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In focus: insufficient funds and insufficient commitment.

"One must fear that in ten years the United States will indeed be militarily invulnerable, but that in the civil realm, she will have become, to a catastrophic degree, a backward nation."

So wrote the publisher of Die Zeit, a German weekly, in 1982 in a statement cited recently by the New York Times.

Today nearly one out of every three young children living in an American city lives in poverty. These children have fallen victim to politics. Deep into a presidential campaign and the last year of the 102nd Congress, the President and Congress are mired in finger pointing.

There is no urban policy. There has been no debate about fundamental changes in American priorities to address either the consensus or fears of Americans living in communities. The only moral mandate of the federal government is to bail out the S&Ls and debate whether to give tax cuts to wealthy or middle income Americans.

Whether measured in productivity, economic success, or public investment; the United States is falling farther and farther behind its competitors.

Today European nations are investing hundreds of billions of dollars in Eastern Europe to rebuild public infrastructure, retool non-competitive factories, and train and retrain workers. Instead of focusing on the past, they are committed to their future and the future of their cities.

But in this nation, the media and federal government are mired in pettiness and surliness. They are missing one of the most extraordinary opportunities in the history of the world to reshape and lead. Our country's future is quietly being mortgaged behind the muffled roars of the House bank scandal that covers up the far more serious practices of borrowing money today and leaving the bills to our children.

The House of Representatives banking scandal has disserved the nation. It has further eroded confidence and trust in public policy and government - at all levels. It has demonstrated an arrogance to the concerns and day-to-day issues most important to the American people.

It is time to move on.

The Cold War is over. For this year, an election year, offers the best chance in more than half a century for the nation to address the fears of its people about the future course and direction of America. It offers a chance to salvage freedom and democracy in Russia - forever ending the most grave military threat to haunt America's communities.

Yet the federal government - with a startling complicity between Democrats and Republicans at the White House and in the Congress - remains locked in now obsolete priorities. It is paralyzed.

Perhaps the greatest disservice of the current scandal is that it has served to cover up a far more serious federal scandal: bounced federal checks. The federal government now budgets only by borrowing from the next generations of Americans - disinvesting instead of investing.

It has been a quarter of a century since former President Lyndon Johnson and the Congress last had a balanced federal budget. This year the federal deficit will reach $400 billion. The national debt exceeds $3.7 trillion. Interest on the national debt this April 15th will consume more federal taxes than the combined general operating budgets of our fifty states.

Unlike the House banking scandal, where the bounced checks had no impact on the federal deficit and national debt, the federal government has become bankrupt in its ability to lead the nation.

Rebuilding a competitive U.S. economy built on the foundation of the nation's cities will require a commitment to fundamental change. Removing the threat of targeted nuclear weapons in the former Soviet republics will require a new Marshall plan. Each will require rewriting an obsolete and ineffective 1990 budget agreement. Both will require a bipartisan commitment and leadership.

Think of it. It is nearly April 1, and the President and Congress are at the tail end of a worthless fight over a tax bill - a tax bill which was doomed from the moment it started, and one - whichever version one takes - which would likely do more harm than help to the American economy.

Think of it. It is nearly April 1, and the federal government has bounced one huge check and another is shortly to follow; but it has reached a virtual stalemate over whether to cut investment in the nation's domestic future by $6.4 billion next year or increase it by less than $1 billion.

On March 1, by executive decree, federal tax withholding rates were altered at a cost to the federal deficit and national debt of $25 billion. The President said there was no need to comply with the budget agreement; the federal government would simply borrow from next year to pump minute amounts of cash into the economy this year.

U.S. HUD Secretary Jack Kemp called the act "a gimmick." An expensive gimmick. A gimmick where the bill will be left for another generation to pay.

And, quietly, the House and Senate are working on still another installment of the S&L bailout. $25 billion this round. No debate has been permitted with regard to who will pay. That is what we have children for.

These checks are the real tragedy. They are written on insufficient funds. They represent no investment in the nation or its future. Rather, they represent failure and coverup - and a stark refusal to confront the hard kinds of decisions that confront local elected officials.

The real questions that ought to be before the Congress, the candidates and the voters are:

[sub-section] how do we confront a federal deficit and national debt that is bankrupting this nation's future?

[sub-section] how do we repay the tens of billions of foreign debt we have accumulated over the last decade?

[sub-section] how will we finance our future as our German and Japanese creditors look to better investments closer to home?

[sub-section] can we afford to let freedom and democracy fail in the former Soviet Union? And if not, must we not change the budget agreement to eliminate the firewalls and use defense savings to ensure security for the citizens in every community in America?

[sub-section] can we afford to let a third of the nation grow in poverty and seriously expect to challenge Japan and a united Europe? If not, must we not change the budget agreement, eliminate the walls and reshape federal priorities?

[sub-section] if we cannot offer the children in cities and towns a future, should we be surprised if they turn to drugs, gangs, and violence to secure their own future and refuse to accept the iou's and mandates this federal government wants to write?
COPYRIGHT 1992 National League of Cities
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:urban policy
Author:Shafroth, Frank
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Mar 23, 1992
Previous Article:Tax action puts municipal priorities in jeopardy again.
Next Article:Book gives nation, states poor marks on kids programs.

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