Last night, Senator Bunning ended his crusade to block a bill that, among other things, extended unemployment benefits and provided more highway funding, until the Senate followed pay-go rules and compensated for the legislation’s $10 billion price tag. As part of the agreement to end the filibuster, Bunning was able to offer an amendment that would covered the bill’s cost by closing a tax loop hole that benefits the paper industry. The amendment was voted down 53-43, and the bill passed overwhelming, by a vote of 78-19.
Senator Bunning made some serious p.r. mistakes during this episode. A media that was already anxious to demonize conservatives is caricaturing him as an example of Republican’s partisanship and obstructionism.
Yet Senator Bunning was making a serious point by holding up this bill: Congress actually needs to take action if it wants to restore fiscal discipline. Other members preen about wanting to close the deficit, but can’t be bothered to try to cover this bill, which costs a measly $10 billion. Instead, the Senate chose to use one of pay-go’s many loop holes in pay-go so they could just stack another $10 billion on top of the federal government’s already sky-high debt.
Pay-go was never going to stop Congress from over-spending. Bankrupting America provide this helpful overview of the flaws of pay-go:
PAYGO will most likely have a negligible impact on government spending and encourage Congress to raise taxes rather than make spending cuts. In fact the Congressional Budget Office has said that the PAYGO “process has other features that could lead to greater spending or lower revenues in the coming decade than would occur under the existing House and Senate rules.”
PAYGO rules don’t apply to all government spending. 40 percent of total spending is appropriations bills, which are exempt from PAYGO. In the past this loophole has been used to increase mandatory spending programs. Congress can also get around PAYGO requirements by declaring spending necessary because of an “emergency.” For instance the Republican Caucus’ Budget Committee contends that “the $787 billion ‘stimulus’ bill (now estimated by CBO to be $862 billion) was designated as an ‘emergency,’ so pay-go did not apply to it.”
…Though the term might function as word candy for politicians trying to look tougher on spending, PAYGO rules will do little to encourage real fiscal responsibility or reduce deficits. Restoring fiscal discipline will take a commitment from policymakers to not just create new budget rules but to directly cut government spending.
Senator Bunning showed a real commitment to fiscal discipline–the rest of the Senate, including many Republicans, did not. It wasn’t always pretty, but Bunning deserves applause for taking this stand.