Government Bailouts

October 16, 2001

It's hard to recall but two months ago the President was talking tough about holding next year's government spending increase to 4%. The Congress was promising to protect the Social Security surplus -- a silly fictitious statement about putting the money in a lock box. That was all talk. There never has been a lock box. The surplus has been used to pay down the government debt.

All of that is behind us. With the terrorist attack, the floodgates have opened. The industries, the employee groups, the businesses that can make even the flimsiest case that they have been hurt by the attack are fighting for a place at the federal trough. The scene compares favorably to the days when as a boy 1 would pour the slop in the trough and the pigs would dive for it, pushing, crowding, gulping it down to get all they could before it was gone.

Congress has awarded 15 billion dollars to help the airlines. But what about the travel agents? If the airlines need help, then of course the trains should not be left out. Amtrak is asking Congress for 3.2 billion dollars. Even before the attack the steel industry was squealing -- 10 billion dollars would be about right to support an industry so vital to our national security.

Speaking ofNational security -- nothing is more basic than food and fiber. The farm lobby marched in and rammed through the House 73 billion dollars in new farm aid over the next 10 years. Now it's up to the Senate to step forward. The natural reaction is -- if there's slop in the trough -- "I want my share."

The fundamental question is -- who should the government rescue, and who should work out their own problems? The Federal Government s on many occasions helped different businesses. The success rate is mixed. The Chrysler Corporation bailout in 1979 was a success. We wasted 7 billion dollars on Conrail in 1976. We have been subsidizing the oil and gas industry for years and yet our import of energy continues to go even higher.

My opinion is this: with the treat the country is under now and the weakened economy, increased government spending is justified but the sooner we can get back some discipline, the better. But for now -- whoever squeals the loudest gets the slop.

Until next week, 1 am John Block, reporting from Washington.