Time To Count The Costs:

"T-Day" — October 1, 1979 — will be upon us soon. That's the day the Canal Zone ceases to exist and the property is officially turned over (that's what the "T" stands for) to the Republic of Panama.

For all practical purposes Panama has been sovereign over the zone and its canal ever since April 1 of this year when the Panama Canal treaties signed last year by the president and approved by the U.S. Senate by a two-vote margin, became law of the land. However, there is an official six-month waiting period. Hence T-Day is October 1.

During this six-month period, the House of Representatives, charged by the constitution with the responsibility of disposing of U.S. property, was to enact "enabling legislation" to implement the treaties and provide the technical means for setting up new post-treaty procedures — such as transferring U.S. bases and equipment to Panama and establishing a joint U.S.-Panamanian commission to operate the canal between October 1, 1979 and the end of the century when U.S. responsibility totally ceases.

The House is now proving to be very stubborn and is balking at key elements of the enabling legislation. Last Thursday, House representatives almost sidetracked the treaty implementing legislation, causing the bill's proponents to take the bill out of harm's way by temporarily delaying further action on it.

President Carter was shocked at how close the bill came to being indefinitely pigeonholed. He told members of Congress that while blocking the implementing laws cannot invalidate the treaties, such action could close the canal, cut off vital oil supplies and trade shipments and diminish U.S. ability to defend the waterway in the post-treaty period. The East Coast is now dependent upon the canal for delivery of Alaskan oil. And movements of U.S. farm exports through the canal have been very heavy lately, contributing a lot in export earnings to offset the price of imported oil.

What has caused House conservatives to rise up at this late date is the full realization of just how much the canal turnover will cost U.S. tax payers.

Projected costs vary but according to one estimate, the dollar breakdown could be (1) For out-of-pocket Panama Canal transfer costs, $4 billion (including termination of the $20 million a year interest payments now made by the canal to the U.S. Treasury); (2) For Panama treaty contingency costs, $2 billion; (3) For Panama Canal property to be transferred, $20 Billion; (4) For Panama treaty costs after the year 2000, $200 million per year.

These projected costs were not honestly reported by the administration before the Senate's debate last year. In fact, the impression was given that little or no extra expenditure would be required in turning over the canal to Panama.

On October 22, 1977, President Carter said in Denver: "We are not taking any taxpayers' money to pay the Panamanians." On February 1, 1978, he repeated: "Are we paying Panama to take the canal? We are not. Under the new treaty, any payments to Panama will come from tolls paid by ships which use the canal."

Secretary of State Cyrus Vance promised the Senate Judiciary Committee: "The treaties require no new appropriations, nor do they add to the burden of the American taxpayer." Warren Christopher, deputy secretary of state, promised the same committee: "The treaties will not require any appropriations from the American taxpayer."

Sentate opponents of the treaty, of course, knew these professions were not correct, but Senate liberals bought the "no-cost" package.

Panama has not made things any easier either. Its government has demanded extra compensation for items clearly not a part of the new treaties, either in the letter or the spirit. For example, Panama has demanded the right to tax 180 American businesses, churches and faternal organizations in the Canal Zone as far back as 1903 and that the U.S. restore two military installations that haven't been used for 20 years to their original condition.

It's still possible that the enabling legislation will squeak through. It's certainly no time now to count the costs — that time was before the U.S. Senate approved the new pacts. If the House doesn't come through, "T-Day" will be Trouble Day for America.

Gene H. Hogberg, News Bureau

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Pastor General's ReportMay 21, 1979Vol 3 No. 18