The Democrats haven’t won back the House of Representatives yet, but their leaders in the House already seem desperate to make sure everyone knows that if they do, they’ll do fuck all to put forward a positive vision for the country they want to run.
The Hill reports that the top two Democrats in the House, minority leader Nancy Pelosi and minority whip Steny Hoyer, are already saying that they’d adopt a “pay as you go” rule, which vows not to pass legislation that increases the deficit without offsetting it in spending cuts or tax increases within a given “budget window.” The conservative Blue Dog caucus pressured Pelosi into adopting this rule during her reign as speaker from 2007 to 2010, and then Barack Obama into signing a version of it into law the year before most of them were swept out of Congress. (As Chris Hayes noted in 2009, pay-as-you-go very notably exempted funding the Iraq War. How convenient!)
Because the Democratic leadership is perpetually campaigning for the endorsement of both Simpson and Bowles, they now want to bring this terrible rule back. A Pelosi spokesperson told the Hill that “Democrats are committed to pay as you go,” while Hoyer reportedly told the Hill last week that it’s “a good rule and we ought to reinstitute it.”
Luckily, the progressive wing of the party is already pushing back on this. “The pay-go thing is an absurd idea now given the times and given what’s already been done to curry favor with corporate America,” Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Raul Grijalva told the Hill. “It would be, I think, irresponsible to try to tie up Congress’s ability to respond to economic downturns or, in the current discussion, to slash programs. We’re going down a path that I think helped cause the Great Recession.”
Why we need this, exactly, is completely unknown. The deficit has always been a Republican bogeyman which they’ve abandoned as soon as they get the chance in order to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy, and last year’s big tax cut is no different. And should the Democrats pass a progressive priority such as Medicare for All or tuition-free college, it’s going to eventually run into Donald Trump’s pen. So, if anything, this feels like Pelosi and Hoyer firing off a warning shot to let their base know that they’re not going to push too hard too fast.
That would be a big mistake. The president and Congress are both unpopular and even establishment-backed Democratic candidates are coming around on the need for things like single-payer and free college. There really is no better time to push bold ideas that actually make a material difference in the lives of people who the government and business have left behind.
No one gives a shit about the deficit anymore, if they ever did at all. It’s long past time for Democrats to stop letting this albatross hang around their necks.