Balancing the Budget

  Last week I flew out of Washington's National Airport, just days after Congress renamed it Ronald Reagan National Airport in honor of the former president's eighty-sixth birthday. The name change came about almost the same moment that President Clinton was releasing the 1998 budget. There's a certainly irony in the juxtaposition of these two events. Standing in the East Room of the White House in front of a huge chart, the president drew a large zero for the deficit, with an exclamation point next to it. The president gave credit to many who helped achieve this goal. But one name was conspicuously absent: Ronald Reagan's. Wait a minute, you may be asking. Wasn't Reagan the author of the much-derided deficit spending of the 1980s? Didn't we just manage to undo the budgetary damage Reagan inflicted on the country? Yes, Reagan did accumulate great budget deficits. But many of them were incurred because of dramatically increased defense spending. And that, ironically, is a big reason that we're enjoying a balanced budget today. In this fiscal year America will spend one-half of what it spent in 1987 on defense as a percentage of our Gross National Product. We've gone from spending 6.5 percent to 3.2 percent. Put another way, we’re saving $250 billion a year—$2,500 per family, per year. We can afford to spend so much less on defense because we won the Cold War. I was in Moscow in 1991 just before the Soviet Union fell. I asked dissidents, embassy officials, and everyone else I met why the Soviets were suddenly collapsing. Their answer was one word: Reagan. The Soviets understood Reagan's role much better than Americans did. Reagan vastly expanded defense spending knowing that the Soviets would try to keep pace. He even promoted an unproven defense program nicknamed "Star Wars," not so much because he wanted to build a missile system but because he knew that he was driving the stakes too high for Moscow. The strategy worked. The Soviet economy went belly up, and the happy result was the end of the Cold War. James Glassman of the American Enterprise Institute hit the nail on the head when he recently wrote that running a deficit while increasing defense spending was one of the truly great investments of our time. The amount by which we have been able to reduce defense spending is precisely the amount necessary to reduce the budget deficit to zero. As we think back on that time, we can be thankful that Reagan recognized the clear distinction between good and evil. It was no idle phrase when he labeled the Soviet Union "the Evil Empire." Reagan understood—if only intuitively—the biblical principle that peace requires more than the absence of war. Real peace requires the absence of injustice—the injustice, for example, of being thrown into the gulag because of your beliefs, or having your country overrun by Soviet tanks. That's why Reagan repeatedly demanded that the Soviets clean up human-rights abuses. As we celebrate the balanced budget, we ought to remember what—and who—helped bring it about. I hope we will not loose the Gipper's understanding of world events. And I pray that we would not become so self-absorbed and self-indulgent with our new surpluses that we forget that among the nations, America remains humanity's best defense for righteousness.


Chuck Colson



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