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Budget battle: Four points of advice from Ike

We can only begin to imagine the depth of the political fissures once Congress seriously addresses our budget challenges as opposed to punting tough compromises down the road with last-minute, stop-gap spending bills. Just consider the intensity of the heat generated today over the Republicans’ continued resolve to cut “only” $100 billion from President Obama’s proposed budget for this year, which still would leave a massive deficit in excess of $1.4 trillion.

Ultimately, Americans must consider a painful, indelicate balance of much larger spending cuts along with tax increases, coupled with the need for crucial investments in our nation’s future. In confronting these agonizing political choices, both parties, and the electorate, would benefit from advice from “Ike.”

Such advice can be found in President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s memorable (though little remembered) radio and television address on taxes in 1954. The address was delivered on March 15, which was Tax Day back then. Its value lies not in its details but in what he said about the government’s role domestically, about sound budgeting, and about being a “good American.”

These words, from a Republican, challenged listeners then regardless of party, as they will challenge listeners today. Mount Holyoke College tax-policy scholar John O. Fox gives us Ike's four critical pieces of advice.

34th president of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower is pictured here boarding an aircraft in December 1955.
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1. On the role of government

Ike believed, like Lincoln, that the federal government must provide “those things which the individual cannot do at all or so well do for himself;” so he called upon Congress “to approve a great program to build a stronger America for all our people.” This would include an expanded “social-security program, a broader and stronger system of unemployment insurance, more and better homes for our people.”

He continues, “We want to do away with slums in our cities. We want a much-improved health program, a better and a lasting farm program, an improved Taft-Hartley Act to protect workers and employers, wider markets overseas for our products.”

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