‘Pay-go’ rule a ‘handcuff’ on Democrats’ House majority, liberals say

January 3, 2019

House Democratic leaders’ plans to impose new budget rules as they take over the chamber Thursday already are running into trouble on Capitol Hill, where liberals say they fear the “pay-as-you-go” restrictions could sink their chances of government-run health care.

Led by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who is poised to reclaim the speaker’s gavel Thursday, Democrats will try to muscle through rules changes aimed at circumventing debt-limit showdowns, ending tax-cut-friendly budgeting, and reinstating the “pay-go” rules requiring the cost of new government programs to be offset with tax increases or spending cuts elsewhere.

But key progressives said they’re wary of pay-go rules, because it will make it tougher to pursue ideas such as the Medicare-for-all, government-sponsored health care system that has become a litmus test for liberals.

“We shouldn’t hinder ourselves from the start,” tweeted Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat.

Another Democrat, Rep. Ro Khanna, said requiring new spending to be paid for was “terrible economics,” and said it could prevent the government from being able to spend its way out of a future economic downturn.

“The austerians were wrong about the Great Recession and Great Depression,” Mr. Khanna said on Twitter. “At some point, politicians need to learn from mistakes and read economic history.”

He said he’ll vote against the rules package Mrs. Pelosi and her lieutenants will offer.

Rep. Tim Ryan said Congress needs to balance the budget long term but that he opposes “pay-go” for now, saying leaders shouldn’t “handcuff” the new Democratic House majority.

“Critical investments in education, infrastructure and health care should not be held hostage to budgetary constraints that Republicans have never respected anyhow,” the Ohio Democrat said.

It was not clear whether the objections would spread into a full-on rebellion that could sink the broader package.

Mr. Ryan’s office said Wednesday he was undecided on whether he would vote for the package, while other key liberal lawmakers said they would support their leaders despite their concerns.

Democrats are expected to have at least 235 seats in the new House, leaving them with a significant cushion of votes they can lose and still prevail on the new rules.

Reps. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Pramila Jayapal of Washington, co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Democratic leaders have assured them that the new rule won’t impede liberal priorities in the new Congress.

They said in a joint statement they’ll vote for the rules.

In a nod to liberals, the rules package also establishes a new select committee on climate change.

Democrats on Wednesday also picked up one vote from an unlikely source: GOP Rep. Tom Reed.

The New York Republican said he would support the rules package after leaders included several provisions he pushed last year with the bipartisan “Problem Solvers Caucus,” such as a rule that creates a priority calendar for bills that attract broad bipartisan support.

“We are proud to walk the talk of reaching across the aisle to best serve the people who sent us here,” Mr. Reed said.

Other changes include new names for committees. The old Oversight and Government Reform panel is now just Oversight and Reform, and the Education and the Workforce panel was given a more Democrat-friendly monicker of Education and Labor.

The rules also extend some floor voting privileges to delegates from territories and from the District of Columbia, allowing them to cast votes in the Committee of the Whole, though they are not allowed to vote when the entire House is meeting.

And religious headdresses will be allowed on the chamber floor, opening the door for Muslim female lawmakers to be covered in accordance with their faith.

Other rules changes are rebukes of the GOP, which controlled the chamber for the last eight years.

It will require a full 72 hours to elapse between the time a bill is made publicly available and the time lawmakers consider it on the floor putting real teeth into the GOP’s vaunted three-day rule, which actually amounted to little more than 24 hours.

Several provisions also could make it easier for House Democrats to pass legislation rolling back all or part of the GOP’s tax cuts, which Democrats have pledged to revisit once they assume the majority in the House.

The package removes a requirement that a three-fifths majority is needed to increase federal income taxes as well as a requirement that congressional scorekeepers factor in the broader economic effects of legislation through “dynamic scoring” when estimating how much a bill will cost. That had been a Republican-led change to take into account a better economy and higher revenue they said results from tax cuts.

Mrs. Pelosi said the package is part of a “new era of clean government.”

“These transformational, historic changes will allow Democrats to clean up Congress so that we can deliver results for the American people,” she said.

The new rules package also seeks to defuse the thorny issue of increasing the federal debt ceiling by tying it to the adoption of an annual budget resolution.

Any time a budget is approved in the House, it automatically would extend borrowing power through the end of that fiscal year.

The GOP-led Senate would still have to approve that debt holiday.

In a nod to recent sexual harassment issues in Congress that led to the departure of several lawmakers, the new rules also require each House office to adopt its own anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies.

The rules also extend annual ethics training requirements to all members and require members to reimburse the government for discrimination settlements.

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