James Leroy Wilson's blog

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Sometimes Moderates Aren't So Bad

I recall reading in college (early 1990's) a book chapter by Gerald Ford in which he recalls doing a press conference criticizing a $50 billion Truman budget. Twenty-five years later as President, he submitted a budget $300 billion larger than that. Ford's last budget of 30 years ago was $391 billion - one-seventh what it is today. It was under Ford that the Johnson-Nixon explosion of entitlements really exploded with automatic increases - Ford's expenditures were three times what they were in Johnson's early years. There was little Ford could do to stop it, but he tried.

Ford was no conservative. Indeed, his budget message has this Moderate's Credo:

In proposing his budget, the President was determined to achieve fairness and balance:

  • between the taxpayer and those who will benefit by Federal spending;
  • between national security and other pressing needs;
  • between our own generation and the world we want to leave to our children;
  • between those in some need and those most in need;
  • between the programs we already have and those we would like to have;
  • between aid to individuals and aid to State and local governments;
  • between immediate implementation of a good idea and the need to allow time for transition;
  • between the desire to solve our problems quickly and the realization that for some problems, good solutions will take more time; and
  • between Federal control and direction to assure achievement of common goals and the recognition that State and local governments and individuals may do as well or better without restraints.
But Ford was conservative in a very important area - spending. By January 1976 (just 17 months in office), Ford had vetoed 56 bills - of which ten were overridden by the Democratic Congress. And his final budget was $29 billion less than the projected growth of government spending -- and that's when $29 billion meant something.

In terms of actual revunues and outlays (as opposed to proposed budgets) Ford's first two years saw record deficits for the time, but he set a course which led to lower deficits for his final year and Carter's first three years.

The only other recent time we've seen such commitment to deficit reduction was the Clinton Presidency. When he dies, that will probably be the one positive mark I'll give him as well.

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