Congressional Blue Dogs are commonly described as moderate or conservative Democrats, but it's probably more accurate to describe them as deficit hawks. While they're typically somewhat to the right of their Democrat brethren, their calling card is an insistence on balanced budgets, including stiff tax increases to close deficits.
So what's a Blue Dog to do when your newly-elected president is calling for hundreds of billions in new 'investments,' with some estimates pegging the bill at $1 trillion in new deficit spending? Why, you grab any fig leaf you can find, and pretend it's a victory:
Leaders of the fiscally conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition said today they have high hopes the Obama administration will join their fight to ultimately balance the budget by supporting legislation that would make the House's pay/go rule a law. "We have had communications with the Obama administration and are encouraged by their commitment to fiscal responsibility over the long term, understanding that we have an economy that we have to revive here first," Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind., said on a conference call today. Hill, the group's co-chairman for policy, added the Obama team has indicated it favors "statutory pay/go," which would make the House budget rule a law and therefore more difficult to circumvent. Pay/go requires that any tax cut or entitlement spending increase be offset so the deficit does not increase.
Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La., the group's co-chairman for communications, said on the call that a well-written statutory pay/go bill would make it simpler to effectively allocate federal dollars. Without statutory pay/go, "you get into micromanagement of trying to find money every time you have a bill," Melancon said. "We are hoping we can devise a pay/go ... that will work over a long period of time as well as for the short term; or else every bill becomes laborious." Melancon said the group's preliminary discussion with Obama on pay/go should get into more details when lawmakers come back to work Jan. 6.
Both Hill and Melancon said they hope work on a bill will coincide with the roughly $600 billion economic stimulus package that Democratic leaders are developing and hope to have ready for Obama by his Jan. 20 inauguration. "Let's also roll out ... what we are going to do to pay for this thing as best we can without incurring any more debt than necessary," Melancon said. "Let's start look at all the programs that are out there; let's start looking at the audit reports; let's start determining what is well spent dollars and not well spent dollars, and as best we can, try and reinvest those dollars" before taking on more debt.
So the Blue Dogs claim that their goal is to balance the budget, an end which they pursue through rules that make it harder to expand a deficit. It's hard to see how you can balance the budget when your first action is to give up the goal, but we'll look past that right now.
They now quietly accept that they're also giving up on reducing deficit spending for the foreseeable future (they seek fiscal responsibility 'over the long term,' once the economy has been 'revived'). They mouth something about offsetting stimulus spending with whatever spending cuts can be found, and then present the coup de grace that's supposed to save all face: a Pay/Go law -- which President Obama is thrilled to cooperate on.
The Obama camp has moved the ball pretty far in a short while. It was just over two months ago that Barack Obama memorably promised a net reduction in federal spending. That promise was forgotten on election day, and now he has gotten the blessing of the Democrat deficit watchdogs to blow it to smithereens. And the promise of a pay-go law becomes even more meaningless when you consider that it isn't worth the paper it's printed on. After all, every spending bill that Congress passes becomes a law once signed, so the Blue Dogs' pay-go 'law' is virtually meaningless.
It's clear that Obama and the Blue Dogs have made a deal to ignore the deficit and the debt until some convenient date in the future -- probably during the next Republican administration, or the next vote on a Republican proposal to cut taxes. When they cooperate on a plan to add a quick trillion to the national debt, they'll piously claim that this is a one-time exception forced by circumstance, and anyway, the 'Pay-Go' law will rectify things in just a few years. This is Michael Moore swallowing a cake today, and justifying his excess by promising to start a diet in a week.
When members of the Blue Dog coalition return to their districts for townhall meetings, they need to get tough questions about their sudden conversion to massive deficits. Any Blue Dog who supports this approach has lost all credibility on the deficit and the national debt, and we ought to be sure to remind people of it the next time they try to claim the high ground.