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Centrist House Democrats press for committees to follow pay-go rule

A group of freshman House Democrats — most of whom represent districts that are expected to be competitive in 2020 — on Wednesday urged committee chairs to abide by the House’s pay-as-you-go rules to ensure that legislation doesn’t add to the deficit.

“We urge you to work with us to ensure that each committee’s legislation is funded with responsible pay-fors that are considered early in the legislative process,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter. “We also ask that legislation is not advanced out of committees until it has received a [Congressional Budget Office] score.”

Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) took the lead on the letter, and it was also signed by Reps. Ben McAdams (D-Utah), Colin Allred (D-Texas), Cindy Axne (D-Iowa), Ed Case (D-Hawaii), Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.), Kendra Horn (D-Okla.), Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.).

With the exception of Case, all of these lawmakers hold seats that had been represented by Republicans prior to the 2018 midterm elections. Most of the signers are members of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, the centrist New Democrat Coalition, or both.

The House adopted a rules package in January that included a “pay-go” provision that establishes a point of order against bills that increase the deficit. The rule can be waived.

The freshman Democrats said in their letter they feel that so far this year, the principles of the pay-go rule “have not been followed throughout the legislative process, particularly as legislation is being considered at the committee level.” The lawmakers raised concerns about the fact that bills frequently advance out of committees before they receive a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

“Since there is limited time for a CBO study, members do not have enough time to properly consider the potential costs and pay-fors of the legislation before casting votes,” the lawmakers wrote. 

“We understand that legislation referred to multiple committees of jurisdiction can present challenges for committee chairs to identify appropriate offsets or offsets in that respective committee’s jurisdiction in advance of floor consideration,” the freshman Democrats added. “In these instances, we encourage the respective committee chairs to work collaboratively and to communicate throughout the legislative process regarding intentions for offsets.”

Roll Call first reported on the letter

This isn’t the first time that centrist Democrats have pressed for the House to adhere more closely to pay-go. In June, the Blue Dogs sent a letter to House Democratic leaders, warning them against disregarding the rule, after the House waived the rule to pass an immigration bill.

But the pay-go rule isn’t loved by all House Democrats, with some progressives having expressed concerns that it could make it harder to advance some of their top priorities.

A spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in January that the pay-go rule is necessary because without it, the White House would be able to make unilateral spending cuts that reverse Democratic priorities. Key progressive lawmakers have introduced legislation to repeal the 2010 statute that requires the White House to offset deficit-increasing legislation with mandatory spending cuts.

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