PAYGO stumbles from the GETGO

March 4, 2010

When PAYGO (a budget rule that is meant to ensure new spending is paid for) passed recently, we cautioned that it was a weak tool for fighting fiscal irresponsibility. Congress can avoid following PAYGO anytime it wants.  In a blog post and OpEd, we said that one of PAYGO’s glaring limitations was politicians’ ability to skirt around it by declaring any spending bill an “emergency.”

Unfortunately, our prediction immediately came true.

Congress has passed a $10 billion “emergency” bill to extend unemployment benefits and provide more funding for infrastructure projects, thereby excluding it from PAYGO rules.  This bill has been developing for months.

To no avail and receiving significant criticism, retiring Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) insisted that the Senate follow the brand new PAYGO rules.  Senator Bunning wasn’t even saying the money shouldn’t be spent, he was asking for it to be redirected from other parts of the budget.

In exchange for ending his filibuster, Senator Bunning was allowed to offer an amendment to cover the cost of the $10 billion bill by closing a tax loophole benefiting the paper industry.  In other words, the spending would come out of the existing budget. That amendment failed.

Why wasn’t a majority of Senators willing to close a loophole or divert an amount equal to .2% of this year’s spending in the name of the PAYGO law they just passed?

Less than one month ago on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid declared:

The road back to economic recovery is a long one. If we are to travel it successfully and prudently – if we are to create jobs and govern responsibly – pay-as-you-go must be one of the rules of that road.

How quickly reality can deviate from politicians’ rhetoric.

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