Progressives Hope Paygo Exemptions in House Rules Will Pave Way for Big Reforms

Progressives on Saturday applauded House Democrats for including in the chamber’s rules package for the incoming Congress two key exemptions from the “pay as you go” rule, also known as Paygo, which could cut down on roadblocks keeping lawmakers from passing far-reaching healthcare and climate action legislation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) unveiled an updated rules package which would exempt legislation “to prevent, prepare for, or respond to economic or public health consequences” of the Covid-19 pandemic or of the climate crisis, from being subjected to Paygo.

Paygo requires that any increase in spending by the federal government be matched by offsetting tax increases or budget cuts, and progressives including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) have called for the rule to be revoked in recent years while Pelosi and other Democrats have defended it.

Ocasio-Cortez and her legislative goals were derided by critics after taking office in January 2019, as Pelosi adopted the Paygo rule for the 116th Congress. The New York congresswoman voted against the 2019 rules package.

On Saturday, Ocasio-Cortez added the “demotion” of Paygo to the list of achievements by progressives in Congress in recent years.

Breaking the federal government and corporate political press’s “austerity mindset and rules, especially on climate, is a major tenet of the Green New Deal,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.

The Intercept journalist Ryan Grim noted that the elimination of Paygo as a consideration for measures involving public health could eventually help Congress to pass Medicare for All as well as other measures to help Americans struggling with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawmakers “could quite easily cite [the pandemic and the climate crisis] as the need for expanded public healthcare, which is specified in both subsections,” Grim tweeted, adding that the rules change “easily covers a very sweeping set of policies.”

After decades of powerful House Democrats being “fervently committed” to Paygo, tweeted Claire Sandberg, former national organizing director for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), “it’s welcome news that exemptions have now been created for two extremely broad policy areas.”

Other progressives praised the proposed rules change, which must still be voted on in the Democrat-controlled House, on social media.

“Amending Paygo opens the door to crucial legislation that meets the scale of our greatest challenges,” tweeted Rep.-elect Marie Newman (D-Ill.).