Bipartisan Race to the Bottom

Blog Post
Friday, August 20, 2021

This week on Facing the Future we heard from Tom Kahn, a veteran Democrat congressional staffer who is concerned that both parties have abandoned fiscal discipline. Concord’s National Field Director Phil Smith joined the conversation. 

Kahn is currently a Faculty Fellow at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. He worked in Congress for 33 years and for 20 of those years, he was staff director and chief counsel of the House Budget Committee.

Recently, Kahn wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in which he expressed his concern that while infrastructure investments are worthy initiatives, they should not add to the growing national debt. 

Kahn said he had three goals in writing the op-ed. First was to focus more attention on the debt, which he described as critical. Second, he wanted to emphasize that new spending, such as the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, should be fully paid for. And third, he wanted to express his concern that Democrats on Capitol Hill “are using some of the same budget gimmicks to claim the [infrastructure] bill is paid for that we attacked Republicans for using to ‘pay for’ tax cuts.”

While noting serious problems with the budget process, Kahn said, “I don’t think you can create a process to fix the problems unless you have the political will to do so, and we’re losing the political will.” 

One development in the budget process that gives him particular concern is the use of “reconciliation,” which exempts certain budget legislation from the Senate filibuster, to increase deficits rather than reduce them, the opposite of the assumed purpose when reconciliation was established. “In my mind,” he said, “it’s a gross misuse of the reconciliation process to add to the deficit.”

Kahn said he understands the tough politics of fiscal responsibility in the short-term, but expressed his belief that there would be political rewards in the long-term.

“No politician has ever gone back to his voters and gotten rounds of applause for saying. ‘I just raised your taxes’ or ‘I just cut the benefits you love the most,’” Kahn said. “So sometimes good policy is not necessarily good politics in the short-run. But in the long-term, fiscal responsibility actually is good politics because if you don’t control the deficit and you don’t control the debt, ultimately what you're going to have is much higher interest rates, higher inflation, and obviously that’s bad politics. So I think there is a fiscal bonus, a reward, over the long-term.”

Hear more on Facing the Future. I host the program each week on WKXL, NHTalkRadio.com (N.H.), and it is also available via podcast. Join me and my guests as we discuss issues relating to national fiscal policy with budget experts, industry leaders, and elected officials. Past broadcasts are available here. You can subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or with an RSS feed. Follow Facing the Future on Facebook, and watch videos from past episodes on The Concord Coalition YouTube channel.