The "radical spenders" have at last convened in Washington to consider the multitudinous ways in which President Eisenhower may be thwarted in his attempt to achieve a balanced budget. It appears quite likely that they can and will succeed in their efforts, and, translated into moral terms, this means a crisis for the Administration.
The surprising thing about the Administration's budget is not that it is not realistic in view of this year's $12 billion deficit, but that in its attempts to cut down expenditures, it has singled out the sectors of the economy closest to home. For instance, with a tight-purse policy the President believes he can save $600 million in housing expeditures, $400 million in agricultural expenditures, and $400 million by ending federal payments to State unemployment compensation programs (this despite the 4 million still unemployed).
In addition, Ike hopes to reduce the recurrent $350 million postal deficit by raising postal rates to 5 cents an ounce. And to top it all off, he expects Congress to approve an increase of 1 1/2 cents a gallon in the federal gasoline tax. This version of the "austerity program" hasn't a political prayer of being passed, and for more than one good reason.
The housing, agricultural, and unemployment compensation cuts affect substantial segments of the low and middle income brackets, the restless majority recovering slowly in the wake of the recession. But the President is optimistic about business recovery; in fact, he is counting on it desperately to raise needed government revenue. In spite of this emerging bull market, however, he is strangely reluctant to take such measures as restoring the cut in the capital gains tax (which cost the government $4 billion in annual revenue) the Administration made four years ago.
Instead, the President declares there will be no general income tax relief and in the same breath proposes such regressive measures as the postal increase and the gasoline tax raise. Such fiscal irresponsibility on the President's part, and his unbridled indifference for the lingering distressed areas of the economy, has to be explained in other than economic terms.
No doubt the President's public conscience is beginning to bother him. He feels, and with good reason, that the Administration has not sufficiently lived up to its repeated campaign promise of a balanced budget. Its record on that score now stands at two wins and four losses, but as more than one critic pointed out, if George Humphrey could not cut down government spending, who can?
There can be little doubt that Congress will reject the Administration's budget estimate in favor of a higher one, possibly one as high $83 billion. This action will come, not because of any insurgent radicalism on the part of the Democrats, but because Congress has learned that there are more things one can do with money than save it, and this is a sometime good thing. The Administration's efforts to cut down on government expenses are certainly laudable, but in the terms of the sports world, Ike should have learned by now that the object is not to kill the ball, but to meet it squarely.