…because I’m an economist and a mom–that’s why!

The (Little) Change We Can Believe In? The Diet We Can Stick To?

June 18th, 2009 . by economistmom


House Democratic members of Congress today introduced legislation designed to enforce greater fiscal responsibility in the federal budget–President Obama’s proposal for statutory “pay-as-you-go” (PAYGO), which would by law require that any new legislation which increases entitlement spending or reduces revenues be “paid for” with offsetting spending cuts or tax increases.

Oh, but that’s any new legislation other than the new legislation that will have to be drafted and passed by Congress and signed by President Obama (between now and the end of 2010) to extend the Bush tax cuts and to provide permanent relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax.  The Congressional Budget Office says that exemption of those tax cuts alone adds $2.3 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years.  (There’s also an exemption for Medicare physician payments that’s worth almost $300 billion over ten years.)

As Majority Leader Steny Hoyer explains in his press statement on the PAYGO legislation:

“[T]he principle of paying for what we buy was abandoned by President Bush, who used borrowed money to fund tax cuts for the most privileged. Today, due primarily to the recklessness of his Administration, we are in an unprecedented fiscal hole, facing a deficit of $1.3 trillion…
“We agree with the President [Obama] that restoring PAYGO will help us invest sustainably in some of our most important priorities, while pushing us to make the hard choices necessary to support vital programs and cut wasteful spending.
“Yes, this PAYGO bill allows several current policies to be extended without offsets. But nobody believes Congress would allow those current policies to expire. And creating requirements that nobody expects to be enforced would fatally weaken the credibility of PAYGO as a whole.
So what Majority Leader Hoyer seems to be saying is that the currently bad fiscal situation is due mostly to President Bush’s fiscal policies (a feeling shared by a majority of Americans according to question #25a in this NBC/Wall Street Journal survey just released*), yet everyone knows President Obama and the Congress don’t want to do anything to undo President Bush’s policies… And if we were to set such an unrealistic rule that would imagine that President Obama and the Congress would be willing to reverse course on those policies, then that rule would just end up being broken–and then the whole PAYGO disciplinary tool would just be a farce.

I think he’s saying we couldn’t stick to such a strict diet, and breaking a too-strict diet might lead us to give up on dieting altogether.  But that’s a little like equating the Bush tax cuts to a sham “ice cream diet” that we were on for years, told repeatedly that we could lose weight while eating ice cream.  And now we know better, we’ve gained like 50 pounds (maybe more if I thought about this analogy more analytically?) over the past eight years, so we know going forward that we won’t fall for that “ice cream diet” again.  But swearing off ice cream altogether would be too hard to do; we like ice cream too much.  Setting a diet today that denied that ice cream forever going forward would drive us crazy; one day the withdrawal symptoms would be too much to bear, and we’d not just break the “no ice cream” rule but break any sense of dietary discipline altogether.  The PAYGO legislation is like offering us free access to an all-you-can-eat ice cream sundae bar, in exchange for our promise going forward that we won’t eat as much ice cream and will do better at counting calories after the binge.

Well, that’s the Hoyer theory at least.  For the fat woman trying to get into a bikini by the end of the summer though, this discipline-after-one-last-binge thing might not work out so well in practice.   ;)

*More on this NBC/WSJ survey and in particular what it shows about the public’s concerns about the federal budget outlook and the economy, tomorrow.

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