“And we did all of this while restoring fiscal discipline to the Congress by making the pay-as-you-go rules the law of the land.”
–—House Speaker, soon to be Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi in a Nov. 9 op-ed in USA Today, listing the achievements of the Democratic Congress under her leadership.
The pay-as-you-go rules, which require new spending to be offset with new revenue or spending cuts, were adopted by the House in 2007 and became law in 2010. Significantly, the very same bill that established pay-as-you-go—or PAYGO—raised the debt limit by $1.9 trillion. Signed into law on Feb. 12, PAYGO was waived less than two weeks later when the Senate voted for a $15 billion job creation bill.…that was not offset by new revenue or spending reductions.
In fact, the PAYGO rule is waived constantly: it was designed that way. As FactCheck.org recalls, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke in October called for a PAYGO law that actually worked. This one obviously doesn’t, for the deficit has increased at a record rate under Pelosi’s reign, steadily climbing from $161 billion in 2007 to $459 billion in 2008, then reaching $1.4 trillion in 2009. It was $1.3 trillion, or 8.9 percent of GDP, in fiscal year 2010. (Figures courtesy of the non-partisan Congressional budget office.)
With that kind of rise in spending, Pelosi’s jaw-dropping assertion that she and the Democratic House deserve credit for “restoring fiscal discipline” can only have a few explanations, none of which are encouraging. As I see it, the options are:
- She thinks readers of USA Today are gullible to the point of brain damage, willing to believe that passing a law aimed at fiscal restraint is the same as actually accomplishing fiscal restraint, particularly when the same legislators who passed the law keep waiving it, because, well, they have no fiscal restraint.
- She believes that the illegal immigration controls passed in the 1980’s eliminated the immigration problem, and Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty eliminated poverty, because laws magically accomplish what they say they are intended to accomplish whether or not they are followed, enforced or well-designed. In other words, Pelosi is insane.
- The House was exercising fiscal restraint, and without PAYGO the deficit would have been trillions more than it is.
I doubt that Pelosi is insane. I think that the claim in USA Today is symptomatic of the cynical, disrespectful and deeply deceptive attitude the Pelosi-led Congress has shown to the American people all along, using exaggerated claims and sleight of hand maneuvers to keep the public largely in the dark about what it was doing. This style of governing reached its nadir with the health care bill, which Pelosi famously told us would just have to be passed before we could find out what was in it.
Whatever the virtues of the legislation passed under Pelosi, by no stretch of logic or reality could her leadership be said to have exhibited or establish “fiscal discipline.” Her statement is an audacious and insulting lie, and a reminder of why her return to Democratic leadership in the next Congress is a gift to Republicans, and a blow to the prospects of open and transparent government.