The 1993 classic film “Groundhog Day” tells the story of TV weatherman Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) who is cursed to live the same day over and over again, regardless of the events that occur each day. The film has since earned praise for conveying the moral lessons of fulfillment and gratitude as well as, for our purposes, its applicability to myriad social and political situations.
National Review senior editor Jonah Goldberg writes that when Murray’s character discovers “he can, in effect, live forever without consequences — if there’s no tomorrow, how can you be punished? — he indulges his adolescent self,” “[shoving] cigarettes and pastries into his face with no fear of love-handles or lung cancer.” This recap sounds a lot like a metaphor that can be easily applied to Congress’s approach to the nation’s fiscal policy.
At the same time news cycles were dominated by the supernova-like outrage of the current Supreme Court fight, another remarkable moment for Republicans occurred with nary a peep from most political observers. On September 28th, the House of Representatives passed a package of bills, dubbed “Tax Reform 2.0,” that would make last year’s tax cuts permanent rather than letting them expire in 2025.
By making the tax cuts permanent, those of us concerned with ever-growing government debt are implicitly told three things: First, tackling spending remains near the bottom of Congress’s to-do list. Second, the same old electioneering games are still at play. Finally, the disconnect between cutting government tax revenue with no spending cuts to offset the resulting loss underscores why millennials must take it upon themselves to demand Congress snap out of its “Groundhog Day” approach to fiscal policy.
It is clear from the fawning praise of Tax Reform 2.0 by multiple interest groups that the package’s broader repercussions have been missing. Those broader repercussions — a $2.4 trillion increase in the national debt over 10 years according to the Tax Foundation and a $3.15 trillion increase in the debt after 2028 according to the Tax Policy Center — are large figures to omit. In addition to interest groups, members of Congress have been similarly mum on the package’s price tag.
In his statement on the passage of Tax Reform 2.0, House Speaker and erstwhile fiscal hawk Paul Ryan celebrated that “the three bills passed this week will continue to propel [economic] growth.” Again, fiscally conscious readers get the image of Bill Murray indulging himself with no regard for tomorrow. It is true that both the original Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and Tax Reform 2.0 have customarily redeeming qualities such as increased take-home pay for taxpayers and freeing up investment capital for American businesses, but the absence of how they will square with the growing national debt is glaring.
Political strategizing also seems to have played a part in Tax Reform 2.0’s passage. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Kevin Brady (TX-8) recently stated “the time is short before the [2018 midterm] election” to pass the tax reform package and that the “GOP will ‘fight to hold’ congressional majorities ‘so [they] have a chance’ to push tax legislation.”
It is unfortunate that the long-term effects of the national debt are of lesser priority than striving to maintain Congressional majorities that, much like Phil Connors of “Groundhog Day,” will continue indulging with no regard for days ahead because every day ahead is the same.
As of this writing, the national debt stands at $21.6 trillion. At the end of the film, Phil Connors falls in love and finally escapes the time loop with a more thankful view of life. The time is fast approaching where this story will not have as rosy an ending.
A recent New York Times article raised the alarm bell that “within a decade, more than $900 billion in interest payments [on government debt] will be due annually, easily outpacing spending on myriad other [government] programs.” To avoid this calamitous path, members of Congress would do well to look to the Bill Murray classic for guidance. It just might inspire them, like Phil Connors of “Groundhog Day,” to look to the future instead of taking the next day as a given.