Minneapolis Star Tribune: A Sensible Start From the Democrats; Senate should follow the House and restore 'pay-go' rule

January 8, 2007
Anyone who expected Democrats to grow delirious with power once they took the reins on Capitol Hill will be sorely disappointed with the first major bills passed by the U.S. House last week. One cracks down on taking gifts from lobbyists, the other cracks down on playing games with the federal budget.

If they lack sex appeal, however, these bills nevertheless deserve quick passage by the Senate, a chamber with a slower pace and a slimmer Democratic majority. Momentum on the budget rule is particularly important -- it would help trim the government's chronic deficit, save lawmakers from their own temptations and give voters some confidence that grown-ups are running Congress.

The budget rule adopted by the House on Friday, known as pay-as-you-go or pay-go, simply requires lawmakers to show how they will pay for any new tax cut or expansion of 'entitlement' programs such as Medicare and Social Security. It governed congressional budgeting from 1990 to 2002, and it contributed to a remarkable period of fiscal discipline that ultimately produced four consecutive budget surpluses.

In a classic example of through-the-looking-glass logic, Republicans have denounced the pay-go rule as a Democratic plot to raise taxes or block extensions of President Bush's tax cuts. That's bunk. The original pay-go law was negotiated by President George H.W. Bush, and the concept has been endorsed by every fiscal hawk in Washington, from the Concord Coalition to the Heritage Foundation. Would it force a rise in taxes? Only if lawmakers propose brand-new entitlements without budget offsets. Would it block additional tax cuts? Only if they added to the federal deficit. Someone explain how that's profligate.

The irony of the last six years, a period when 'conservatives' ran Congress and the White House, is that Washington has run six consecutive budget deficits and added $3 trillion to the federal debt. That's bad for the economy, in the long run, and unfair to future taxpayers. Maybe the 'liberals' can do better.