• U.S.

THE ADMINISTRATION: Making It Easier for the New Man

3 minute read

Gerald Ford’s last week in office was in keeping with his first. Now as then, he was determined to provide continuity in Government and reassure the American people. “In sum,” said he in his final State of the Union address, “I can report that the state of the union is good.”

Ford promised not to infringe on Jimmy Carter’s responsibilities, “but rather to wish him the very best in all that is good for our country. I wanted the new President to get off to an easier start than I had.” Ford lived up to that pledge in drafting the budget message that he is delivering this week—his last important act of office. His $440 billion budget for fiscal 1978 (beginning Oct. 1, 1977) is more liberal than expected, with less severe spending cuts than in his previous budget. Ford’s projected deficit for fiscal 1978 is $47 billion, Carter’s about $50 billion.

When Ford arrived in the House of Representatives to deliver his State of the Union speech, he was greeted not only as a well-regarded former member but also as a President who had earned the gratitude of both sides of the aisle. Democrats clapped as vigorously as Republicans when Ford walked to the lectern, and his plain but quietly eloquent 45-minute speech was interrupted numerous times by applause. “This report will be my last,” said the President, playfully ad-libbing: “maybe.”

“I am proud today that America is at peace,” said Ford. “None of our sons are fighting and dying in battle anywhere in the world.” But he warned against cutbacks in defense spending. “The U.S. would risk the most serious political consequences if the world came to believe that our adversaries have a decisive margin of superiority.”

At home Ford pointed with pride to his success in trimming the inflation rate from 12.2% when he took office to a current 5%. Though he acknowledged that unemployment remained too high, he noted that 4 million more people were at work now than in the spring of 1975.

Ford’s budget calls for personal and corporate tax cuts worth $7 billion this fiscal year and $15 billion in 1978—a futile gesture, since Congress is sure to pass Jimmy Carter’s own $10 billion to $14 billion tax program, which relies most heavily on temporary rebates.

Ford’s temperate approach put to rest the fears of Carter people that they might have to make drastic changes in a perilously brief time—by Feb. 15, they must have their own fiscal 1978 budget prepared to submit to Congress. Without having to worry about the budget totals, they are free to concentrate on specific areas where they can take issue with Ford. He requests a sizable $12.9 billion jump in defense spending, to $123.1 billion. Carter can trim $5 billion or more from the total—as he pledged in the campaign —without upsetting many Pentagon plans.

Ford seeks to phase out the existing $2.4 billion public service employment program, which currently provides 260,000 jobs. This is patently unacceptable to Carter, whose economic stimulus package calls for at least 600,000 jobs and the expenditure of $4 billion to $6 billion. Nor is Carter likely to go along with Ford’s proposal to cut the $5.6 billion food-stamp program by $900 million. But for the most part, the Carter Administration can live quite comfortably with Ford’s unexpectedly generous legacy. Says Bert Lance, incoming director of the Office of Management and Budget: “Basically, the Carter budget will be a Ford budget.”

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