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From our archives: With no looming crisis, Congress stalled JFK reforms

What we thought: 50 years ago

Published: Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

Note to readers – Sauk Valley Media reprints editorials from the past as a regular Monday feature. The following editorial appeared in the Telegraph on Feb. 12, 1963.

Mountains

and molehills

As congressional hearings move along on President Kennedy’s proposals for tax reduction and reform, the surest prospect is that the end product will bear slight resemblance to the original.

Given our form of democratic government with its offsetting congressional and presidential power, compromise is, of course, an inevitable expectation in the shaping of most legislation.

Strongly toned remedies to problems seldom get anywhere unless some sort of visible peril stands close. War, depression, the clear menace of communism, these things produce precipitate, concerted action.

Some historians argue that this kind of “government by catastrophe” can be most unfortunate for the country. The suggestion is that drastic measures taken in quieter periods might stave off crisis. But the democratic necessity of compromise is usually compelling.

Take the current tax matter, for example.

The president’s thesis is simple. Moderate pump-priming, like redevelopment, manpower training, public works, has not bitten deep into unemployment or accelerated economic growth rates. He wants entirely new tax ground rules, therefore, in hope these may free up the economy and help absorb the unemployed mass.

To make this try, he is willing to risk huge federal deficits “temporarily.” He says if his plan gets a chance, it may wipe out the chronic smaller deficits that have marked the last three decades.

Who knows whether his proposals would do the job he claims? What we do know is that, in purest form as presented, they have almost no prospect of being tried. Bipartisan conservative opposition stands firmly in the way.

Look, then, at the other side of the coin. Many conservatives, a good number favoring a tax cut, argue that the only way to justify it is to whack great chunks off federal spending.

Even if we assume this could be done without harming our defense effort or necessitating repeal of many laws with built-in high spending features, we know this prospect is also slim. The pressure to keep countless specific spending projects going will come not least from some of the very lawmakers who protest spending in general.

It would be interesting to see the effect on the economy of a $10 billion to $20 billion spending cut. No less interest would attend a whopping tax reduction unmatched by spending cuts.

But most likely we shall never witness either of these experiments – one or the other of which might prove beneficial.

For democracy’s responses are invariably blunted when danger is not judged to be near. And the truth is that neither massive spending nor huge unemployment alarms enough people today to jar their lawmakers into more sweeping action.

 

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