978. Then there was the 1983 Graham Rudman Act,
followed by Bush and Clinton packages, each claiming to save the country
$500 billion. The last such law was the 1997 balanced budget act. The
last four of these agreements had three things in common. They all
called for cuts to be made in discretionary spending. The cuts were to
be made in the “out” years (year three and beyond) of the plans. Each
plan was enacted to allow our elected representatives to weasel out from
under the promises they made in the previous plan before any serious
cuts could be made.
Friday, the Republican leaders of the House and Senate followed in
the well-worn footsteps of the Democratic leaders who have gone before
them and announced that they plan to throw off the shackles of the 1997
deal, with the promise that they will protect the Social Security
surplus. This means they plan to sell us on yet another “new and
improved” budget agreement that will allow for a plethora of new
These new leaders say that they have little choice because the White
House and special interest groups are demanding more spending than the
limits allow. What happened to the interests of the common, everyday,
As the House and Senate raced through the relatively easy
appropriation bills first with little or no cuts in spending, they
steadfastly maintained that they would abide by the caps. They
orchestrated this train wreck by imposing no discipline on the big
spenders in their party and by saving the most contentious bill of all,
Labor, Health and Human Services, for last. It is second only to
defense in size and contains more than a third of domestic discretionary
spending. Now they have the audacity to throw up their hands!
As bad as this is, it gets worse. The promise not to dip into the
Social Security surplus can be kept only with the aid of an elaborate
shell game. The first pea in this shell game is a plan to designate $10
billion of the $16 billion defense buildup as “emergency” in order to
free up another $10 billion for social programs. When something is
designated as an emergency it is taken off budget. In other words, they
just don’t count it. But the money has to come from somewhere. Since
they already agreed to gobble up the non-Social Security surplus, there
is only one place the money can come from, Social Security. This
defense money will be used to get around a new point of order in the
Senate that requires 60 votes to declare something an emergency unless
it involves our national defense.
The second pea in this shell game involves putting approximately $16
billion in spending into FY-2001. The last day of FY-2000 falls on a
Saturday. Normally, in this situation, transfer payments to the states
would go out on Friday, but if these transfer payments are delayed until
the following Monday, they won’t count in FY-2000.
The final pea in this shell game involves sending $5.5 billion of the
$7.5 billion — in what has become the annual farm emergency — out
early in order to get it into FY-1999. Since the start of the new
fiscal year is Oct. 1, can they cut $5.5 billion in checks in the next
two weeks? Of course not! That means they will have to create a
middleman who will hold the money and send out the checks. Just imagine
what a week’s interest on $5.5 billion would be.
In other words, they are pledging not to rob the Social Security
trust fund in FY-2000, but apparently they think it is all right to rob
Social Security in 1999 and 2001.
Do they honestly think they can get away with this elaborate scheme?
Yes they do. In fact, they are trying to sell it to the rank and file
by explaining that the plan is so complicated, the average voter simply
won’t understand it.
It is important that we let them know we do understand it, and this
won’t fly. When you call your elected representatives, ask them to vote
down the “new and improved” budget deal. Ask them to abolish the plan
for this elaborate shell game. And if all else fails, ask if you can be
the middleman for the farmers and hold that $5.5 billion.