After listening to President Barack Obama call for fiscal restraint in his State of the Union Address this January, the United States Senate imposed the “paygo” rule on itself – no new expenditures unless offset by an equal amount of spending cuts or raised taxes. In the five months since vowing no new spending based on debt, the United States Senate has also voted for $400 billion in new spending that was added to the federal debt. Right now the Senate is debating adding another $80 billion or so in new spending based on borrowing.
As political flaming hypocrisy goes, that’s nothing! The House imposed paygo on itself in January 2007, and since has voted for $5.1 trillion in additions to the federal debt. House leaders support the next $80 billion in borrowing the Senate may approve.
How can the chambers of Congress formally pledge not to increase the debt, then merrily add to the debt as fast as zeroes can be printed? By stamping the word “emergency” on bills. Paygo, you see, not only does not apply to spending for entitlements, defense and interest on the national debt – these categories alone representing the lion’s share of federal expenditures. Paygo also does not apply to any bill classified as “emergency” legislation. And since paygo went into force, nearly all spending bills have been “emergency” bills.
There are two problems. The first, obviously, is hypocrisy. Democrats and Republicans alike theatrically pledge no more borrow-and-spend — knowing full well their intent is to borrow-and-spend until the cows come home. (Note to any cows reading this column: please come home.) Hypocrisy is the polite word for this kind of thing: lying is the precise word. Members of Congress deliberately lie to the public, then they wonder why Congress’s approval rating is at a record low.
The second problem is that a slapdash political attitude of calling everything an “emergency” prevents Congress from thinking clearly. Naturally, interest groups describe their every request as an “emergency.” Lawmakers should be above that ploy; instead, they embrace it, because declaring an emergency exempts them from taking responsibility.