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Paygo Rule Attempts to Make Progressive Policies a No-Go

The Paygo rule signals the return of Obama-era austerity politics that paved the way for the Trump.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) participates in a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on Thursday, January 3, 2019.

As expected, Nancy Pelosi won the House Speakership this week and has thereby solidified her position as chief Democratic Party austerian in service to the rich.

Widely praised as a genius at extracting campaign cash from wealthy oligarchs for her members and for deftly co-opting their loyalty in the process, one of her first orders of business was reinstating the so-called PAYGO rule, which requires that all new spending be offset either by new taxes or by cutting funds from other programs. Critics say the move — which passed on Thursday with only three Democrats dissenting — is a deliberate attempt to prevent such progressive policies as Medicare For All from ever reaching the floor for debate, let alone a vote for actual implementation.

It’s also an ideological return to the Obama-era austerity politics that immiserated millions of people and paved the way for the Donald Trump victory.

Defenders of the rule point out that it is actually only a toothless little offshoot of the real PayGo law, and that this law, enacted in 2010, can be waived at any time and indeed, has been waived in the past. Of course, the most recent waiver benefited only the richest of the rich, via Trump’s deficit-ballooning tax package.

And that leads skeptics to ask why Pelosi would insist on such a redundant rule in the first place.

Even Paul Krugman of the New York Times, while gushing that Pelosi is “the best House speaker of modern times,” observes:

In fact, even the deficit scolds who played such a big role in Beltway discourse during the Obama years seem oddly selective in their concerns about red ink. After all those proclamations that fiscal doom was coming any day now unless we cut spending on Social Security and Medicare, it’s remarkable how muted their response has been to a huge, budget-busting tax cut. It’s almost as if their real goal was shrinking social programs, not limiting national debt.

‘Tis a puzzlement. But Krugman just can’t bring himself to accuse the neoliberal governing cabal, of which the Democrats are in integral moving part, of subterfuge and actual corruption.

So I did, in my published comment:

As Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page established in their studies of affluence and influence, wealthy donors get what they want from their politicians: a big return on their investment.

And what they don’t want is Medicare For All, free public college, expanded Social Security, living wage legislation, a Green New Deal, or just about anything that improves the lives of ordinary people.

The Democratic leadership can’t come right out and admit this, so they set up their convoluted PayGo gimmick while glibly assuring their members and constituents that they can waive their silly old rule any time they feel like it.

Maybe they’ll feel like it in another several decades, by which time tens of thousands of the uninsured and underinsured will be conveniently dead, or the ignored climate catastrophe does us in whether we have platinum plans or not.

Right now, they just don’t have time to feel like it. If returning and new members accepted money from the DCCC, they’ll be forced to spend half of each working day raising more money for the party coffers. (Since the DCCC never funded Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s run for office, she has the rare luxury of serving her constituents rather than the party.)

When the Democrats took back the House in November, most people assumed Nancy Pelosi misspoke when she crowed “Let’s hear it more for pre-existing conditions!”

Not likely. She will indeed go down in history as one of the most effective Speakers our Banana Republic has ever had.

Of course, it’s way too early to predict whether “AOC” and her progressive cohort of newbies will develop any real clout within the hallowed halls of Congress. As Bill Scher writes in Politico, she is so far zero for two in her nascent battle against Pelosi, losing in her demand for a climate committee with real teeth and subpoena power, and only enlisting two other Democratic members in the “just say no to PayGo” rebellion.

Pelosi has not exactly hidden her disdain for those on the activist left who push proposals she considers foolish. In a New York Times interview conducted before the midterm elections but published shortly afterward, she sarcastically said, “I have those who want to be for impeachment and for abolishing ICE… two really winning issues for us, right? In the districts we have to win? I don’t even think they’re the right thing to do.”

That’s what distinguishes Pelosi from Republican speakers. She does not hesitate to keep her party’s idealogues in check.

So the Times, whose hagiographic treatment of Pelosi rivals that of their fawning coverage of the Michelle Obama and Ruth Bader Ginsberg personality cults, voluntarily refrained from publishing Pelosi’s disdain for ordinary people until her party and herself were safely back in semi-power. Since her Speakership victory, she has had nothing to say about American border patrols firing tear gas across the border at Central American refugees. But she has been inordinately hasty to say that impeaching Trump is as much as off the table, as is the Democratic House’s issuance of a subpoena for his tax returns.

To be fair to Pelosi and as evidence of her true devotion to even-handed bipartisanship, she similarly had nothing to say when Obama’s border patrol agents also regularly deployed tear gas against immigrants and refugees. Nor, when the Democrats took back the House in 2006, did she move to bring articles of impeachment against George W. Bush for his illegal invasion of Iraq and for his illegal torture program. In fact, she has joined the rest of the Democratic Party in rehabilitating Bush’s bumbling war criminal image by proclaiming a wistful nostalgia for him.

The Nancy and Donald Show is being hyped by the media as a Dancing With the Stars battle of the sexes tango between two aging factions of the Ruling Class Racket. It promises to get huge ratings and lots of clicks as it engenders globs and globs of manufactured outrage and cheers from the populace, who have been carefully taught to define themselves mainly by their party allegiances.

Don’t forget to root for your favorite, and be sure to call in or text your uncounted votes before the end of the latest episode.

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