Democratic staff passed out a press release to reporters on their way into a briefing with the new House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer Tuesday that read: “Meet the New Republicans – Same as the Old Republicans.”
But on Tuesday at least, House Democrats were the same as the old Republicans.
One day before entering the minority, House Democrats rolled out a line of attack against the new House Republican majority that was almost identical to the one that the GOP used against them over the last two years.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and other party leaders complained that the GOP is focused on health care instead of jobs, decrying the vote scheduled for next week to repeal President Obama’s health overhaul.
“Instead of focusing on job creation, Republicans have signaled that their top priority is to repeal the health reform law,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Scultz, a Florida Democrat and member of the leadership team.
The Democratic leaders uttered the word “jobs” 25 times during a press conference that lasted about 35 minutes.
It all sounded eerily familiar. During the lengthy debate in 2009 and 2010 over the health bill, and in the months following its passage in the spring, Republican leaders such as the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, made a regular habit of asking a simple question: “Where are the jobs?”
The Republicans blamed the country’s high unemployment rate, which has stayed around 10 percent for over a year, on the Democrats’ drive for a health care bill, instead of an all-consuming focus on jobs. The election results in November indicated that many voters agreed.
But now the Democrats – looking to hang the still-high unemployment rate around their opponents neck as well – appear eager to take the same tack.
On the merits, Republicans say the health care bill is a “job-killer” that increased uncertainty for business and hampered expansion and job creation, and that it will add to the deficit. They say the Congressional Budget Office’s assertion that the health bill would reduce the deficit by $143 trillion over 10 years is the result of budgeting gimmicks on the part of Democrats.
But Democrats hurled the gimmicks charge back in the Republicans’ face on Tuesday as well.
The Democratic leaders charged that Republicans were adding recklessly to the deficit and disguising it with what Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, called “Enron-type accounting.”
The focus of the Dems ire was a GOP change to rules that will mandate cuts to existing programs any time new spending is added to the budget. They are calling it Cut-As-You-Go instead of Pay-As-You-Go, which was the Democrats policy. Under CUTGO, however, tax cuts are not counted as adding to the deficit, and thus must not be offset.
“It is nothing more than an old Republican scheme to provide back door tax cuts for millionaires and special interests, run up the deficit, and then hide the bill from the American people,” said Van Hollen spokesman Doug Thornell.
Republicans do not believe that tax cuts are a form of spending, arguing that it is simply allowing taxpayers keep more of their own money. They further believe that over the mid- to long-term, tax cuts create more economic growth, leading to higher tax revenues.
Nonetheless, in the short term at the very least, tax cuts do decrease government revenues, widening the gap between what is coming into the Treasury’s coffers and that which is planned to go out in spending.
Pelosi said that under Democratic control, “deficit reduction has been a high priority for us.”
“It has been our mantra: pay as you go. Unfortunately that will be changed now,” she said.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, Texas Democrat, went so far as to claim that PAYGO had reduced borrowing from foreign lenders.
“This PAYGO rule is reining in spending, so we do not have to rely on countries like China to pay for our priorities like education or transportation,” Cuellar said.
But the Democrats’ praise for PAYGO ignored the fact that they repeatedly waived the rules when they were in the majority, often by calling the spending an emergency. The $290 billion 2007 Farm bill, the $150 billion stimulus bill signed by former President Bush in early 2008, and Obama’s $814 billion stimulus bill in early 2009 were all exempted from PAYGO.
Republican staff for Rep. Paul Ryan, the incoming House Budget Committee Chairman from Wisconsin, say that Democrats added $1.6 trillion in 2009 and 2010 to the deficit, despite PAYGO being the law.
Republicans said they did not think the Democrats’ strategy to turn their own sword back on them would work.
“It won’t be true,” said Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, of the Democrats’ claims.
Doug Heye, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said that “usually, one looks at the message, but in this case, it’s also clear that the messenger is a problem.”
“After four years as Speaker, including two years when Washington was a single party town, Nancy Pelosi does not have the credibility to carry out her own arguments,” Heye said. “The fact that there has been zero change in the Democratic hierarchy demonstrates that they just don’t get it.”
When a Pelosi spokesman was asked whether they regarded their messaging as essentially a carbon copy of the GOP’s talking points over the last two years, he responded that it was “message discipline on [Democrats] part, that’s all.”
Pelosi will try Wednesday to stake a claim to fiscal responsibility and austerity when she speaks from the House floor before handing over the gavel to Boehner.
“Democrats will judge what comes before Congress by whether it creates jobs, strengthens our middle class, and reduces the deficit – not burdening future generations with debt,” she plans to say.