Into my crystal ball. I see Senate Majority...


August 05, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

I'M LOOKING into my crystal ball. I see Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell standing on the floor of his chamber tomorrow. He speaks, sardonically:

"No subject has been more discussed in this chamber than the need to reduce the federal budget deficit. The speeches have been persuasive; the speeches have been powerful; the speeches have been emotional, and, most of all, the speeches have been plentiful.

"If we could have charged fees for the speeches made in this chamber on the need to reduce the deficit, we would have a balanced budget by now. In fact, we would have a surplus."

Now I see Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole rise. He pleads with his fellow Republicans to vote for the deficit reduction package.

Now I see . . . Wait a minute. Bob Dole's for the bill? There's something wrong with this crystal ball. I'm not getting the future. It's the past. I'm picking up C-SPAN II for Oct. 17, 1990. Yep, here's Sen. Jim Sasser promising that the plan they've come up with will save $40-plus billion in 1991 and $500 billion over the next five years.

I don't really have a crystal ball or taped C-SPAN coverage of Senate sessions. I got those quotes from the Congressional Record for the date. (Actually, the speeches I refer to were made on Oct. 17, 1990, but are contained in the Record for "the legislative day of Oct. 2, 1990." Senators can't even keep a diary right, much less balance the national check book.)

Senator Mitchell and Senator Sasser are back at the old stand this week, promising deficit reduction if only Congress will raise taxes. Again. Senator Dole has changed his tune. Say what you will about Bob Dole, he learns from experience.

(Or does he? He's planning to run for president again in 1996. He was soundly whipped in 1988 when he ran against George Bush, whipped even worse in 1980 when he ran against Ronald Reagan, and in 1976, when he ran on the Republican ticket as vice presidential nominee. Some analysts believe he cost Gerald Ford the election.)

The most interesting remarks I found in the Congressional Record for Oct. 17 (Oct. 2), 1990, were not those of a senator but those of the chaplain who opened the debate on the budget deficit reduction bill.

He recalled Belshazzar's Feast in the Book of Daniel, where the king saw the handwriting on the wall, which said he had been weighed and found wanting and his days were numbered. "Help us, Lord," said the chaplain, "not to fail, not to miss the boat (delightful mixed metaphor), not to be found wanting in our responsibility."

Of course, they did miss the boat, they were found wanting. The deficit reduction bill passed, but there has been no deficit reduction. The deficit was higher, not lower as predicted, in all the years since 1990.

Senators escaped blame relatively unscathed. George Bush turned out to be Belshazzar. Is it now Bill Clinton's turn?

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