Politics

Bunning Deserves Credit for Taking Fiscal Stand

| by Institute for Policy Innovation

Senator Jim Bunning could probably use a hug.

The retiring Kentucky Republican has been trying to get Congress to live up to its fiscal promises. And for that good deed he's getting pummeled by Democrats, barraged by reporters and largely ignored by Republicans.

This is not a good sign for all that promised future austerity by either party. Congress passed a new version of "pay as you go," or "paygo," legislation in February when it increased the government's borrowing limit to $1.9 trillion. The goal of paygo is to force the government to find ways to offset any new spending. Democrats included the provision to help deflect criticism for their explosion in deficit spending.

President Obama showered it with praise: "PAYGO would hold us to a simple but bedrock principle: Congress can only spend a dollar if it saves a dollar elsewhere. Mandatory spending increases and tax cuts must be paid for; they're not free, and borrowing to finance them is not a sustainable long-term policy."

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This judge looked an inmate square in the eyes and did something that left the entire courtroom in tears:

But less than a month later, Congress completely ignored the rule it had just set, as it has done with paygo rules in the past, and passed a $10 billion extension for jobless benefits and other provisions--without paying for it.

Bunning thought all of this was hypocrisy--which it is--and objected to the legislation, which put it in limbo. He might have thought his Republican colleagues, who have been working to persuade the public they have regained their fiscal-responsibility bone fides, would have backed him. But they've been mostly silent as Democrats and the media have aggressively attacked him.

Now, IPI has never been a fan of paygo, because it is generally used to raise taxes, rather than to justify spending cuts.

But Bunning's making an important point: Democrats claim their $1 trillion-plus health care bill is paid for with new taxes and spending cuts. 

But if members of Congress refuse to take a stand on paygo less than a month after it's passed and when we're only talking $10 billion, is there any chance Congress would tow the fiscal responsibility line in the health care bill?  

If you really want the answer, ask Jim Bunning. And while you're there, give him a hug.