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But we must add pressure on Congress to insure that there at least be consideration of balanced budgets, at least during those periods of prosperity, during which Lord Keynes said we should not have to have deficit spending.
What would your opinion be if we had a constitutional amendment to require an annual balanced budget by a one-time majority vote? Would you have the same feelings that you have right now about a balanced budget provision?
Mr. KIRKLAND. I think so, sir, because, (A), we believe that there is sufficient pressure upon the Congress.
Senator Hatch. There is certainly a great deal of pressure. I know that.
Mr. KIRKLAND. Yes. To economize, to pursue reduction in the deficit, to discipline itself through the Budget Act of 1974.
Senator Hatch. Do you think Congress is successfully doing that?
Mr. KIRKLAND. There is more pressure in that direction than I would like to see.
Senator HATCH. In other words, you would have-
Mr. KIRKLAND. They cost money and I think they are beneficial to the welfare of the country, and I am not prepared to say on any given issue or program at any hypothetical future time, what's the order of priority at that particular time. I think it is quite rational and quite responsible on occasion to borrow from the future to protect the future. That is certainly the case in the time of national emergency or war.
I believe it is also true in a time of recession, a depression, and certainly it is the basis on which most people normally operate in their own lives.
Senator Hatch. Under my proposed amendment, all that Congress would have to do to waive the balanced budget requirement, would be to have a 55 percent vote in favor of an imbalanced budget. Once a year, however, they would have to stand up on the floor of the Senate, and on the floor of the House, and vote for or against an imbalanced budget, rather than have this decision be untraceable among the hundreds of annual rollcall votes.
Mr. KIRKLAND. I just don't know anyone who is in love with the deficit per se in and of-on its own virtues. It has to be justified in relationship to a complex set of factors. And any sort of an amendment which would make it impossible to weigh those factors, I think, is detrimental to the national interest.
Senator Hatch. Of course, the amendment I am suggesting would not make that impossible. It would involve a simple one-time majority vote so that everybody could identify who has voted for deficit spending and who has not.
Mr. KIRKLAND. Something that is harmful to do many times is also harmful to do once.
Senator Hatch. Let me ask you this: If you were to give an expression of the viewpoint of the members of the AFL-CIO, do you think that a majority of them would support a constitutionally-mandated balanced budget at this time?
Mr. KIRKLAND. I think I have stated no one is against the balanced budget, per se. I would love to see a balanced budget produced, and budget surplus produced, by driving and expanding economy, with full employment. If my memory serves me right, the last balanced budget was in Lyndon Johnson's last budget—1969 budget. I believe it had a couple of billion dollars surplus. This was at a time when we were engaged in a conflict overseas and with very heavy military expenditures. But, we also had, I think, something in the order of 3 to 4 percent unemployment-3.8 Rudy tells me. We had an inflation rate of about 4 percent, I believe.
If we could duplicate that, I think it would be absolutely great, but I don't think you can do it by just passing this kind of a law, amendment.
Senator Hatch. Some people would suggest that the reason we have some of the problems today
Mr. KIRKLAND. Some people say, let there be rain.
Senator Hatch. Some people would suggest that the reason we have many of these problems today are the “Great Society” programs of the Johnson years that we now have to live with and
for today, Since then, we have incurred more than $400 billion in new debt, and literally countless dollars of future, unfunded obligations that we are going to have to pay for in some way or another.
Mr. KIRKLAND. Well, I think if you will pardon me, sir, it is sort of a bum rap. If, in 1969, you paid for everything that you spent, as we did, then you are not mortgaging the future, you are paying your way, and I would suggest, sir, many of those programs that you referred to played a role in maintaining the kind of healthy, thriving economy that produced the revenues that made that particular balanced budget, surplus budget, possible.
Senator Hatch. You state that even economists have only the most primitive and tenative understanding of how the economy works. Yet, you also state that (1) a balanced budget would probably cause a depression; (2) that Congress should retain the power to properly manage the debt; and (3) that specific dislocations in certain limited areas of the economy have been the moving forces behind inflation.
With all respect to your point of view, I would suggest that you probably feel quite certain that you know as much about how the economy works as do those who propose the balanced budget amendment.
Mr. KIRKLAND. Well, I am not humble about it in the face of the record of professional economists, sir.
Senator Hatch. I think that perhaps you are right.
I think basically that what could be said is that you are simply in disagreement with respect to the substantive provisions of a balanced budget constitutional amendment?
Mr. KIRKLAND. I don't have any other interpretations, obviously. . It has to be my own.
Senator Hatch. What are your feelings about a spending limitation amendment? Would you be as hostile to that concept as to a mandated balanced budget amendment?
Mr. KIRKLAND. Yes, I would, sir. I would feel strongly opposed to any formula of this type which disregards circumstances, the wide variety of circumstances and objectives and needs of the country that might arise.
Senator Hatch. Do you have any idea what the majority of your members would feel about a spending limitation proposition? What about a constitutional amendment that would provide for a ceiling on spending based upon a percentage of gross national product or national income? Would most of them favor such a constitutional amendment or would most of them oppose it?
Mr. KIRKLAND. Well, sir, that's perhaps a philosophical question, in a sense.
Senator Hatch. We could always test it, couldn't we?
Mr. KIRKLAND. I essentially don't believe in leadership by the process of opinion polls which vary depending upon phrasing of questions, which asks for a quick reaction to a very complex subject. I think there has to be an interplay between the views of membership and the advice of leadership, and I think that is the way we operate. We are a democratic organization.
We do submit these matters to democratic forums for judgment and argument, and I think our position reflects the collective view that emerges from that process in the trade union movement.
Kenny, if you want to add something.
Mr. Young. Senator, as Secretary-Treasurer Kirkland said, before there was a polling, we would be very interested in the question that was asked.
Senator HATCH. That's fair.
Mr. YOUNG. I think we came to an interesting test this year on another issue in terms of the views of our membership on a constitutional amendment when the House was considering the constitutional amendment on busing.
Clearly, our members, just like the members of any other community have different views on this. Yet, we found when this issue was before the House and we went to our membership, that our membership throughout the country in all regions contacted their House Members strongly urging opposition to this constitutional amendment because they did not want what they considered tinkering with the Constitution on an issue. I suspect that if our members understood what these
I amendments would do, and how they would be involved, and what would happen to their issues, that they would take the same position and be opposed to such a constitutional amendment.
I think it is so easy to say to people, are you for a balanced budget? I am for a balanced budget. Secretary-Treasurer said I am for a balanced budget in my own home. Until someone says to me what are you going to do about the House payment, and the funds for the kids in school and then I say, Well, those have to be taken care of, and I suspect that's exactly where our membership would be.
Senator Hatch. Are you saying that if your membership supported a particular position in large number the AFL-CIO leadership would support them?
Mr. Young. No; I thought you asked the question where would our membership be, and I don't know.
Senator Hatch. Would you be willing to find out?
Mr. Young. I am saying I think this is where our membership would be. I am relating one case this year on a constitutional amendment question where we were told from the start that our membership
would probably be all for such a constitutional amendment, and we found out just the opposite.
Senator Hatch. Well, I would cite with particularity, the Panama Canal treaties. As I recall, some 90 percent of your membership was against it judging by the polls, and yet the leadership came out for them.
Mr. KIRKLAND. I do believe that there is amongst our membership, and our membership is pretty much a cross section of the American people, that there is a deep-seated sense of the sanctity of the Constitution.
Senator Hatch. I would think so too.
Mr. KIRKLAND. And an aversion to loading up the Constitution with every passing fancy or device to influence the judgment of government, I think there is that very strong sense with the public venerally, and I believe any approach to constitutional amendments ought to be one approached with extreme caution in itself and this particular one, on its merits, as we pointed out the reasons given, we think is not only potentially hypothetically, but common sense tells us it leads the country into trouble.
Senator Hatch. I agree with you that the Constitution should not be tampered with lightly or amended purely for symbolic purposes. Your organization however has supported without great difficulty at least four separate constitutional amendments in the last year that I am aware of. All of these would represent substantial changes in the Constitution. I would suggest that if fair and impartial questions were asked-and I share some of the same suspicions of polls that you do—I think that you would find an awful lot of your members would be in disagreement on the issue of deficit spending.
I would suspect that you would find that the vast majority of union members are just as concerned today about these continual deficits as the 80 percent of the people in this country who have indicated support for a balanced budget amendment.
I would guess that they would be just as concerned about deficits, inflation, and the impact of a debased currency upon the fruits of their hard labor.
Mr. KIRKLAND. I positively share your concern with the problems of inflation.
Senator Hatch. I am sure you do.
Mr. KIRKLAND. And myself, and our members, have no attachment or love for deficits and would like to see them eliminated. We would prefer to see them eliminated by a national growth, and by a positive course for the economy, which they think might well be damaged by this, and would be damaged by it. We think some things offered as solutions have a very paradoxical result of adding to the problems, and we think this is one of them.
As for how you weigh public opinion or membership opinion, I think it's the task of responsible leadership to balance and form those judgments. We have taken polls on a great many issues. We find, for example, overwhelming support for national health insurance and a willingness to pay that price for that program.
Senator Hatch. Have you explained to them what the price is going to be?
Mr. KIRKLAND. Yes. We have had overwhelming support for a Variety of programs, and I suspect if you just put a cold question of "Do you like a balanced budget?" we would get overwhelming support for that. I would vote for that myself, because I do like a balanced budget, produced in the proper way;
I don't think that the body of public is made up of little liberals or little conservatives. I think everybody is sort of an amalgamation of each, depending upon the issue and depending upon the elections, from the variety of influence on everybody's life, and you can find, if you take a list of issues and poll people, people at large and people in our membership, the responses will zigzag across the lot and be quite possibly inconsistent with someone's idea of what is authentic
Senator Hatch. You have indicated that there is a "proper" way of balancing the budget. How would you do that under present circumstances? I would certainly like to know.
Mr. KIRKLAND. If you mean instantaneous balancing of the budg. et, I would say I would be opposed to that Senator HATCH. There is no wayMr. KIRKLAND (continuing). As we are heading into a recession.
Senator Hatch. But how would you “properly” balance it? I understand that you would take a longer term viewpoint, but what methods would you ultimately use to balance the budget?
Mr. KIRKLAND. We balance it the way we balanced it the last time. If we could get to a 3.8 percent level of unemployment
Senator Hatch. Would you eliminate any of the "Great Society." spending programs?
Mr. KIRKLAND [continuing]. The budget would be balanced and show a surplus.
Senator Hatch. Would you eliminate any of the Great Society spending programs that have caused the recent explosion in budgetary deficits?
Mr. KIRKLAND. I disagree with you on that, sir. I think many of those programs contribute to national growth and contribute to the health of the society upon which we can depend if we are ever going to achieve a balanced budget.
Senator Hatch. Let me say this to you. I would be interested to see some sort of a fair poll of your members on a balanced budget amendment, although I respect and agree with your statement that one cannot lead by following the polls all the time. I would remine you, however, that on the recently defeated issue of a direct election amendment--one of the most important constitutional debates in recent times, in my opinion-we received correspondence from the AFL-CIO that said that 80 percent of your members favored that amendment. This was apparently designed to suggest a convincing argument for passage. Were all of your members fully aware of the complex ramifications of this amendment?
Mr. KIRKLAND. You just enforced my view that simplistic questions are addressed without elaboration of the surrounding circumstances and are not necessarily the best basis for policy decisions.
Senator Hatch. You just enforced my point of view that that question you asked must have been very simplistic or you wouldn't have gotten 80 percent of your people to agree with you. That is exactly the point I am making. All I am trying to say is maybe in this particular situation, if you would poll your members, and I think it's probably so, and not make it simplistic, but fair, you would find the vast majority of your members would favor some form of mandate,