Most Americans Understand Their Finances Are a Zero-sum Game; Why Can’t the Government?

Most Americans Understand Their Finances Are a Zero-sum Game; Why Can’t the Government?

Congress may have to make some unpopular changes to the way they tax and spend, but they must find a way to live within our collective means.

Freshly returned from an extended weekend beach mini vacation, where I fell behind on my political news reading by taking a break from the discourse, I was skimming articles written over the past several days.  I came across an interesting piece from Russell Berman on theatlantic.com about the expiration of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), among other topics in the commentary.

The GOP leadership in Congress has not tackled legislation to reauthorize the CHIP funding, and missed the deadline for the program at the first of the month.  If some action isn’t taken soon, experts warn that at least 11 states will likely run out of federal funds by the end of this year, putting health coverage for as many as nine million low-income children covered by the program in peril.

Seems the issue between the two parties is how to pay for the estimated $8 billion cost to keep the program in force.  The House has proposed obliging wealthier Americans to pay more for Medicare premiums, an idea that was once in favor by the Democrats.

The Dems counter that the US can afford to pay for this program without adding additional costs to the medical care of others.  This is the part that caught my attention.

The article quotes Representative Joseph Kennedy III, (D-Mass) as saying, “It is reflective of a continued vision for Republican leadership here, and under President Trump, that health care in this country for some reason is a zero-sum game, that you can only extend coverage and care for kids, for community health centers, at the expense of something else.  In order to cover somebody, you have to take it away or degrade the quality of care for somebody else.”

Funny, but that sounded a lot like the fundamental approach to the Affordable Care Act, in that it forces one group of citizens to purchase a product they don’t want in order to make it available to another group of citizens.  But now that it is a Republican proposal, it suddenly seems wrong to the Democrats.

But it also shows the bubble that Congress lives in, when compared to ordinary citizen with whom they claim to remain in touch.

My trip to the beach is an example.  I could afford to go because I had the funding available to pay for the trip.  If I didn’t have enough money to make the trip, I would have had to decide if I wanted to go into debt to pay for the experience, or postpone the trip until I had accumulated the funds.

For most Americans, living from paycheck to paycheck, their checkbook is a zero-sum game.  Decisions are made each month about the family finances, things like can we afford to take a vacation, or should we put this money back for our children’s education?  The old car is starting to break down regularly; should we buy a new one, or continue to repair the old one?

These types of decisions are made with an eye on the checkbook.  We can do this, we reason, but that means we will have to put this off until later.  Everyday Americans face these decisions all the time, especially if their checkbook is approaching red ink.

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America’s check book is bleeding red ink.  We are $20 trillion in debt, and while an additional $8 billion doesn’t seem like much in comparison, governmental spending must be reduced in some fashion to bring our finances back into the black.  If we had a surplus of $20 trillion, the funding would be a no-brainer.  Unfortunately, that is not where America stands today.

Elected officials act as if there is no day of reckoning when it comes to finances.  And while insurance coverage for low-income children is absolutely a noble cause, we have to find a way to pay for it without simply kicking the debt can down the road.

Some hard choices have to be made.  Some will affect you and me.  Sadly, that may be the price we pay for decades of financial irresponsibility by our representatives and our government.

That sort of thinking, continuing to pile up debt without reducing expenses, is not exactly “let them eat cake,” but it’s close.

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