Forlorn Fantasies

October 06, 1990

We patiently await the Bentley-Dyson-Mfume Alternative to the bipartisan budget agreement rejected by the House of Representatives. Those of our readers who have never heard of the BDMA need not despair. As of this writing it does not exist; it is merely a forlorn fantasy.

Helen Delich Bentley, a Republican from Baltimore County; Roy Dyson, a something-or-other who purports to represent Southern Maryland, the Eastern Shore and Harford County, and Kweisi Mfume, a Democrat from Baltimore City, are now condemned by history to share one thing in common: They were the only members of the eight-person Maryland delegation to vote down the five-year, $500 billion deficit reduction formula devised by President Bush and the Democratic and Republican leadership in Congress.

Each of these politicians must surely have an alternative plan for rescuing the country from fiscal paralysis -- a plan that adheres to the individual principles and priorities each brings to the task of governance. As responsible servants of the people, they also must surely know that the American political system can work only through the process of compromise and consensus.

Therefore, it is logical for their constituents to expect they will commune together in a sort of Maryland mini-summit to come up with a Bentley-Dyson-Mfume Alternative. So sensible, so compelling, it will dazzle all of Washington and sweep through to become the law of the land.

If an element of doubt creeps into our musings, it is because the Republican right, the Democratic left and the pragmaticians who bend with the wind knew what they were against when they voted against the budget agreement. But the specifics of what they were for were either not thought out or wholly irreconcilable.

How this whole mess is sorted out may be decided before this newspaper hits your doorstep, or during a frantic fortnight of maneuvering, or by the midnight termination date of the 101st Congress on Jan. 3, 1991, or sometime before the end of the century. In the meantime, the business of running the federal government has become a travesty, not just because of the shortcomings of the politicians involved but because of flaws that have been allowed to develop in the system.

In the name of "reform," the power of legislative leaders and committee chairmen has been eroded to the point where the rank and file is out of control. When this touch of anarchy is added to the structural incompatibility of a Republican presidency and a Democratic congressional majority dedicated to diametrically opposite goals in the distribution of wealth, the nation is saddled with a built-in recipe for breakdown or improvisation in an atmosphere of chaos.

No wonder the United States of America awaits the Bentley-Dyson-Mfume Alternative.

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