How do you eat an elephant?
No doubt you’ve heard this expression before when debating how to complete a big project.
The answer? One bite at a time.
With a $20 trillion national debt and $100+ trillion worth of unfunded liabilities, our nation is dealing with one massive elephant. As the controllers of our country’s fiscal situation, it seems obvious that Members of Congress would at least agree that the last thing they should be doing is adding to our plate. Yet, Republican budget plans appear to do just that.
Republicans, who were once champions of deficit reduction, are turning their focus to tax reform. But in order to pass tax reform with only Republican support, Congress must first pass a budget that includes special instructions, known as reconciliation, that will allow the Senate to eventually pass a tax reform bill with only a simple majority, rather than the typical 3/5ths or 60 vote supermajority. These budget instructions do not provide any policy details on tax reform, but they do outline how lawmakers will approach it from a budgeting perspective. Both chambers have laid down their initial markers with their budget proposals, with the House passing its version and the Senate passing their version through committee last week. However, Republicans have not yet unified on how the budget should impact the debt.
According to Politico, “The House budget would require a tax plan that does not add to the deficit, while the Senate edition would allow tax writers to add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over 10 years.” While the House version is the fiscally responsible measure, it appears that Republicans are going to go the way of the Senate plan.
Many House members who have been vocal in their careers about cutting spending and not adding to the deficit are now conceding that position. For instance, Rep. Mark Meadows, a longtime deficit hawk, supports the Senate’s plan of adding to the deficit because it “allows for us to be very aggressive on tax cuts.”
It seems many other deficit hawks will follow Meadow’s lead so they can have something to show their constituents this winter. But they should not ignore their younger constituents, even though they may not be old enough to vote for their reelection. If Republicans decide to go the way of the Senate proposal, paving way for trillions in new debt, they may be able to celebrate a political victory in the short term, but ultimately younger Americans will feel the consequences.
Tax reform is needed, but it should not exacerbate our nation’s massive fiscal problems. It is essential that any tax reform bill is at least deficit neutral in order to avoid adding more to our rapidly growing debt. That means any reductions in revenues must be paired with closing an equivalent amount in tax loopholes or a reduction in spending. Better yet, Congress should use the budget process to begin tackling our biggest long-term issue, the national debt. The last thing Congress should do is feed the elephant.