There are emergencies, and there are “emergencies.”
The tax bill, which Republicans are desperate to jam through before even they themselves have time to read it, is the latter.
There is zero urgency in passing this terrible, glitchy, sloppily drafted piece of legislation. Even if you actually like what the bill does, it’s hard to argue that its major provisions would be well-timed.
The economy doesn't need $1.5 trillion in unfunded stimulus right now. We're nearly nine years into an economic expansion (making this one of the longest expansions on record), unemployment is at 4.1 percent (its lowest level in 17 years), and debt as a percent of GDP is near record highs.
If you’re a Keynesian — and per Milton Friedman, we’re all Keynesians now — these measures suggest it is precisely the wrong moment to pump money into the economy.
As outgoing Federal Reserve Chair Janet L. Yellen explained in her final news conference last week, passing a major deficit-financed tax cut today means Congress will have less “fiscal space” to act in a future downturn.
In other words, there might be no powder left in the keg when we actually need it.
Moreover, this is a bill weighted toward corporations, ostensibly because corporations need money to expand, hire and invest.
Yet companies are already sitting on huge stockpiles of cash that they don't know what to do with. Borrowing costs are low, equity financing is cheap, and even small and medium-size firms report having little trouble getting loans. As a result, big corporations have announced plans to use the windfall to finance share buybacks and dividends, rather than productive economic activity.
So what is an actual life-or-death policy emergency, one with real deadlines?
Reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, surely qualifies.
Nine million children depend on CHIP, which provides insurance to minors whose families are not quite poor enough for Medicaid but who still can’t afford private insurance.
The 20-year-old program has historically received bipartisan support. But its federal funding lapsed in September and has yet to be renewed by Congress, which has been too preoccupied with cutting taxes for billionaires.
Lawmakers' inaction has left millions of children, including some in the middle of lifesaving care such as cancer treatment, in limbo. As Congress squabbles and delays, states have temporarily extended this critical program using reserve funds or money from other sources, but dollars are rapidly running out.
A third of states are expected to exhaust their funding by Jan. 31, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. By March 31, three-quarters of states will have to shutter their programs.
Yet another actual policy emergency involves the fate of "dreamers."
These are the nearly 700,000 young, undocumented immigrants who had been brought to the United States as children. In September, the Trump administration announced that it would rescind the Obama-era program that allows them to stay, work and contribute to the economy. Congress has until March to pass a law shielding them from deportation and preventing them from slipping back into the shadows.
Once again, the vast majority of Americans — including three-quarters of Republicans — support extending protected status for these young people. But once again, Congress has left this prerogative on the back burner, prioritizing tax cuts instead.
Other pressing priorities might include the $94 billion aid package requested by Puerto Rico, where hundreds of thousands have been displaced and the power grid is still operating at just 70 percent of capacity.
Or maybe dealing with the nation's crumbling infrastructure, a problem made more salient by Monday's Amtrak derailment. Or passing bills to stabilize the individual health-insurance market, given the havoc the Trump administration has wreaked on the Obamacare exchanges.
There’s also the tiny exigencies of keeping the government up and running, and, oh, preventing the United States from igniting another global financial crisis.
Congress has until Friday to avert a federal government shutdown, just in time for Christmas. And sometime over the following few months, Treasury will exhaust all the "extraordinary measures" it is using to avoid a global-panic-inducing debt default, given that we technically hit our borrowing limit Dec. 8.
When so many dire priorities abound, it’s hard to fathom how tax cuts got to the front of the queue.
Presumably, Republicans are trying to outrun Alabama Sen.-elect Doug Jones's arrival in Washington, which will shave the slim majority they have to pass their tax bill. The conventional political wisdom also says that Republicans need a "win" before 2017 closes out.
But that raises the question: Why don’t Republicans just redefine victory to include solving actual emergencies, rather than imagined ones?
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