Use surplus to aid the most vulnerable

October 04, 1998|By Carl T. Rowan

WASHINGTON -- Suppose your family has been deeply in debt for 29 years and you woke up one morning to find 70,000 $1 bills on your front porch. You would probably have a good family fight over whether to splurge on new clothing and cars, pay off some of your debts, or put some money under the mattress for your old age.

Your situation isn't quite analogous to what has just happened to Uncle Sam, but it's close enough for you to understand the big "family fight" that politicians here are engaged in over the expectation that for the fiscal year that ended Wednesday the United States will have a budget surplus of about $70 billion. This is after 29 years of deep rivers of red ink that put the nation $5.4 trillion in debt.

Some Republicans say the surplus belongs to the taxpayers, and that it ought to be given back to them in the form of a tax cut. The GOP is trying -- futilely, it appears -- to force through Congress $80 billion worth of cuts.

Saving Social Security

President Clinton says he wants to save all the surplus money until it is certain that the Social Security program has been guaranteed for future generations. Yet, he has some "emergency" spending that he says will come from other funds, which seems like budgetary sleight of hand, to pay for military deployments in Bosnia, computer glitches associated with the year 2000 and new levels of security at U.S. embassies.

It seems to me that deciding how to use such a surplus in this society is a no-brainer: It ought to go to shelter from shameful misery and harm the most vulnerable people in the land. That would include the increasing number of Americans who are moving into old age knowing that a Social Security check will be critical in terms of finding some dignity in their twilight years.

What about the seniors?

With Americans living so much longer, and the extended family long gone, most senior citizens cannot count on their children or grandchildren to provide them with even the basic necessities that Social Security provides.

At the other end of the spectrum of the vulnerable are the 15 percent of the nation's children who have no medical insurance, especially those whose families are too poor to afford private insurance but make to much to qualify for Medicaid.

I can complain as loudly as most Americans on tax day, but I know that we have a $70 billion surplus because good times have given many of us a level of prosperity most of us never expected.

I hear no clamor by taxpayers to get their money back through a tax cut. I think most feel that this is the perfect time to buy some security for their parents or to ward off the miseries of unnecessary illnesses for unfortunate children.

Both those things ought to get priority over the GOP plan to spend $737 million to give tax credits to companies that hire members of families who are eligible for welfare or food stamps, or spend $28.1 billion to wipe out the so-called "marriage penalty."

But I've been in Washington long enough to know that what one man sees as a "no-brainer" another sees as a declaration of war.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 10/04/98

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