With Congress looking at a hefty bill for Hurricane Irene relief the budgetary fighting has begun, with Minority Leader Cantor talking about imposing “pay-go” rules on such spending. From Politico:
But on Fox News earlier Monday, Cantor said, “There’s a federal role, yes we’re going to find the money, we’re just going to need to make sure that there are savings elsewhere to continue to do so.”
These spending principles are certain to run into political reality, as Irene could test the political viability of Republican orthodoxy as lawmakers try to weigh the emotional reaction to American communities in need while trying to stay true to their conservative fiscal ideals.
Under Republican notions of “pay-go” any such “disaster spending” would need to be offset by spending reductions elsewhere in the budget. And Cantor seems to be indicating that will be the case here. Under the original “pay-go” rules that were actually followed for a time in the 90’s any such spending would need to be offset by spending reductions or tax increases. That last part of the equation always made Republicans squirm, and the first part always made Democrats squirm. So in the interests of bipartisanship “pay-go” was eviscerated by declaring this type of spending an “emergency” and exempting it from pay-go. But once Congress got the flavor for emergency declarations they started declaring routine spending “emergencies”, including defense appropriations, and presto chango pay-go was gone in fact.
As a Mayor I believe that the federal government has an obligation to help municipalities and states deal with emergencies, and I hope that Irene will not be an exception. I do believe, however, that Congress should go back to pay-go, and strictly enforce its provisions. It would impose badly needed discipline on Congress, and force them to make tough choices. And the Republicans are going to have to make some tough choices here. They run the House. Lets see how they deal with all the damage done in the districts of Republicans in Congress.