I've written before about the move by House "Blue Dogs" to roll over and agree to dramatically increase the federal deficit to pay for pork-barrel projects. So far the Blue Dog strategy seems to be to forget about balancing the budget for the foreseeable future in exchange for a vague promise down the road.
It seems that Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin -- the chief architect of the Blue Dogs' retreat on spending -- has gotten the local South Dakota press to cover for her:
She knows because as one of three leaders of an increasingly influential group of Democratic fiscal watchdogs, she has had detailed discussions with Obama's transition team.
At a time when it might seem that someone in Congress wanting to hold the line on spending should expect to get steamrolled, the House's Blue Dog Coalition is wagging its collective tail. They like Obama's plans for fiscal discipline, Herseth Sandlin said.
“Everyone knows these are extraordinary times, but we've been very heartened by the president-elect's comments of support for statutory pay-go. I think we'll be able to have a very constructive working relationship,” she said...
What Herseth Sandlin has to say about all this got a lot more important in November when her fellow Blue Dogs elected her their co-chair for administration. That puts her in charge of meeting regularly with House leadership and the White House on behalf of the group, which grew by 10 members to 59 in the last election.
That's a bit more than 13 percent of House membership, making the Blue Dogs almost impossible to ignore. Herseth Sandlin said she will be “exerting our leverage and making sure leadership and the White House know where we'll be supportive and where we won't.”
Still, as bailout fever continues and a massive economic stimulus package appears to be Obama's first order of business after his Jan. 20 inauguration, the Blue Dogs don't plan on being unreasonable, Herseth Sandlin said. They're prepared to go along with some more deficit spending so long as the nation's leaders don't go on a spending spree that never ends.
“The economic situation calls for extreme measures. In the short term, you've got to have deficit spending because we've got to turn this thing around. When we've got low or negative growth, we have to be pragmatic,” she said. “We aren't going to put the country at risk. But it needs to be targeted and temporary spending.”
Beyond that, Herseth Sandlin said the Blue Dogs plan to trade their support for these near-term fixes for commitments to substantive budget reform, something Obama and his team are saying they want, too.
“Blue Dogs feel strongly that we don't want to be held hostage by foreign creditors for decades into the future,” she said. “We have to grapple with entitlement spending, waste and abuse and insist on being very open and honest with the American public about what we're inheriting from the Bush administration, such as the Department of Defense that's been fudging numbers.”
This piece is laughable from start to finish. The Blue Dogs are "increasingly influential?" They're "impossible to ignore?" If so, then why are they capitulating to increasing the deficit by nearly $1 trillion? You might think that having finally attained significant clout -- according to Herseth Sandlin -- they might actually press for some fiscal discipline. Instead, they're rolling over for the proverbial sack of beans.
And make no mistake -- the promise of a statutory pay-go rule is worthless. First, pay-go does nothing to reduce the deficit; it merely prevents it from being expanded by new tax cuts or entitlement spending. Pay-go is designed to prevent the enactment of measures like President Obama's tax package and health care reform package; if Blue Dogs plan to back off of pay-go to allow those items to pass, then the rule itself is completely meaningless. Further, pay-go does not affect discretionary spending -- which do not need to be 'paid for' under pay-go. So Congress and President Obama can go hog-wild on infrastructure spending, alternative energy proposals, education, and a host of other programs -- all without running afoul of pay-go.
So Herseth-Sandlin's solemn promise is that the Blue Dogs will do nothing to keep the barn door shut, but once the animals are gone, they will definitely close it again. South Dakota Republicans must make sure that voters in the state realize how worthless their representative's promises are. It's clear that the newspapers aren't up to the task.