Keep Your Eye On the Deficit, Say 58 Democrats

A few days after Senate Republicans jumped on board the Sessions-McCaskill bandwagon, 58 House Democrats called for greater restraint of spending and the offsetting of new stimulus spending in the long-run.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) leads this group of Democrats, who put an emphasis on the strengthening of budget enforcement mechanisms. The letter says about PAYGO:

We recognize and understand the need for the emergency designation as narrowly defined in the statutory PAYGO law recently passed by the House and signed into law by President Obama. However, we have made a commitment to pay for our priorities. It is critical that we uphold our efforts to restore fiscal discipline to the federal government by not using this tool for anything other than it is intended – a true, unforeseen emergency.

We certainly agree, and as we saw from a definition of emergency spending pushed by Keith Hennessey, most (if not all) of the stimulus measures being talked about, such as unemployment benefit extensions or aid to states, hardly qualify as emergency spending and should be paid for. As we argued in a release:

While the “emergency” provisions may be important, they are hardly emergencies in the sense that they are not a surprise to anyone. Policymakers have known for a long time that unemployment benefits (and COBRA benefits, in the original version) would need to be extended – programs like these have undergone several rounds of temporary extensions already. Politicians have had plenty of time to think through potential offsets.

In addition to pushing strengthened PAYGO, the Democrats also called for paying for any new stimulus spending with long-run offsets. In a line that echoes what we often say, the letter stated that "extending critical economic investments is no more important than paying for them."

Unfortunately, the specifics stop there. The Democrats don't call for discretionary spending caps, as the Republicans did yesterday. Nor do they specifically call for a medium- to long-term deficit reduction plan, instead saying "we stand ready to work together with you to ensure that deficit reduction continues to be a top priority of Congress and the administration."

Granted, PAYGO and offsetting stimulus spending are very important because they can help stop us from digging our fiscal hole deeper. But even if you stop digging and let sunsetting provisions fill in the hole somewhat, we're still not in a position to climb out. Even under an unlikely current law scenario, debt still rises to the triple digits. We need to get specific on what we need to do fill the hole further. We have our simulator, which lays out plenty of options, and we have compiled the results showing the most and least popular options. Perhaps lawmakers could use that as a starting point to get specific.

Nonetheless, we obviously support these Democrats' efforts to prevent our debt situation from getting worse due to new spending. We hope that they'll take the next step in getting specific for how we will get our fiscal house back in order.