AIP column: The hogwash of Pay-Go

Yesterday, I noted Steny Hoyer’s poor civics lesson to the students of the University of Virginia in blaming budget deficits on the executive branch.  In today’s AIP column, I look at Hoyer’s pay-go argument and his blameshifting for spending on the elimination of the 1990’s “rule”.  I call it, “Stop Me Before I Spend Again!”

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But perhaps the most risible argument Hoyer advanced was that the hoary “pay-go” policy of the Democrats would solve the problem of fiscal irresponsibility in the Beltway. Democrats have made this argument a number of times, blaming the GOP for suspending the “pay-go” policies in place during the Clinton administration. Hoyer and others say that the lifting of “pay-go” is what led to deficits.

That’s simply hogwash. It’s akin to people blaming fast-food restaurants for their obesity. It’s a plea to have someone else take responsibility for their own actions. Pay-go essentially bars Congress from spending money they don’t have. Certainly there’s nothing wrong with that, but let’s not forget that it’s just a rule Congress imposes on itself. Congress can choose to waive that rule whenever they want. In fact, Congress began creating oddball mechanisms to break pay-go spending limits in 1998 through emergency appropriations, “advance appropriations”, and other questionable practices. The 9/11 attack and especially Medicare Part D put a stake through the heart of pay-go, but it had been at best on life support, covered only by a boost in revenues in the late 1990s from the dot-com bubble.

However, Congress doesn’t need pay-go, or the oft-suggested alternative of a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, in order to actually produce a budget without deficit spending. Congress can simply resolve not to spend more money than it receives.

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That would take leadership, of course, something lacking in both political parties over the last decade of deficits.  But Hoyer and the Democrats have a special need for pay-go as political cover.  Read the rest of my column to see what I call the Flip Wilson strategy before it gets played.

While you’re at AIP, check out the commentary from the fine stable of bloggersAlexa Shrugged points out a $25,000 earmark for a private club in Seattle, Grace Boatright says that private health care is in trouble, and Justin Higgins says that capitalism is human nature.

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