There is, of course, still the possibility the House tonight will vote down the Clinton budget. Sen. Phil Gramm [R-TX] is absolutely right when he says the legislation would not receive 20 votes if there were a secret ballot. Normally, this would mean the legislation is wildly popular in the country and secretly unpopular on Capitol Hill. The only argument the White House is using anymore is the partisan argument, that because the Republicans are united, the Democrats must be too! There remain sufficient numbers of wobbling Democrats to kill the bill tonight after the floor debate, but it must be assumed the House will give the President what he wants and that it will all come down to Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska. He alone can bring down the budget if he decides he cannot put the party ahead of the country. I'm getting second-hand scraps of information that Kerrey has not yet made up his mind, that partisan appeals are not as likely to win him over as they have most others, and that what happens in the next 24 hours will turn him one way or another.
The House Democratic leadership is pushing the flock into a vote tonight -- without knowing how the Senate will vote tomorrow -- with the argument that Kerrey would not possibly allow them to quaff their hemlock for nothing. In fact, it is human nature that if the House does pass the damn bill tonight, despite the clear indications from the people that it isn't what they want, Kerrey will be dragged along by the partisan pull. Something stronger would have to weigh on his mind if he were going to vote no after his fellow Democrats had already taken that step tonight. My suggestion to the GOP leadership is that Kerrey should be made aware of the impact that the bill will have on state and local governments placed upon his shoulders. To date, this realm has not been explored at all. The President and his Cabinet are dutifully making the argument that the legislation will be good for the economy in the next few years. No serious economist with a shred of integrity -- including Alan Blinder of the President's Council of Economic Advisors -- agrees.
The National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas yesterday published its formal forecast of the five-year budget bill. It estimates that the Clinton plan "will cause annual gross domestic product to be $244 billion lower than it would have been by 1998," an economic loss "equal to almost $1,000 per year for every man, woman and child in the country -- or about $2,500 for an average household." These statistics are vaguely interesting, but not nearly as powerful as the Center's forecast that over the five-year period, state and local deficits will rise by $176 billion as a result of the budget. In other words, every governor, mayor, county commissioner, police and fire chief, school board and sanitation district will be forced to cover that aggregate amount by another contractionary belt-tightening. This colossal amount does not include the impact on state and local governments of the federal budget cuts in health and human services, which the local governments will in large part have to make up.
My guess on how it will all come out is as good as yours at this point. My optimism rests on the historical fact that, on average, good triumphs over evil, or the human species would now be extinct. If the forces of darkness win this one, we will pay a heavy price, but so will they. We'll win the next round.