Paul Ryan’s Budget Blues

No budget, no problem. That’s the “unprecedented” and “shameful” Pelosi way, says Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, in an interview with National Review Online.

On Wednesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) danced around the country’s fiscal fire, promising a “realistic, long-term budget . . . in December.” Until then, he says, we’ll all just have to wait. Before legislators get to work, he wants to let the president’s bipartisan deficit-reduction commission knock heads.

That means for the first time since the implementation of the Budget Act of 1974, the House will not pass an annual budget. In its place, Hoyer is dressing-up what he calls a “budget enforcement resolution,” a legislative Hans Brinker which will hold up government spending on a nod and a wink.

To spend without budgeting, Hoyer and company want to use a House rules procedure known as “deem and pass.” “Deem and pass,” you may remember, is the dodgy parliamentary tactic leftover from the health-care debate, where a resolution can effectively pass — via a vote on the rules for the debate — without being subject to a direct, final vote. As The Hill points out, the Democrats’ “deeming” strategy merely endorses “the goals of the president’s fiscal commission” while reiterating “the commitment to vote on its recommendations after the midterm elections.”

Without a budget, “Americans will not know the consequences of the spending spree,” Ryan says. “They won’t know what the tradeoffs down the road will be. They won’t see how this will make us borrow more money overseas, how it will push up interest rates, how it will lead to inflation problems, and how it will demand much, much higher taxes in the future.”

What’s left is a weak promise on paper. The Democrats’ draft for 2011, The Economist notes, lacks any “substantial cuts.” Instead of making actual cuts, Ryan says House Democrats are simply “talking up” spending limits without committing to any real budget guidelines.  “It’s the new convenient out for the Democrats,” Ryan says. “If you want something to happen, but you don’t want to take responsibility, then you just deem it — no budget, no priorities, and no restraint. It’s just turning on the spending spigot and ignoring everything else.”

“Democrats have a convenient economic doctrine, neo-Keynesianism, that satisfies their political and ideological ambitions,” Ryan says. “The only reason they harp on this economic doctrine is because it gives them the money they need to spend to build up the government, not because it’s good economics. They keep using this rhetoric —stimulate demand, pump the prime — trying to tie spending with jobs, but people just don’t buy it anymore. The results are in: It didn’t work, it doesn’t work, but they’re still trying to shove more money out the door.”

Ryan admits that “we’ve had situations (in 1998, 2004, and 2006) where a final budget resolution, mostly due to a divided government,” did not pass a GOP-controlled House. Still, he says, “never before has the House never bothered to attempt to pass a budget, at least since 1974.”

Democrats are divided, with Blue Dogs increasingly nervous about all the spending. To throw them a bone, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) is continuing with spending-as-usual, all while marking up the budget “draft” with blue-dog goodies. The “budget enforcement resolution,” Politico reports, was “designed to placate Blue Dog moderates.” The draft, for instance, pledges to cap appropriations next year at $1.2 trillion, or “about $7 billion below Obama’s requests.”

Without a debate or vote, however, such overtures are meaningless. “The Blue Dogs vote with the Speaker on everything,” Ryan says. “They don’t want a vote like this before the election because they’re still hoping to win. They voted for cap and trade, health care, and the stimulus, so they don’t want another tough vote.” House leadership, he says, doesn’t mind the heat about not passing a budget. “They lose face, it’s embarrassing for them not to budget, but the Speaker still gets her money, the president gets his money, and the Blue Dogs have cover.”

“The Democrats are realizing that they’re losing their grip on power,” Ryan says. “They may keep their majorities, they may not, but they know if they do keep it, it will not be as strong as it is right now, so they’re trying to muscle everything they believe in into law. You have to understand that the people who run Congress — committee chairmen and leadership — have been waiting for this moment. They believe they are morally obligated to bring as much government into being while they can, so it’s whatever it takes with getting this stuff into law. The end they want justifies the means, and [the lack of a budget] is just another example.”

Robert Costa — Robert Costa is National Review's Washington editor and a CNBC political analyst. He manages NR's Capitol Hill bureau and covers the White House, Congress, and national campaigns. ...

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