Why Are We All Yelling About 'Pay-Go?'
Today's the day for Democrats to take control of the House of Representatives, so right on schedule, it's time for a "Dems in Disarray" story, innit? You see, kids, as part of any new Congress, the majority sets up rules for how the House will run things, and this year there are a lot of provisions that will correct some of the Republican fuckery of recent years, like annual ethics training for all members of Congress, barring members from being on corporate boards, and -- a big favorite to prevent any more tricks like the secret bill to kill Obamacare -- a rule requiring that all bills brought to the floor have at least one hearing in a relevant committee before going to the floor.
Ah, but one item in the package of new rules suddenly became, for at least some lefties, a hill to die on, at least until the next Young Turks video: the return of the "Pay as you go" rule, usually shortened to "paygo" (with any number of variant spellings/punctuations), even though that sounds like a character from some anime you never watched. To hear some of the howling about it, you'd think the inclusion of the rule was the equivalent of Nancy Pelosi and top Dems handing the gavel to Louie Gohmert and the Freedom Kochers. To cement our reputation as neoliberal sellouts, let's look at why maybe paygo isn't going to strangle the progressive agenda in the cradle, and why the progressives the Young Turks are screaming at are in fact still progressives.
First off, let's be clear: Paygo IS a really stupid relic of deficit hawkery. It requires that any legislation be paid for, either by cuts to existing government programs or by new revenues. But it's a damn sight better than what Republicans had in place when they held the House, which was "cut as you go" (or "Cutgo" -- an anime character with a razor), which only allowed the use of budget cuts in one area to offset new spending -- no new revenues of any sort. And of course, the Rs cheerfully waived it when it came to passing its $1.5 trillion Tax Cuts For Rich Fuckwads Act.
Two prominent progressive Democratic representatives, Ro Khanna and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, announced yesterday they wouldn't vote for the rules package at all, because paygo is stupid austerity bullshit that would get in the way of progressive goals that would actually be good for everyone, and why should Dems hobble themselves when Rs have made abundantly clear they don't actually believe their own "fiscal restraint" lies?
As New York magazine's Eric Levitz argues, paygo is "substantively indefensible":
It rests on the economically illiterate premise that balanced budgets are forever and always desirable. In truth, deficit spending is the only responsible means of combating severe recessions, and a perfectly sound means of financing worthwhile public investments in a context of low inflation and chronically low labor-force participation — which is to say, in our current context.
So why have paygo at all, since it's really nothing more than a concession to "fiscal restraint" rhetoric that Republicans use as an excuse for cutting social programs, while ignoring it altogether when it comes to spending on tax cuts and the military?
Ah, this is where it gets complicated: You see, in addition to the House rule, paygo is also enshrined in federal law, as Progressive Caucus co-chair Mark Pocan explained on the Twitter boxes: It sucks, and Dems should get rid of it when they have the Senate and the presidency, but until that's the case, it's better for the House to control how new spending will be paid for, because under the existing law, the executive branch can institute cuts to balance out any deficit spending. This would not be a good thing!
So, as Pelosi's deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, tweeted in response to Khanna and other critics of the new pay-go rule, the rule at least offers them an opportunity to put forward their own pay-fors for their progressive legislation—including tax increases—as the alternative to the "indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts in federal mandatory spending" that would arise without a waiver for statutory pay-go.
Further, the paygo rules allow a simple majority vote to waive paygo, although since the Senate also has a paygo rule, the practical effect of such a waiver would be blunted. Of course, that would be the case even if there were no House paygo rule at all.
As Hammill noted in his tweet, until we can get rid of the paygo law, there's no reason to cede control of spending offsets to an administration that definitely doesn't have progressive motives. Voting down the paygo provision would "let Mick Mulvaney make across the board cuts, unilaterally reversing Democratic initiatives and funding increases."
Also, it's probably worth noting that with a Republican president and Senate, we aren't going to be passing any Medicare for All or Green New Deal programs in the next two years anyway.
Also ALSO (and too): The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities offers a pretty in-depth case for why paygo can actually be part of a progressive agenda, like for instance using it to claw back those fucking Republican tax cuts. Sorry, we HAVE TO tax capital gains -- it's the LAW.
Nonetheless, The Young Turks' Cenk Uygur took to the YouTubes yesterday to proclaim any Democrat who'd dare vote for the paygo rule (and leave repealing the law until it can actually be done) is NO PROGRESSIVE AT ALL.
Establishment Democrats Move To KILL Progressive Agenda www.youtube.com
Watch it if you like men bragging they will end you just like they ended Elizabeth Warren for staying neutral in the primary in 2016. People who claim to be progressive targeting the most progressive women in the House and the Senate, and laughing about it, in public, on purpose? What we are saying is, don't watch it.
And so a horde of very angry lefties descended on the Twitter feeds of every single Dem who said they could live with paygo for now, excommunicating them forever from the left. That would include Progressive Caucus co-chairs Pocan and Pramila Jayapal, who apparently both need to be executed now as betrayers of the Revolution. Honestly, look at the response to Jayapal's perfectly sane explanation of why this isn't the hill to die on right now:
(OK, the very last one is a reply to a different tweet; don't @ us)
Look, people: The vote on the rules is not a "litmus test" just because Cenk Uygur SAID it's a litmus test.
The paygo law is just plain not up for a vote, and even if it were, repealing it in the House would have no effect with Trump and the Senate Rs able to stop it. Remember all the times we laughed at House R's repealing Obamacare over and over? Same thing here. We're stuck with paygo for now, and rejecting the rule at the moment is an utterly empty gesture that would actually hand power to Team Trump.
Getting rid of paygo is definitely a good idea that simply isn't possible right now. We don't mean "politically pragmatic," we mean it's fucking structurally impossible.
Then again, it feels so pure, so let's all shoot ourselves in the face and feel smart about doing it.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.