Rainy days in Washington

Gore: Setting aside emergency funds makes so much sense every state does it, but not Uncle Sam.

September 11, 2000

IT'S ABOUT TIME the U.S. government caught up with the 50 states. All of those smaller governments -- and most counties and cities, too -- know the importance of having rainy day funds fund to handle emergencies and sudden dips in the economy.

Now Vice President Al Gore has recognized the need for Washington to set up its own safety net. Why not, he asks, use surpluses to build up a $300 billion cushion against the potential shock waves of a bad recession?

It's the prudent thing to do. It's also the advice that Wall Street's bond-rating houses regularly give local governments. In fact, a state's or city's bond rating often depends on having a sizable rainy-day account.

Mr. Gore's proposal is part of his 191-page budget blueprint that sets aside vast sums to strengthen Social Security and Medicare and lesser amounts to improve health, education and environmental programs.

This stands in contrast to the spending agenda of Gov. George W. Bush, who prefers giving surplus funds back to taxpayers. Mr. Bush is wary of enlarging federal programs, though he too sets aside a large portion of the expected surplus for Social Security.

Mr. Bush has no plans for a rainy day fund, though.

He should.

Setting up a reserve account might mean fewer painful cuts in social services in the next recession. Or perhaps if would help ward off higher taxes. Washington might have enough in reserve to ride out the bad times.

Everyone knows the importance of keeping an umbrella handy in case of a sudden downpour. Washington politicians, though, can be slow learners. They need a good, sturdy fiscal umbrella like Mr. Gore has suggested.

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