Hoyer: PAYGO on Hold for Now

Posted January 7, 2009 at 12:26pm

Updated: 7:24 p.m.

House Democratic leaders remain committed to fiscal responsibility, but just not for right now, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday.

Fiscal balance “obviously will not be possible in the short term,” Hoyer conceded. He pointed to the “deep distress our economy is in” and said economists of all persuasions agree that it is time to jolt the economy with stimulus, which will lead to deficit spending.

“In the short term, because of the crisis we confront, we will not be able to meet [pay-as-you-go] requirements,” Hoyer said, or that increases in spending be offset by budgetary reductions elsewhere.

Still, Hoyer emphasized that fiscally responsible policies have not “been abandoned. It just means the reality is, at this point in time, we will not be able to effect them.”

Long-term strategies for maintaining fiscal balance include continuing to “pursue and enforce PAYGO,” making sure taxpayer money is spent wisely and anticipating savings in Iraq, the Majority Leader said.

Later, Hoyer aides emphatically clarified that PAYGO is “here to stay,” and said the Majority Leader didn’t mean to suggest that pay-as-you-go budget rules would no longer be applied to any bills.

Specifically, aides said, Hoyer was referring to the need to suspend PAYGO in the short term when it comes to legislation aimed at stabilizing the economy.

Hoyer said he doubted the forthcoming multibillion-dollar stimulus package will include authorization for a fiscal reform commission, something sought by fiscally conservative Democrats. Instead, that issue is likely to be addressed during the budget debate, he said.

The Majority Leader said he expects a committee markup on the stimulus package in the near term, possibly next week or the week after. He said he expected several committees to hold hearings on the measure, including Appropriations, Ways and Means and possibly Transportation and Infrastructure.

In terms of moving the nine appropriations bills left over from last year, Hoyer said “there pretty much is a meeting of the minds” between Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and ranking member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) to advance an omnibus package in the “near term.”

There will be no votes on Thursday when the House will hold a joint session with the Senate to count electoral ballots to officially seat President-elect Barack Obama as the 44th president. On Friday, the House will vote on two labor-related bills on the suspension calendar.

Next week, the House will take up legislation relating to audits of governmental agencies and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The House also may take up legislation by Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) requiring that the Wall Street bailout funds be tied to mortgage relief.