Centrists warn of 'slippery slope' after Democrats skirt rules to fund agenda
A group of moderates is calling out House Democratic leaders for blowing past the caucus’s own budget rules to pay for its agenda, a sign of strain among the resurgent fiscal-hawk wing of the party.
The Blue Dog Coalition sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Wednesday urging them to “keep the fiscal house in order” after failing to find a way to pay for a landmark bill to protect so-called Dreamers earlier this week.
The letter, which was signed by 20 members and obtained by POLITICO, is a warning shot to House Democrats against ignoring the caucus’ self-imposed fiscal restraints, known as Pay-As-You-Go — which the Blue Dog Coalition had worked to secure earlier this year.
“We urge you, in the spirit of the House rules, to only advance legislation that is fully paid for,” the group wrote.
The moderates’ stand comes one day after House Democrats overwhelmingly agreed to waive the rule, known as PAYGO, to pass a bill to protect young undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers.
That bill cost roughly $35 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office, largely because millions of people would be added to government-run services like Obamacare subsidies, Medicaid or food stamps.
“Obviously we have concerns about waiving PAYGO, and certainly, we hope that this is not a slippery slope,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) said in an interview on the Dreamers bill on Tuesday.
Murphy, one of the Blue Dog co-chairs, did not mention the Dreamers bill in the letter, which she wrote with Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) and Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz), her fellow co-chairs.
But the Blue Dog leaders had been working behind the scenes with Pelosi and her deputies earlier this week as they tried to find an 11th-hour solution to pay for the bill.
The group raised concerns with the $35 billion price tag — which was made public during the Memorial Day recess — in its meeting on Monday, and brought up the issues with Democratic leaders.
Democrats involved in those talks debated privately whether to fund the bill through a tax hike, though the idea was quickly rebuked, according to multiple lawmakers and aides.
Ultimately, a group of Democratic leaders agreed to waive PAYGO in a closed-door meeting in Pelosi’s office on Monday, according to multiple sources. The full House voted to do so on Tuesday, with just nine members, mostly freshmen in competitive districts, opposed.
House Democrats agreed to reinstate PAYGO when they retook the majority in January, to the dismay of many progressives, who saw it as hindering an ambitious agenda.
Both Democrats and Republicans have enforced the rule in the past, and both parties have also agreed to waive it liberally. Both GOP-controlled chambers agreed to skirt the budget rule in 2017 to pass the Trump administration's signature tax cuts.
The budget rule is certain to flare up in the coming months for the Democratic agenda, with progressive leaders pressing for votes on bills like paid family leave and Medicare for All.
Blue Dogs, who nearly tripled their membership after the 2018 elections and now have 27 members, have vowed to hold Democrats accountable in following the rule.