In 1967 President Johnson told Congress that the U.S. could afford to fight the war in Vietnam as well as build the Great Society at home at the same time. Many were skeptical – many had good reason to be.
Earlier in the week, President Johnson sent Congress a record budget for $172.4 billion in government spending. About $22 billion was allocated to the Vietnam War, while $18 billion was earmarked for various Great Society projects, including end the War on Poverty. The budget outline included a 6% surcharge on everyones income taxes, an increase in Social Security taxes and increased postal rates. The President expressed optimism about the war budget. “Although uncertainties still remain as to the duration and intensity of the conflict in Vietnam, these uncertainties are now less pronounced than previously,” Johnson said. A year ago, Johnson had given military the green light for an open-ended buildup in Vietnam. U.S. forces there increased by 200,000 during 1966. There are now more than 400,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam. But Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara has said the troop buildup is leveling off. Other budget highlights: NATIONAL DEBT-To go from $327. 3 billion on July 1, 1967, to $335.4 billion on July 1, 1968. But the debt will swing even higher during certain peak seasons. Johnson asked for “an immediate increase” in the legal debt limit, now at $330 billion, and said he would be back in the spring for another hike. The defense budget contains money to start production of the Nike-X antimissile defense system, if Johnson can’t persuade the Russians to stop deploying their own. Also included are more helicopters for the Army and money to start work on a third atom-powered aircraft carrier.
Senate Republican leader Everett M. Dirksen said he found things in Johnson’s budget “that do not readily meet the eye.” He promised “a sharp look-see when the time comes.” For his part, Johnson said he would welcome a “searching examination” by the lawmakers. But he cautioned that major budget cuts could not be made “without serious impairment to vital national objectives.” “We can afford to achieve our goals. Let us not retreat from them no matter how demanding they may be,” Johnson said. He asked for $18.3 billion to finance health, education, welfare, poverty and other great society programs, compared with $16.4 billion in the current year. Although the increase totaled $1.9 billion, it was substantially below the $4.8 billion added to Great Society spending in both 1966 and 1967. In addition, budget director Charles Schultze told reporters the President was asking Congress to spend considerably less than it has already authorized for many of these programs. In outlining his spending plans, Johnson spoke mainly in terms of the cash budget, which is regarded as a better measure of Federal government taxing and spending than the traditional administrative budget. Johnson estimated cash budget receipts at $168.1 billion provided Congress goes along with his requests for $5.8 billion in new taxes on individuals and corporations and a $7OO million increase in postal rates. That would mean a deficit of $4.3 billion, down somewhat from the $6.2 billion deficit estimated in the current fiscal year ending June 30. If Johnson had stressed the Administrative Budget, the red-ink spending would have been $B.l billion.
To discuss the pros and cons of this new budget on the CBS Radio program Capitol Cloakroom were Senators Roman L. Hruska (R-Nebraska) and Vance Kartke (D-Indiana).
A reminder that War has always factored in there somewhere – and sometimes overshadows the best of intentions elsewhere.