As some of you know, I’ve been running a little civics experiment over at my blog. In it, I asked congressional candidates in local races whether they’d publicly commit to fiscal responsibility via PAYGO — and I was very careful in how I defined PAYGO:
Once upon a time, in another era, the concept of ‘pay as you go’ was well understood. In recent years, unfortunately, partisanship and political polarization have distorted and undermined its effectiveness, and many in our current Congress have discarded even the pretense. However, PAYGO is a non-partisan concept if applied even-handedly to both spending increases and tax reductions.
I would rather stop new spending until we can gain control over what we already have on the table. If new spending is required, yes, I would rather use the concept of PAYGO for that new spending.
And a Republican said:
My staff answered your question properly but without the precision needed. I support PayGo if it means Paid for with spending cuts elsewhere. I oppose Pelosi’s PayGo because they always raise spending and then pay for it with tax increases. I oppose PayGo with tax inceases [sic]. That is what my staff meant.
And while both Democratic candidates committed, the candidate for the House of Representatives went even further, saying he’ll caucus with the Blue Dogs.
Fascinating, particularly since Obama’s evidently starting to court those very Dogs:
For the Blue Dogs, a partnership with Obama provides a pathway out of an ideological cul-de-sac that the group backed into by insisting that the House adopt budget rules linking every spending increase or tax cut to a specific spending cut or new revenue source. Even many in the group concede that the standard was difficult to meet and caused friction among House Democrats, as well as open warfare with the Senate. [snip]
Earlier in the presidential campaign, Obama had been reluctant to commit to the substantial tax increases and spending cuts that would be required to make his proposals budget-neutral. But as the economic picture grows more bleak, he has increasingly acknowledged the need for trade-offs, and Furman said he would be committed to establishing an overall budget framework that makes room for new programs but also requires meaningful cuts, along with tax increases on the wealthy.
In recent years, there’s been very little service (beyond puckered lips) paid to PAYGO. If Congress couldn’t control their borrow and spend impulses, they could hardly be expected to agree on a definition for “Pay As You Go”, leaving the Blue Dogs stuck in an ideological bind.
There are some common definitions between the parties; they’re just not shared by all members.
But while CW has been tallying potential Democratic majorities (and possible implications) as if they’ll vote as one body, that’s not likely when there’s a 47-member caucus in the middle of it all, trying to hold the line for traditionally-defined PAYGO. You want to spend? Then you have to either cut elsewhere or tax. Sometimes it will be both, but in the current economic environment, it’s unlikely to be simply the latter.
It looks like Obama gets this , or is at least willing to reach toward it. Good for him. And in all likelihood come November, good for us.