A mixed bag on the budget deal

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Washington, DC, December 23, 2015 | comments

Content originally published by the Denver Post on December 23rd, 2015.

The budget spending and tax package that Congress approved last week includes what amounts to a massive holiday gift for millions of Americans and businesses. Some of them even deserve it.

Unfortunately, Congress will hand off a $680 billion tab to future generations in the form of higher debt, undermining the value of the accomplishment. More on that in a moment.

Among the worthy recipients of congressional largesse are the nation's poor, who received a permanent extension of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. Not only are these powerful tools for helping the working poor achieve self-sufficiency, they keep millions of kids from falling deeper into poverty.

The package also includes a number of measures of special benefit to Colorado, such as:

• An end to the crude oil export ban. (Although many Democrats opposed this move, Colorado's Rep. Ed Perlmutter deserves mention as an early proponent of retiring the outdated law).

• A five-year extension of wind and solar energy tax credits.

• At two-year suspension of the medical device tax.

• An extension of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner both have been active in pushing.

The package even addressed recent heightened worry over terrorism with a plan to strengthen the visa waiver program.

Unfortunately, the deal also included numerous dubious or even indefensible provisions, such as the rapid depreciation of — we're not kidding — racehorses (worth $168 million over two years) and protection of a loophole that allows casinos and restaurant chains to avoid taxes by putting real estate into trusts.

And Congress also failed to offset the overall cost of the tax and spending package with other savings or additional revenue. As a result, according to estimates by Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation, it will add $680 billion to the national debt over the next decade.

"We are doing damage to the fiscal health of the country by borrowing this mind-boggling amount at a time when the debt is so high," Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, told Politico.

She's right, but then what else is new? It's too bad that a truly bipartisan budget that passed with surprisingly little rancor couldn't have also paid for itself.

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