Ten freshmen Democrats co-signed a letter made public on Sept. 4 to the lower chamber’s 20 standing committee chairmen encouraging them to stop ignoring the “pay-as-you-go” (PAYGO) spending rule adopted by the House of Representatives in January.
The letter referred to a provision adopted when Democrats resumed the majority in the House earlier this year that requires any bill that would increase the federal deficit to be offset by legislation that either cuts current spending or increases taxes by an amount sufficient to cover the new costs.
The federal government’s 2018 annual deficit reached $779 billion, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. With $4.3 trillion in spending, the current deficit is projected to be nearly $1 trillion when the 2019 fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
“At the beginning of the 116th Congress, [Speaker of the House Nancy] Pelosi and Democratic leadership agreed to a number of rules changes that would help make the legislative process more transparent and consensus-driven,” the 10 signers stated in the letter.
“One of those rules was the reinstitution of congressional Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO) budget rules. Unfortunately, for much of the first eight months of the 116th Congress, we feel that PAYGO principles have not been followed throughout the legislative process, particularly as legislation is being considered at the committee level.”
The ten signers are Reps. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), Ben McAdams (D-Utah), Colin Allred (D-Texas), Cindy Axne (D-Iowa), Ed Case (D-Hawaii), Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.), Kendra Horn (D-Okla.), Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), and Jeff Van Drew (D- N.J.).
The letter stated that “PAYGO represents a critical step toward putting our nation on track for a fiscally sustainable future. Despite PAYGO being in the House Rules, legislation has frequently moved through the committee process before the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has time to properly review and score legislation.”
The signers recognized that CBO cost estimates aren’t always available before House members have to vote on proposals. That means “members do not have enough time to properly consider the potential costs and pay-fors of the legislation before casting votes.”
“We understand that legislation referred to multiple committees of jurisdiction can present challenges for committee chairs to identify appropriate offsets or offsets in that respective committee’s jurisdiction in advance of floor consideration,” the signers wrote.
To make the PAYGO rules work, the signers said, “we urge you to work with us to ensure that each committee’s legislation is funded with responsible pay-fors that are considered early in the legislative process. We also ask that legislation is not advanced out of committees until it has received a CBO score.”
The letter from the 10 freshmen represents an increasingly rare instance of congressional Democrats urging limits on federal spending and may suggest that the moderate wing of the party in Congress is in the early stage of a revival.
Most of the 10 represent districts that have either recently been strongly Republican or are swing constituencies with conservative tilts. Horn, for example, was elected in an urban district that has been strongly Republican for decades.
In a statement released in conjunction with the letter, Davids said, “Congress must do what we said we would and find ways to pay for bills we propose, so we don’t leave future generations mired in debt.”
Doing so requires committee leaders to start “prioritizing fiscal responsibility and transparency, and ensuring we have a plan to pay for our priorities before bills make it to the House floor for a vote,” she said.
President Donald Trump and Pelosi agreed on a two-year spending plan that was adopted by both houses of Congress in late July, but with the fiscal year ending in three weeks, spending levels for particular programs remain flash points.
Davids, whose Kansas district includes suburban areas of Kansas City and more rural areas to the southwest of the metropolis, led the initiative that resulted in the letter from the 10 freshmen.
When the House voted for the two-year spending deal, Davids supported it, but noted afterward that she was glad “we were able to pass a bipartisan, two-year agreement so we can provide funding for essential government operations and address the impending debt ceiling and budgetary caps.”
Failing to pass the budget deal could have resulted in another government shutdown, she said. But Davids promised to push for more spending restraints on the government.
“Our national debt continues to soar, and I would have liked to have seen a stronger emphasis on fiscal responsibility in this agreement so we begin to lower our nation’s deficit,” she said.
“Going forward, I will continue to urge my colleagues in Congress to exercise fiscal restraint so we are not saddling future generations with a crippling financial burden.”
Contact Mark Tapscott at firstname.lastname@example.org.