- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

Hold the presses
The morning after President Bush's new budget was released, newspaper headlines around the country proclaimed "record deficits" the highest in U.S. history.
But could these headlines be erroneous?
The Senate Budget Committee's Republican staff is asking the Washington press corps to take a short quiz: "How many times in the past 60 years has the deficit been larger than the level Mr. Bush is projecting for 2003 and 2004?"
The answer, they say, is nine times 1943, 1944, 1945, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1991, 1992 and 1993.
"If historical comparisons are to be made, one must consider changes in the value of the dollar, as well as changes in the size or our economy; otherwise, the use of the word 'record' is meaningless," say the staff.
"Consider the following example that anyone who's had a job can relate to: If a worker was earning $40,000 annually in 1992, and in 2003 is earning $42,000, no one would argue that person is earning a record-high salary. In reality, that worker had more buying power back in 1992 that he does today.
"In fact, that worker would have to be making at least $50,000 to have comparable buying power today."
Furthermore, the staff point out, in the early 1990s, mid-1980s and 1940s, deficits as a percentage of the overall economy were more than 4 percent, 6 percent and as much as 30 percent, respectively. But the budget deficit projected for 2003 is only 2.8 percent of the economy.
In other words, they conclude, the 2003 deficit is $267 billion, lower than in previous years when (in constant 1996 dollars) deficits were $318 billion in 1992, $311 billion in 1983, and $412 billion in 1945.
Strip search
Not long ago, Inside the Beltway brought you the story of a Florida lawyer who, on behalf of his quadriplegic client Edward Law, sued two West Palm Beach strip clubs because one establishment's lap-dance room didn't have wheelchair access and the other's stage was too high.
Suits were filed against the Landing Strip and the Wildside Adult Sports Cabaret because Mr. Law's view of the strippers was obstructed by a "far too high" dance platform and the lap-dance room was accessible only by a short flight of stairs.
Now, in light of these two "frivolous" lawsuits in his state, Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican, has just re-introduced his ADA Notification Act, limiting "drive-by" lawsuits by giving businesses 90 days to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"The hijacking of the ADA must end," says Mr. Foley. "Many of these lawyers are making a mockery of the law. They are using disabled Americans in their quest for quick cash. The disabled community should be outraged."
Saluting Sam
On Capitol Hill yesterday, the first released prisoners of war (POWs) from Vietnam marked the 30th anniversary of "Operation Homecoming."
Mentioned in a House resolution that praised the bravery and valor of the POWs is the only one serving on the House side of the 108th Congress Rep. Sam Johnson, Texas Republican, who spent nearly seven years as a POW, more than half of it in solitary confinement.
"I think about February 12th every day of my life and I probably always will," Mr. Johnson said yesterday. "I thank God, my country and my family for not giving up on me."
On Feb. 12, 1973, the longest-held POWs, as well as those needing urgent medical attention, were finally released to U.S. officials near Hanoi.
As for Mr. Johnson, he was shot down at dusk over North Vietnam during his 25th combat mission on April 16, 1966. He suffered a broken right arm, dislocated left shoulder and a broken back. His captors used his injuries to torture him, but the efforts to glean information from the airman proved fruitless.
They finally labeled him a "die-hard" and sent him into solitary for 42 months.
Leader for a day
There was one supportive Democrat in the room Rep. Ralph M. Hall of Texas when congressmen huddled at the White House this week with President Bush. Welfare reform was on the agenda; specifically, a welfare reauthorization bill to be considered today on the House floor.
At the conclusion of the meeting, one Republican after another stepped up to the microphones to say that Mr. Bush is highly supportive of their new welfare legislation. After all, they pointed out, similar bills passed since 1996 have taken welfare rolls from 14 million to 5 million, plus helped 3 million American children rise up from poverty.
After Republicans finished touting their welfare successes, there wasn't much left for the lone Democrat to say.
"I'm Ralph Hall, probably the one Democrat here," he noted.
He paused, and on second thought added:
"I'm Ralph Hall, the most important Democrat here."
By this time he was beaming. Why quit while you're ahead, sir?
"I'm Ralph Hall, the oldest Democrat here."
Come to think of it, "After Ben Gilman left, I'm the old member of Congress."
Mr. Hall, who served in the Navy during World War II, will turn 80 on May 3. A Texas native, he is one of only a few Democrats in the Republican-controlled House who supports the current welfare-reform reauthorization bill.

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