To get a sense of the size of the federal budget, start with the document itself. It is 10 inches thick and weighs 24 pounds. For months and months, Democrats and Republicans, senators and representatives, lawmakers and a president and his men fought and fought. Never since World War II have lawmakers remained in Washington so close to election day, now barely more than a week away.
It all came to an end Saturday.
After a 21-hour session in the House, the compromise budget bill passed 228-200 early Saturday morning. The time was 6:58 a.m.
Many representatives complained that they didn't even have time to read it. (All of Florida's Democrats voted for it; only two Republicans did.)
The bill went to the Senate, which approved it, 54-45. (Sen. Connie Mack, a Republican, voted no. Sen. Bob Graham, a Democrat, voted yes.)
President Bush has promised to sign it. He was in Hawaii on the campaign trail.
The budget will raise taxes and will by no means eliminate the budget deficit. It will simply let it grow less huge. In all, the government will spend $1.2-trillion.
The budget agreement comes nearly a month after the U.S. government's fiscal year began. Was the wait worth it?
"A lot of the members feel as I do, they were gagging on certain provisions," the president said. "But I'm glad that it's passed.
"It will be worse for America, worse
for this decade, worse for our children if we do not reduce this lingering, pervasive deficit now," said Sen. Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican.
"Deficit reduction? It's almost an obscenity to call it that," said Rep. Craig James, a Florida Republican.
Even if he overstates the matter a bit, James has a point. The budget bill won't cut the deficit, which is actually expected to be higher in 1991 than ever. The bill is simply intended to keep it from being as it bad as it might have been.
The government still expects to spend $254-billion more than it takes in between now and Sept. 30, 1991, the end of the fiscal year. That would be a record-high deficit. But without the budget bill, the number would be even $40-billion worse.
The government hasn't operated in the black for more than 20 years. In fact, if you pile budget deficit upon budget deficit, you'll find that the government is $3-trillion (yes, trillion) in debt in all.
Here is a breakdown, by topic, of congressional action on the budget and beyond:
MEDICARE. Medicare is the federal health-care insurance program for people age 65 and over.
Monthly premiums paid by all but the poorest beneficiaries will rise to about $46.50 by 1995, up from $28.60 this year.
The Medicare insurance deductible that beneficiaries pay will be set at $100, up from the current $75.
These changes will save the government $10-billion from what the program was expected to cost during the next five years. The government expects to save another $34-billion by limiting payments to health-care providers.
MEDIGAP. These are private polices taken out by people on Medicare to supplement their coverage. The government will scrutinize "Medigap" policies, and either the government or a group of state insurance commissioners would set up 10 standard policies and what they should contain. They would replace the thousands of policies now sold to elderly people in the private market. (Some elderly people have bought policies that duplicate coverage they have.)
MEDICAID. Medicaid, which helps the poor pay for health services, would be expanded.
The government would pay Medicare premiums for more elderly poor and provide home care for them. In addition, the program would be expanded to cover more children.
But projected new Medicaid spending would be cut $1.9-billion over five years by requiring drug companies to offer price discounts to those in the program.
The bill also permits states to cover home care for low-income elderly disabled people under Medicaid, on the assumption that such care will cost less than nursing home care.
TAX CREDITS. The bill would provide a tax credit to help small businesses pay for elevators or other structural changes needed to comply with a new law that bans discrimination against people with disabilities.
DEFENSE. Congress completed action on a $268-billion defense bill that includes a scaling back of some weapons systems. The bill includes $4.1-billion to keep the radar-evading B-2 "stealth" bomber alive for at least another year, but to reduce "Star Wars" spending. The House wants the savings used to buy or build more fast ships to take supplies to the Persian Gulf.
FOREIGN AID. The $25.5-billion foreign-aid bill includes President Bush's request to forgive $6.7-billion of Egypt's military debt to the United States. But the bill withholds half of El Salvador's $85-million aid for 1991 in hopes of spurring negotiations between the Salvadoran government and the rebels fighting it. Israel is the top beneficiary of the bill with some $3-billion in cash military and economic aid, and millions more in non-cash benefits. In addition to the forgiven debt, Egypt is the second-largest cash aid recipient, with $2.1-billion. The money for the two Middle Eastern countries stems from their Camp David peace accord and their status as staunch U.S. allies in the region.
CLEAN AIR. The Congress has tightened clean air rules for the first time in 13 years. The air will be cleaner, at a price. Nearly all Americans will feel the effects. Car prices will rise by about $100 in 1994 and by another $500 in 2003, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, as cars will be required to spew out 40 percent less hydrocarbons and 60 percent less nitrogen oxide. The bill also phases out CFCs, chemicals widely used for refrigeration and insulation that have been linked to depletion of the earth's protective ozone shield. Americans will feel its effects in higher utility bills as power plants pay for more effective controls or switch to cleaner-burning fuels and among other places, at the dry cleaners where toxic chemicals will be phased out.
CIVIL RIGHTS. Congress failed to override President Bush's veto of civil rights legislation. Provisions would have ranged from a ban on racial harassment in the workplace to punitive damages in the most extreme discrimination cases. Bush would not agree to some features that would make it easier to win race and sex discrimination cases against employers. He said they were so stringent that employers would turn to quota hiring to provide themselves with a ready-made defense if sued for discrimination.
CRIME BILL. Faced with an impasse, congressional negotiators abandoned efforts to reach agreement on the most controversial questions before them: a broad federal death penalty (about 30 crimes would have been covered), proposed restrictions on appeals by condemned prisoners and a ban on sales of certain semiautomatic assault weapons. The stripped-down bill includes increased penalties for child abuse; support for prison alternatives, such as house arrest; more money for law enforcement.
NUTRITIONAL LABELS. Congress passed a bill requiring nutrition labels on all packaged food. The bill requires all food packaging to disclose the exact amount of cholesterol, fat, saturated fat, sodium and fiber contained in the food.
IMMIGRATION. Congress passed the first comprehensive reform of immigration laws in 66 years, expanding the number of people allowed to enter the United States by nearly 40 percent and changing the mix of skills and ethnic backgrounds.
When the legislation goes into effect in 1992, it will more than double the number of immigrants allowed entry because of their job skills, grant temporary "safe haven" to Salvadoran refugees and open the borders to tens of thousands of immigrants from Ireland and other countries who have been largely excluded under current laws.
It also wipes from the statute books decades-old restrictions barring entry to persons on the basis of their beliefs or homosexuality.
The tax package establishes new grant programs for child care and increases tax credits for low-income families with children. Proponents say it is the first time since World War II that the government has adopted formal policy supporting child care outside welfare and employment programs. Under the bill, church-run day care centers would be eligible for the federal subsidies _ a recognition that churches play an important role in child care in many areas, overriding church-state separation concerns.
Congress will expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, an income tax credit now available to low-income working families with children. The bill adjusts the credit based on family size and provides a supplemental $500 credit for eligible families with children under the age of 1. The credit is refundable, meaning that taxpayers whose credits exceed their income tax liability are paid the difference by the government. It is not directly tied to child-care expenses. Families with a stay-at-home parent providing care for their own children would receive the credit as well.
The maximum credit in 1990 is 14 percent of the first $6,810 of earned income, or $953. It is reduced as the adjusted gross income reaches $10,743, and is totally eliminated at an income level of $20,270. The bill increases the credit gradually so that by 1994, the credit would be 23 percent for a one-child family and 25 percent for the two-child family. Income eligibility levels rise with inflation.
Congress agreed to impose a fee on owners of recreational boats, on the theory that they benefit from Coast Guard services and thus should bear some of the costs.
Michael Sciulla, vice president of the Boat Owners Association of the United States, who has fought such fees for a decade, said Saturday: "Congress was hungry for revenues of any kind, without regard for the merits of the issue.
"This fee will hit as many as 3-million Americans who own modest-size boats, 16 to 20 feet in length, and that certainly is no yacht."
INCOME. There will be three income tax rates _ 15 percent, 28 percent and 31 percent.
The 600,000 wealthiest Americans, who now pay a 28 percent income-tax rate, would enter the 31 percent bracket. Four-million others _ including couples earning between $80,000 and $160,000 _ would see their rates drop from 33 percent to 31 percent.
Itemized deductions would be reduced by 3 percent for incomes above $100,000 yearly, and people earning more would face a phase-out of the $2,050 personal exemption.
But a cut in the capital gains tax, the profits on sales of stocks, bonds and other investments, will make up some of the difference. Capital gains will be taxed at a maximum rate of 28 percent, down from a maximum of 33 percent.
GASOLINE. Currently 9 cents a gallon, it will rise by 5 cents.
ALCOHOL. The tax on a six-pack of beer will double to 32 cents. Taxes on wine and liquor will rise, too.
AIRLINE TICKETS. A tax of up to $12 per round trip is included in the tax package.
CIGARETTES. The 16-cents-a-pack tax on cigarettes, doubled in 1983, will be boosted another 8 cents.
BOATERS. A new Coast Guard fee will be assessed on pleasure boats according to length, up to a maximum $100 a year for boats over 40 feet.
LUXURY ITEMS. A new 10 percent tax will apply to sales of new cars with sticker prices above $30,000, furs and jewelry worth more than $10,000, boats above $100,000, and airplanes that sell for more than $250,000 that aren't used for business purposes 80 percent of the time.
MEDICARE. Medicare taxes will rise for some people. The budget would extend the 1.45 percent Medicare payroll tax beyond the $51,300 in income, where it now is capped, up to incomes of $125,000. For the $70,000 wage earner, for example, this means a real tax increase of $226.65, (plus a corresponding amount from their employers).
Florida's roll call
The House, by a vote of 228-200, approved deficit-reduction bill Saturday. A "yes" vote is a vote to pass the bill. Voting yes were 181 Democrats and 47 Republicans. Voting no were 74 Democrats and 126 Republicans. Here is how Florida's delegation voted:
Democrats: Bennett, Y; Fascell, Y; Gibbons, Y; Hutto, Y; Johnston, Y; Lehman, Y; Nelson, Y; Smith, Y.
Republicans: Bilirakis, N; Goss, N; Grant, N; Ireland, Y; James, N; Lewis, N; McCollum, N; Ros-Lehtinen, N; Shaw, Y; Stearns, N; Young, N.
_ Information from the Associated Press, Reuters, the New York Times, Scripps Howard News Service and the Washington Post was used in this report.
Here is a look at what the 101st Congress did and did not do, from the budget to civil rights, from crime to taxes. President Bush has yet to act on much of the legislation.
TYPE FOR SMALL ICONS
Although the Congress will cut the budget deficit by $40-billion, the government still expects to spend $254-billion more than it takes in. That would be a record-high amount.
The $268-billion defense bill includes includes $4.1-billion to keep the B-2 "stealth" bomber alive another year, but will reduce and delay the "Star Wars" program.
The $25.5-billion foreign-aid bill forgives $6.7-billion of Egypt's military debt. Israel is the top beneficiary of the bill with some $3-billion in cash, military and economic aid.
Congress has tightened clean air rules for the first time in 13 years. Most Americans will feel the effects in the air and in the pocketbook. Cars, for example, will pollute less and cost more.
Congress failed to override Bush's veto of civil rights legislation banning racial harassment in the workplace. Bush feared the bill would lead to hiring quotas.
Congress gave up its efforts to pass a broad federal death penalty (about 30 crimes would have been covered) and to ban sales of certain semiautomatic assault weapons.
Congress set up grant programs for child care and raised tax credits for low-income families with children. Church-run day care centers would be eligible for the federal subsidies.
TYPE FOR TAXES
GASOLINE: Will rise by 5 cents a gallon.
ALCOHOL: Tax on a six-pack will double to 32 cents. Taxes on wine and liquor will rise.
BOATERS: A Coast Guard fee will be assessed on pleasure boats according to length up to a maximum $100 a year.
CIGARETTES: Eight cents a pack more.
LUXURY ITEMS: A new 10 percent tax will apply to sales of expensive cars, furs and jewelry.
INCOME: There will be three income tax rates _ 15 percent, 28 percent and 31 percent.
The 600,000 wealthiest Americans, who now pay a 28 percent income-tax rate, would enter the 31 percent bracket.
Itemized deductions would be reduced by 3 percent for incomes above $100,000 yearly.
MEDICARE: Medicare taxes will rise for some people. The budget would extend the 1.45 percent Medicare payroll tax beyond the $51,300 in income, where it now is capped, up to incomes of $125,000. For the $70,000 wage earner, for example, this means a real tax increase of $226.65 (plus a corresponding amount from their employers).
TYPE FOR MEDICARE
MEDICARE: Is the federal health care insurance program for people age 65 and over.
Monthly premiums paid by all but the poorest beneficiaries would rise to about $46.50 by 1995, up from $28.60 this year.
The Medicare insurance deductible that beneficiaries pay would be set at $100, up from the current $75.