Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots is the most infuriating game ever created. The inability to move beyond half an inch from side to side, and the lackluster punches that leave the robot arms entangled, make for 30 seconds of fun followed by utter frustration. After the signature head pop declaring a win by the red or blue robot, a simple reset starts the entire process over again. But, the gameplay on both sides never changes. Just keep trying to score punches against the opponent.
Sounds a lot like Washington D.C.
Last Congress, Team Red scored a victory – or head pop – against Team Blue when they successfully passed a $1 trillion tax cut (followed shortly by a massive spending increase). After years of campaigning on fiscal responsibility, Republicans had a case of amnesia when they came to power and pushed through a partisan tax bill that angered the Democrats. Denouncing the tax bill as “armageddon,” then-Minority Leader Pelosi said that its deficit impact would be “the deepest hole dug by a single bill in the years that I have been here.”
Team Red scored its tax cut punch in the 115th Congress, so it’s time for Team Blue to seek its revenge after the elections—reset the game.
The 116th Congress, in the now Democrat-controlled House, began with a speech from Speaker Pelosi that included talking points on climate change, healthcare, paychecks, and campaign finance reform. But a quick word search of the transcript turned up zero results for the words deficit, budget, debt, revenues and spending. So much for armageddon.
Rather than reversing the damaging impacts of the deficit-induced bills in the 115th Congress, Team Blue wants to score points for their side in the form of increased spending. They began this by introducing new House rules that take several steps to make spending money easier than ever before. These include eliminating dynamic scoring, making the debt ceiling easier to raise, allowing for deficit increasing amendments to appropriations bills, and replacing Cut-Go with Pay-Go.
Dynamic scoring has long been a partisan tiff about the true impact of tax cuts. The idea behind dynamic scoring is that tax cuts increase economic growth and that increased growth yields additional revenues to the federal government. While some estimates definitely do overestimate the impacts, there is no doubt that there is at least some dynamic impact. Static scoring ignores economic impacts and just says if you cut taxes by ‘x’ dollars than the government will receive exactly ‘x’ less dollars.
According to Roll Call, “Democrats charge that Republicans used dynamic scoring analyses to oversell the growth effects of tax cuts.” They were quick to get rid of the rule, but the goal is not more accurate scoring. It actually paves the way for tax increases to supply Democrats with more money to—you guessed it—spend. If Democrats want to offset a new spending proposal with tax increases—static scoring will increase the value of those tax increases because it will not factor in the reduced revenues from diminished economic growth. Bigger offset means more spending.
In addition to eliminating dynamic scoring, the rules package reinstated the Gephardt Rule. Originally introduced in 1979 by Democrat Congressman Richard Gephardt, the parliamentary rule allows for the House to raise the federal debt ceiling when it passes a budget that surpasses the previous limit. It actually goes one step further than the original rule, by separating the debt limit increase into a different bill to send to the Senate. In other words, the House can increase the debt limit without ever really talking about the debt limit. It’s just on autopilot. Given that we are $21 trillion in debt and growing, a debate over the factors of our exploding debt seem in order rather than putting it on autopilot. While increasing the debt ceiling under the new Gephardt Rule would still need approval from the Senate, it once again represents a toxic mindset in Washington that spending without restraint is perfectly acceptable.
The House rules also include two reversals of Republican rules. One that says that you can offer amendments to appropriations bills that increase spending (so long as the overall bill stays within the budget caps). The other replaces the House Republican Cut-Go rule – which says that new spending has to be offset by spending cuts – with a Pay-Go rule saying that new spending has to be offset with spending cuts or tax increases. While neither of these are surprising, they both favor increased spending compared to the prior norm.
Combined, all of these rules changes are indicative of a party that wants to chalk up partisan wins through spending increases more so than tackling the drivers of our national debt.
Just like Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, the players do not move very far from side to side, and both parties are firmly cemented in their fiscally-irresponsible and partisan ways. So long as each party in Congress remains solely focused on scoring points against the opponent, the American people, and especially younger generations that will be buried in the debt its causing, will never win. The only way to end this madness is by tossing this tit-for-tat game in the trash and making sustainable, long-term outcomes rather than short-term head popping the goal. In the meantime, for the next two years in the House, these new budget rules are sure to cause a lot of celebration on the blue side, head popping on the red side, and frustration for all of us.