Nitpickers and naysayers are out in force on Capitol Hill. Republican conservatives detest higher taxes. Liberal Democrats deplore higher Medicare payments. Rural legislators can't stand the loss of farm subsidies. Everyone has a pet plan that adheres to the old Russell Long formula: "Don't tax him, don't tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree." Or a variation to the effect that one lawmaker's favorite program is another's poison.
Yet let members of Congress beware. If they reject the bipartisan budget agreement worked out by the administration and the legislative leadership, they had better be able to force through a better alternative. If they vote to do nothing, they are voting for recession, fiscal chaos and a worldwide loss in U.S. creditability.
There is almost no possibility of a better alternative. Between the likes of a Republican Newt Gingrich and a Democratic Henry Waxman, there is a philosophical Grand Canyon that makes the differences between Democratic Speaker Tom Foley and Republican Senate leader Bob Dole look like a snail's trail in the sand. So if the naysayers succeed in killing the budget agreement, voters should demand of them and their adherents what they propose in its place.
In the runup to an election, no politician wants to impose higher gasoline taxes on constituents already hard-hit by the Iraq-caused price rise or anger old folks by increasing their Medicare payments. That's why so many are tempted to do the easy thing -- to cast a nay vote. We hope this is no escape. If Congress fails as an institution to deal with the budget mess, voters should throw out those rascals who fail to live up to their constitutional responsibilities. This newspaper will be watching
the Maryland delegation.
Time is short. The outlook is grim. This week Congress has to pass a budget resolution or face the same meat-ax spending cuts and governmental breakdown that threatened at midnight Sunday. If this high hurdle is passed, there will be a series of deadlines and crises culminating in a showdown Oct. 19 or 20. The monkey is on Congress' back, be it noted, because President Bush has already swallowed hard to avert a dreaded Gramm-Rudman sequester.
Mr. Bush and the legislative leaders who compromised heavily to get an agreement should keep lobbying the rank and file on Capitol Hill. But something more is needed: an extraordinary appeal to public sentiment. We suggest a nationwide broadcast featuring the president, the speaker, Senator Dole and his Democratic counterpart, Sen. George Mitchell. This quartet should try to sell their plan with all persuasive arts they can muster. Their Rose Garden comments Sunday were too short, too impromptu. Such a complicated budget package needs a national airing, a national explanation, a national convincing.