Congress doesn’t operate like you and I do

If our households operated the way the United States does, members of our extended families would be planning an intervention to get us to see the error of our ways.


Fifteen years ago, our household was on track to pay off our assorted debts. We were doing that by spending less than the paychecks we brought home.

But now our household finances are in shambles. We gave up our fiscal discipline two decades ago and decided we could afford to be more freewheeling with our money.

For the past 15 years, we have lived off our credit cards, spending more each year than we brought home in income. Those credit cards now have astronomical balances.

Yes, our income potential grew over the years and we could handle the payments on more debt. But that’s not the case now. Our financial adviser tells us that when interest rates begin rising, as they surely will, we will have to spend a significantly larger part of our income on interest.

Those bigger interest payments will leave us with less to spend on other things in our life --- things like food, health care, our house, educating our kids, keeping the car running, and vacations and recreation.

Relatives are starting to whisper about an intervention because --- despite our financial challenges --- we are on the verge of deciding to increase our debt by 10 percent or more.

The guys trying to persuade us to take the plunge tell us the extra debt will improve life for us. But our financial adviser and relatives tell us we are getting close to the tipping point where our debts are too large to accommodate on our income.

That, in essence, is where the United States is now with Congress considering the tax cut President Donald Trump wants to sign into law before the end of the year.

House Republicans and Trump believe cutting taxes on corporations will lead them to raise wages and hire more people. Since the last recession ended, businesses now have fat savings accounts and record profits --- but have little interest in using those to add jobs or raise wages.

Although the tax cut bill is being sold as an economic boost to all Americans, analysts say the bill actually would raise taxes, not cut them, for about 13 million Americans making less than $100,000. Notably, the National Federation of Independent Business opposes the bill.

The Concord Coalition is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization that educates the public and policymakers about the causes and consequences of government budget deficits and debt. The coalition’s Robert Bixby called the tax bill “fiscally irresponsible.”

He said, “This plan would move U.S. fiscal policy in a dangerous direction, openly inviting higher deficits in the face of unsustainable debt.”

The nation’s federal debt recently passed $20 trillion --- with a T.
he Congressional Budget Office projects that under the current law the U.S. is on track to add more than $10 trillion to the total debt in the next 10 years. The tax bill would tack $1.5 trillion onto that $10 trillion in the next 10 years.

The total federal debt now equals 105 percent of gross domestic product. The GDP is a measure of the economic output of the U.S.

The all-time high for debt was 119 percent of GDP in 1946. That reflected the huge borrowing by the government to pay for World War II.

But after the war’s end, the economy quickly gained steam, with soldiers back home and starting families, the restrictions on wartime consumption eliminated, and Americans buying cars and houses and appliances.

By the time President Harry Truman handed the keys to the White House to Dwight Eisenhower in 1953, the U.S. debt had been cut in half, down to 58 percent of GDP.

But the U.S. economy today is quite different from the late 1940s and early 1950s. There is not the pent-up demand for goods and services now. There is not a huge crush of babies being born now. As economists say, the economy now is “mature.”

Contrary to what you hear from advocates of the Republican tax bill, tax cuts these days do not “pay for themselves,” although they can provide a short-term boost to the economy.

But here we stand today with Republicans and our president itching to approve a tax cut that most assuredly would be written with red ink. I’m shaking my head in wonderment.

Eight years ago, President Obama was trying to right the U.S. economy during the worst fiscal downturn since the Great Depression. Unemployment was at 8 percent. The U.S. auto industry was in jeopardy. Huge financial institutions were failing.

The White House and congressional Democrats had a difficult time getting an $800 billion stimulus package through Congress. No Republicans supported it in the House; only three voted for it in the Senate. They were concerned about the cost and doubted its effectiveness.

My how times change.

* * *

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and retired opinion editor at the Des Moines Register. He is a native of Bloomfield, Iowa, and now lives in Des Moines. He can be reached at

Go to top