Tax-cut-and-spend Congress

Uncle Sam hangs on for webBy Steve Brawner
© 2015 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Many Republican members of Congress, including all six members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation, have signed the Americans for Tax Reform’s pledge not to raise taxes, and mostly they stick to it. Many Democrats have signed a pledge not to mess with Social Security. But there’s no group asking members of Congress to pledge to reduce the national debt.

Much as I hate all these pledges, maybe there should be.

This past week, Congress rushed through two legislative packages that will make the national debt bigger. One was a package that permanently extended tax breaks that, in fairness, mostly were being routinely extended temporarily before. We’re now assured of adding $700 billion to the national debt over 10 years, whereas before we at least argued about it every year. All four members of Arkansas’ House delegation voted for the deal, which was consistent with the pledge they have signed.

And that wouldn’t be a problem, if Congress had voted to cut spending elsewhere to offset the tax cuts. Just as you and I ought to cut back on spending if we decide to take a job that pays less, Congress ought to cut spending if it cuts taxes.

Instead, Congress also voted this week for a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending package that increases spending by $50 billion. The 2,000-page bill is full of provisions that range from the important (allowing the U.S. to compete in the oil exporting market) to the mundane ($65 million for salmon restoration). It was negotiated by congressional leaders behind closed doors and then presented to the membership with little time for them to read it and nothing else on the table to avert a government shutdown.

To their credit, Arkansas’ senators, Sen. John Boozman and Sen. Tom Cotton, voted against both packages, which were combined in the Senate into one vote. In the House, Rep. Rick Crawford and Rep. Bruce Westerman get credit for voting against the spending package. Meanwhile, I can’t blame the two House members who voted for that package, Rep. French Hill and Rep. Steve Womack. Time was running out, there was no alternative, and many Republicans want to give new Speaker Paul Ryan, who helped broker the deal, a chance to succeed.

Also, the tax deal isn’t that much of a break from past policy. It mostly extended tax breaks permanently that were being extended temporarily year after year. Now at least we have clarity.

The problem is that once again, members of Congress voted to cut taxes, increase spending, and add to the debt because they don’t have enough motivations to behave differently. People often complain about “tax-and-spend liberals.” The truth is that most members of Congress often are “tax-cut-and-spend Republicans and Democrats.” And that’s why the national debt is creeping toward $19 trillion, or $58,000 for every American.

In signing the combined packages into law Friday, President Obama said, “I think the system worked.”

He’s right. The system worked perfectly. It did exactly what it was designed to do: Cut taxes, increase spending, and make the numbers work because the costs will be borne by future generations who don’t yet vote.

This has been going on for almost all of America’s history. According to the U.S. Treasury’s website, the national debt was $71 million in 1790, and then it dipped to less than $34,000 at the beginning of 1835, and it’s been pretty much rising ever since, until recently, when it exploded under your and my watch. It took about 191 years for it to reach $1 trillion and then needed 20 years to reach $6 trillion. Under the last two presidents, it’s grown another $13 trillion. As of Dec. 16, it was $18,796,279,678,290.28.

Two things can change this dynamic.

One is voluntary. Voters can elect fiscally responsible candidates. In office, those lawmakers must place as high a priority on future generations as they do on cutting taxes and increasing spending today. Would signing a pledge to reduce the debt help? It’s helped elsewhere.

More likely, there must be a mechanism, such as a balanced budget amendment, that makes it easier for elected officials to make responsible choices because, if they don’t, they’re breaking or at least skirting the law.

That way the system would work only when it does right by everyone – those who vote, those who don’t, and those who can’t because they’re too young or not yet born.

13 thoughts on “Tax-cut-and-spend Congress

  1. Why is it common sense people with accountability, like the author of this article, never run for office? It seems maybe common sense keeps bright people away from the no-holds-barred cage match/circus that has become Congress? Because we keep sending people who think their IQ grows exponentially when their plane touched down in D.C. Which somehow morphs into being smarter than everyone in their district thus bestowing the mindset why ask what my lowly subjects think when I know best? Not all of them are bad – illustrating a point. It’s a necessary evil, emphasis on evil.

    On January 8th, 1835 under President Andrew Jackson our national debt was paid off in full – and stayed that way for exactly one year. Never again have we been close.

  2. I was going off 10th grade memories of American History. I checked NPR and it stated it lasted exactly one year. I asked my uncle, a state budget guy with an eidetic memory, and he confirmed. Jackson did it by trying to veto any bill that spent money, closing the national bank, and selling US real estate out west. It’s old school, but I like his sentiment that’s immoral to be in debt. Don’t buy any more until you pay off what you owe. Of course, he severely beat a gunman in 60’s with his walking stick when the gunman attempted to kill him – either in DC or TN legislature. Jackson had to be restrained by several men to keep from killing his attacker. We could use a limited 4 or 8 year run of that, I do believe. Show the world we are p*ssies no longer, fix our own problems, then resume being the big brother to everyone out there and footing their bills. But what do I know?

  3. It’s funny, but as I grow older I become more cynical and more aware of how the world is all shades of gray with very few exceptions. Murder is always 100% wrong! I beg to differ – exceptions exist. No one party or one man is the sole or even a lot of the blame. It’s shared any way you look at it. First, checks and balances exist, and if they aren’t used the person/party in opposition to said legislation becomes culpable to. Secondly, I call it the Sliding Doors theory – that article have a progression of events and people that caused all our woes, yet if one person dies, one significant idea flounders, ANYTHING, then the whole thing could become something else. But no one can predict what could’ve, should’ve, would’ve can we?

    I’m a believer in every story has 2 sides AND the truth. When I read a one sided story that fails to only criticize one side makes me very cynical indeed. I noticed the author correctly mentioned W amassed a national debt all by his lonesome greater than the previous sum in his 8 years as President. And…. Drumroll….. The next guy beat that number all by himself in just 7 years! That’s an amazing record! Why oh why did the author forget to mention that? That’s right, it doesn’t fit the narrative.

    I’m neither Republican nor Democrat, but I tend to want to open my mouth (sometimes ignorantly) when something is so slanted. I liked W for reasons that have to do with the human condition, while I think Obama lacks the same, he seems like a decent guy and good father, he’s woefully inadequate for the job he wanted. I mean, at 31yrs old I managed 188 people I’m a finance company. From everything I’ve found, Obama has never ran an operation close to what little ol’ me did, much less the US. Obama, W, Boehner, Clinton, GOP, Dem’s – they all bear the responsibility or none at all. With that, I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas!

  4. GW, the article was written only a few days into the Obama administration; therefore, what has transpired with the national debt since then had not happened yet.

    Also, as long as the U.S. dollar remains the preeminent currency, no, I don’t think there will be any calling on the carpet.

  5. W. originated our recent steep plunge into debt by pushing for a big tax cut, then putting 2 costly wars on our national credit card. Cheney thought Reagan was right in saying that deficits don’t matter. At some point deficits do matter. It’s like the difference between burning a little trash in the back yard and setting the whole forest on fire. Both parties share plenty of blame over the years. There doesn’t appear to be a nickel’s worth of difference between them.

  6. You’re right Ken – that thought occurred to me after I posted it. I’m not sure how much of it is real money and what’s propped up to ourselves anymore either. I don’t think the next President can do anything BUT add a few trillion to it. Don’t elect me – half the country would hate me, half would love me. Small parts of Middle East would hate us because there would be large parking lots all over where there were enemie’s cities, cut off aid to governments who openly hate on us, and I accept the collateral damage. Teddy R said it best: Walk softly and carry a big stick. Now we shout and whine. Drives me crazy. Not a war advocate – just don’t send our boys and girls to foreign shores in handcuffs. I blame it on the “every kid gets a trophy for showing up” mentality. But I digress.

    It doesn’t matter who gets elected, Dem or GOP – Congress will remain the bottleneck through which many Americans suffer as a result of, while those in power use it to bolster their position. We have a great governmental concept run by morally corrupt people. So yeah…. We will get called on the carpet at some point. And yeah…. It’s still the preeminent currency with politicians willing to sell part of our soul to keep it that way. God Bless America. Nobody else will. Have a Happy New Year!

    (Geez! I sound morose. I’m not.)

  7. Sandy, in all fairness, W’s debt totaled more than all previous presidents combined. Obama did it again to the tune of $9 trillion. And he promised to get us out of there in his first term. I don’t think you can point the finger at Bush anymore than Obama. He could’ve stopped the bleeding if he was willing to piss off some countries. Reagan, one of my favorites, gambled our entire financial future in bringing down the USSR. What if he had failed?

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