Roads, public buildings, businesses, utilities and homes aren't the only things that suffered major damage in the earthquake that shook the Los Angeles area Jan. 17. The federal budget also felt a significant jolt.
President Clinton is seeking $7.5 billion as a down payment on disaster relief to start rebuilding the structures and restoring service. Fortunately, aid will not have to wait for congressional action. Some $879 million in federal contingency funds already have been released.It may take weeks to get a complete tally of the losses, but the damage total has been estimated at anywhere from $15 billion to $30 billion. In addition to thousands of damaged buildings, eight bridges and overpasses were destroyed by the quake.
There is no question that federal aid will be forthcoming. It was granted in the Midwest floods and will be provided again, even though the Los Angeles earthquake could be one of the most expensive disasters in history. Clinton says he will propose a 1994 fiscal supplemental appropriations bill.
The real question is how the money will be raised in this year's budget that already is deeply in the red. Congress is facing even more cuts to meet deficit reduction goals next fall.
Some members of Congress simply want to raise the money and just add it to the deficit. That isn't good enough. Any extra spending must be offset with cuts in spending from the rest of the budget.
Real deficit reduction is never going to occur unless Congress learns to live within a budget. Like any family faced with unexpected expenses, the emergency must be met by scrimping from other portions of the household account.
House Speaker Tom Foley, D-Wash., has promised a task force to study ways to reduce the fiscal impact of disaster aid on the federal budget. Yet that approach of dealing with the issue "tomorrow" was used in the debate of flood disaster aid. Unfortunately, as one member of Congress pointed out this week: "Tomorrow never comes in Washington."
By all means, provide the necessary help to the stricken people of California. But make up for it by tightening the fiscal belt elsewhere.