For many Pennsylvanians, a trip to Washington, D.C., is a nice family outing to visit some of our national museums and monuments. So why does it seem that, in terms of public policy, there is a huge gulf separating Washington from Pennsylvania and the rest of the country?
Outside of Washington we understand the looming threat posed by our mountain of debt. The facts are indisputable. Our debt stands at about $12 trillion and we are adding about a half a trillion dollars annually. That's a monument to fiscal insanity, but not one you would see on the official tour of D.C.
Most economists agree on the dangers posed by too much debt. It can depress the job market, cut deeply into the social safety net, reduce spending on important priorities for American families and limit available capital for businesses and individuals. As we do nothing, the debt piles up. Now spending on the debt's interest is the fastest-growing portion of the federal budget.
While we see these lurking dangers, Congress does not, or chooses not, to see them. As a county commissioner, I know there is a time for partisanship and a time to work together. I also know that I am required by law to pass a balanced county budget every year. In regard to the budget problems on the national level the partisan approach is not working. Even a loyal Republican like me can recognize when a proposal is deserving of support regardless of which party crafted it.
Consider the tax-reform proposal offered by Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, a Republican from Michigan. I was pleasantly surprised by its comprehensive approach. Camp wasn't looking to the next election (in fact he's not running again) but impacting future generations.
Our tax code is a confusing tangle of costly preferences handed out to special interests. It causes companies and individuals to make decisions based on what gets them the biggest tax break instead of the best economic return. It also puts the federal government in the position of picking winners and losers. As a result the special interests tend to prevail over our national interest.
For families, the tax code is no more comprehensible. This was obvious with the passing of tax day last month. The IRS estimates that families spend about 13 hours doing their taxes.
Camp's plan would simplify the code, limiting the number of deductions, tax preferences and credits, while reducing rates and growing the economy. It relies on real numbers rather than wishful thinking. Of course there is always room for improvement.
My main anxiety is that it does not supply revenue that will improve the budget situation. Any kind of tax-reform plan should help reduce deficits, though this plan could actually make deficits worse in the long run. We need to develop a tax plan that reduces debt while also making necessary reforms to our entitlement programs. If we don't, we will be limited in our capacity to invest in what keeps our economy moving, items such as infrastructure and education.
Chairman Camp's proposal is a commendable display of leadership and shows a refreshing appetite for budgetary reform. With his proposal, he has upset the army of lobbyists that has made our tax code a morass of exceptions and preferences. Predictably these special interests are howling the loudest.
Children and seniors, small and large business owners, mothers and fathers and Democrats and Republicans are all in this together. We all should tell our elected leaders that we are ready to make hard choices to fix the debt and demand that they join us.
— Chris Reilly is a York County Commissioner and steering committee member of the Pennsylvania chapter of Fix the Debt.