It has been noted often that massive federal deficits are robbing America's next generation of its future. But if the budget agreement reached last weekend indeed slays the deficit, then it also should be noted that the children of Bernard A. Schmitt have paid more than their share to halt the robbery.
Schmitt is chief of revenue analysis -- better known as numbers crunching -- for the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation. For eight months, budget negotiators have called constantly upon this largely anonymous cadre of economists, lawyers and accountants to discern whether various proposals would raise or lose money, soak the rich or pinch the poor, protect Middle America or punish key industries, and so on.
These questions became so central to the political calculus of the budget summit that Schmitt and many of his colleagues spent the final 36 hours of the negotiations in their cramped quarters so that the summiteers, in far more sumptuous digs up the street, could summon them literally around the clock.
Schmitt, a PhD economist, is married to the senior attorney in the office, Mary L. Schmitt, who pulled her share of all-nighters, drafting successive tax proposals in legislative language.
And where did that leave 1-year-old Kevin Schmitt? Mary Schmitt nodded toward a corner of her office at a portable crib and a bag of colorful plastic rings and rattles. That's where Kevin sacked out when Mom and Dad worked all night -- his very own corner of America's fiscal crisis.
The burden also fell on 12-year-old Eric Schmitt, pursuer of his father's short-circuited dream of becoming a major league pitcher. He had to play four Little League games without his Dad, a former college pitcher and one of the team's coaches, to cheer him on.
The Schmitt family's ordeal is merely the human side of a dramatic shift that the government's decade-long fiscal crisis has wrought in the making of choices in Washington.
Since the revenue hemorrhages of the early 1980s and the passage of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law that was supposed to stop them, politics here has become at least as preoccupied with costs as with values.
"It used to be that politicians could decide what they thought was good policy -- or good politics -- and do it," observed Ronald Pearlman, chief of staff of the joint tax committee and a Treasury Department official in the Reagan administration.
Now, anyone with a proposal for better government consults first with Treasury or the joint committee for suggestions on how to raise revenue to finance it. If the package hikes the tax burden too much on Middle America or unduly pinches a key economic sector -- analyses also done by the joint committee -- the idea is dead.
In 1986, the committee's revenue estimators answered a record-setting 475 queries on revenue proposals from Congress. This year's queries have already passed 1,200.
The committee's finding that a tax break for capital gains would lose revenue and dramatically benefit the super-rich is credited with killing President Bush's most cherished tax initiative.
Similarly, the proposed budget deal limits tax deductions for people making $100,000 or more a year -- not because the summit negotiators viewed them as under-taxed, but because revenue estimates showed that setting the threshold at $200,000 wouldn't raise enough cash to meet the deficit targets.
This method of decision-making made it impossible for the negotiators to function without a direct pipeline to people like Bernard Schmitt and the 10 other revenue estimators on his staff. For that reason, the estimators conducted a round-the-clock vigil from Friday morning until 2:30 p.m. Sunday when the summiteers unveiled the agreement in the Rose Garden.
John O'Hare, the staff's expert on capital gains, logged six hours of naps in the last four days of the summit. Tom Koerner, the lanky expert on individual deductions, is too long to lie down anywhere on the office's jampacked floor, so he curled up once or twice under his desk.
The committee's draft of the final tax package is dated 6:14 a.m. Sunday, but the revenue samurais were ordered to stay at work until the Rose Garden announcement in mid-afternoon, in case the consensus dissolved.
Then everyone was free to sleep. Schmitt, for his part, headed for the 3 p.m. game of the Fairfax County Expos. The country's crisis behind him, he coached his heart out, and Eric Schmitt pitched the save. As Bush would say later of the budget package, there was "no smoke, no mirrors, no magic act." Just a clean 5-2 win for the Expos. How sweet it was.