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From This Perch: The $1.5 Trillion Question

By Keith Rodli

Some years ago there was a TV game show called "The $64,000 Question," with the winner receiving $64,000.

Today, the program would have to be called "The $640,000 Question" — roughly the value of that $64,000 today after adjusting for inflation.

I raise my own question in this column. Maybe it should be called the "$1.5 Trillion Question:" Will the recently enacted Republican tax bill turn out to be good for everyone, as promised by its proponents, or will it turn out to be a give-away to the rich and a financially reckless move for the rest of us, as predicted by its opponents?

If it were only a TV game show.

This new tax law is based on the "trickle-down" economic theory, which claims that if we reduce taxes on the wealthy they will then spend and invest that money, which in turn, will lead to meaningful job growth and commercial opportunities for all.

The phrase "trickle down" originated in 1932 when the humorist Will Rogers zeroed in on it while commenting on the Great Depression that had the nation in its grips:

The money was all appropriated for the top in the hopes that it would trickle down to the needy. "But (President Hoover) didn't know that money trickled up. Give it to the people at the bottom and the people at the top will have it before night, anyhow. But it will at least have passed through the poor fellow's hands."

Back in the late 19th century, that same theory had another name — "horse-and-sparrow" — and it went like this: feed the horse enough oats and some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.

In recent decades trickle-down has been tried (Presidents Reagan and Bush II), but our country apparently does not have a consensus on whether trickle-down actually works for the good of everyone.

Well, we will now get another chance to test the theory.

We might look at this new tax-cutting law as a lab experiment. But the lab rats will not be the super wealthy No, the lab rats would be the rest of us because if this doesn't work out as promised, there could be some tough economic sledding ahead.

One of the potential rubs on the tax bill (among others) has to do with the obvious decrease in revenue. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that because of these tax cuts, nearly $1.5 trillion would be added to the national debt over ten years.

Just a few years ago, it was the Republicans who were warning us about the dangers of a high national debt and it was the Democrats who were saying "Don't worry." Now it seems that the two parties have switched positions.

Apart from the debate about whether the trickle-down theory holds water, there are those who say that this tax bill is actually about the GOP's goal of shrinking the size of the federal government.

To fully appreciate this angle, consider a particular anti-tax political advocate, Grover Norquist, He's the founder of an organization known as Americans for Tax Reform.

Norquist has said this about his organization: "Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub."

I don't know about Grover's background, but I'm just going to guess that he has not experienced a lot of need in his life.

In any event, you've got to give him credit because he has managed to convince nearly 90 percent of the Republicans in Congress to sign what he calls the "Taxpayer Protection Pledge."

It's a promise to oppose tax increases.

But wait — those same politicians made another promise, the Congressional Oath. That's a mandatory promise to "support and defend the Constitution of the U.S. against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

All of which makes me wonder. What happens when two separate promises meet head-on? Which one gives?

By custom, most people elected to Congress put a hand on the Bible. Maybe that decides it — the Constitutional Oath trumps all others.

Unless the promise Grover Norquist got these politicians to make a hand-on-a-Bible promise too.

Regardless, I can imagine how this might play out in the future. It's a certainty that a wide variety of needs will come along in this complex society of ours and that there will be folks who will ask federal government for help in addressing those needs.

Will the government now react by saying "We'd love to help out, but there's simply no money!"?

Which reminds me of a bit by another humorist, Jack Handey. He suggests that it's always a good idea to carry two sacks of something when you are out walking around. That way, if anybody says, "Hey, can you give me a hand?", you can say, "Sorry, got these sacks."