GOP: Infighting over the Budget

March 07, 1995

Now that the Senate has put aside the phony Balanced Budget Amendment, it is time it launched into serious action to balance the budget. There's a way to do this. Not by mucking up the Constitution with political gestures. But by cutting spending harshly and protecting the federal revenue base from the "middle class tax cuts" proposed by both parties in defiance of economic common sense.

Instead, some irate Senate Republicans figure this is revenge time against Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., who dared to cast the sole real GOP vote against the BBA. They want to depose him as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. What a spectacle this would be -- to punish a senator for voting for principle rather than succumbing to party discipline! Especially a veteran senator with a mind of his own who even offered to resign his seat rather than vote against his conscience.

Senate Republican leader Bob Dole, now in hot pursuit of the presidency, stirred the pot against Senator Hatfield by noting that the maverick Oregonian had voted for a Balanced Budget Amendment in 1982. "It's not that he's had this forever-held view," Mr. Dole declared. He neglected, however, to chide Republican Senators Nancy Kassebaum, William Cohen and and John Chafee for their inconsistency in having voted against the BBA in 1982 and for it this time. Nor did he allude to the instances he himself incurred the wrath of the ultra-conservatives by opposing inanities in Reaganomics that quadrupled the national debt in 12 years of Republican presidential rule.

Senator Dole should advise his fellow Republicans to cool it -- especially his deputy, Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, who said Senator Hatfield's vote "exhibited an awful lot of arrogance" in rejecting the feelings of his constituency and his party leadership. And all the time we thought senators were supposed to vote their own good judgment, unswayed by the hot winds of public opinion. It may be a sorry day for the GOP if Senator Lott succeeds Senator Dole to the top leadership spot during next year's primary election season.

Actually, Senator Dole himself exhibited adherence to principle during the vociferous debate over the BBA by rebuffing Democratic efforts to put Social Security outside its purview. He has said, quite rightly and bravely for a presidential candidate, that somewhere down the line Social Security and other runaway entitlement programs must be part of a realistic effort to end the deficit spending that threatens the nation's economic security.

Rather than have his party torn apart by an effort to string up Mr. Hatfield, Senator Dole should take up the Oregonian's offer "to lead [his] committee in taking steps necessary to reduce the deficit immediately." The best way to get to a balanced budget is not through constitutional legerdemain but through the hard spending and tax decisions needed to achieve that goal.

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