This is the tale of a lad who rose from modest circumstances to become a U.S. Senator. He was born in Fort Benning, Georgia, where his father was living on a veterans' disability pension. He went to the University of Georgia, a public institution, where his tuition and expenses were paid by the Federal War Orphans Act. He did graduate work in economics, paid for by a National Defense Education Act fellowship, and started his teaching career at Texas A & M, a Federal land-grant university.
The Senator is Phil Gramm, and the budget-balancing law that bears his name, along with those of Senators Warren Rudman and Ernest Hollings, threatens to impoverish the government agencies that provide the kind of programs that helped young Gramm. Washington has rarely been in a dither like the present one over Gramm-Rudman-Hollings.
The budget-balancing law has created overnight a cottage industry in the capital. Congressional Quarterly has been holding seminars at which staff members explain how the law will cut the deficit to $144 billion in fiscal 1987. At the first of these seminars the organizers had expected seventy-five attendees at $145 a head; more than 700 showed up. Local governments that want to know how much their Federal grants will be cut can go to the accounting firm of Touche Ross, which will tell them for a fee of $10,000 to $50,000. M. Wendell Belew Jr., until recently the chief counsel for the House Budget Committee, and Stephen E. Bell, the staff director of the Senate Budget Committee, have decided to cash in on the panic. Belew resigned to form the consulting firm of Mathis, Belew and Associates. He is hawking a budget newsletter for which charter subscribers pay only $350 a year. On March 15, Bell will leave the government to join David Stockman at Salomon Brothers as the firm's Washington representative.
Seminar participants, readers of Belew's newsletter and Bell's future lunch companions would be better off consulting a crystal ball. The truth is that Gramm-Rudman-Hollings is not airtight. The Federal budget is far too complex to be tamed by such a law, in which numerous loopholes will surely be found. A.U.S. Appeals Court ruling that the provision for making automatic cuts is unconstitutional may be the first signal that the act is a legislative Halley's comet. The declining deficit, aided by lower oil prices, is another. The only safe observation amid all the Gramm-mania is that the clash over the budget this year will be, as Senator Pete Domenici says, "a planned train wreck.'