Let’s say you’re changing jobs, leaving one that was relatively secure for one with an uncertain future. You think it’s possible you’ll make more money, but it’s likely you’ll make less. What would you do beforehand?
You probably should carefully determine what your spending patterns are, and then adjust downward until they match your most likely income. You’d look for areas of waste first, followed by luxuries, but then you might also have to cut some of the more important stuff.
Once you’d done that, then, one last time, you’d carefully consider if changing jobs is really the wisest move. And then if it’s still a go, you would do all you could to find additional revenues to make the numbers add up.
And if you did all that, you would be doing the opposite of what Congress is doing.
I’m referring to the tax cut package the Senate just hurriedly passed, which is turning out to be an even bigger mess than it seemed at the time, and the various spending increases that Congress is currently considering.
Do you remember when the federal government made a habit of running $1 trillion annual deficits during President Obama’s administration? There was a joke: "Please don’t tell Obama what comes after ‘trillion.’"
The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget Deficit projects that, if everything that’s being debated by Congress passes, those trillion-dollar deficits could return next year.
And remember, this would be occurring while the economy is growing. Under Obama, the deficits occurred during the Great Recession, when deficit spending at least could be rationalized as a way to prop up the economy.
Let’s pause to define some terms. The deficit is how much red ink the government accumulates in a year. This year, it should be about $600 billion – more than last year, and roughly $2,000 for every American man, woman and child. The national debt, meanwhile, is what the nation has accumulated throughout its history. It’s now $20.5 trillion.
So here’s what’s happening now. Republicans are heck-bent on passing a tax cut. The House passed its version last month, while the Senate passed its last week. Some supporters argue the cuts will stimulate the economy and eventually increase revenues. Most economists and other number-crunchers say that won’t happen.
Both versions cut taxes, mostly for the wealthy and for corporations, and both get rid of some tax loopholes and deductions to help make up for some of the lost revenues. The Senate’s especially is a mess – literally handwritten in the margins, with lots of glitches. Here’s a big one: The head of one of the country’s largest coal companies, Robert Murray of Murray Energy, said it would wipe him out because of the changes it would make to deductions. You’ll recall President Trump promising to save the coal industry as a candidate.
The differences between the House and Senate versions will be ironed out in a conference committee composed of members of both bodies. Lobbyists are furiously twisting arms to restore those deductions. Then the new version must be approved by both the full House and the full Senate.
Meanwhile, there’s talk in Congress of temporarily halting the sequester for two years, which is an arrangement that cuts spending automatically. Congress is itching to spend more money – Republicans particularly on defense, Democrats particularly on domestic programs. Plus, we’ll have to spend billions on hurricane relief.
So Congress – in this case, mostly Republicans – has rushed through a package that likely will reduce revenues at the same time it is increasing spending. It’s the equivalent of you and me taking that risky job and then, instead of cutting expenses, spending more and putting it on the credit card.
That’s how you return to trillion-dollar deficits.
By the way, in the spirit of not being a hypocrite, I should confess this. While thinking about this column, I realized that, twice, I’ve voluntarily reduced my income without having a plan for replacing it, or what spending I would cut.
Just call me "Congress." The difference is, yours and my credit cards can be maxed out, while Uncle Sam’s has no limit. Or so it seems.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.