Big-government Democrats have long been criticized for not caring about the national deficit or the ballooning national debt — unless they're opposing tax relief. And during the Trump administration, Republicans also seemed to abandon fiscal restraint, approving trillions of dollars of new debt during Trump's four years — even before the pandemic hit.
So when Democrats pushed the so-called COVID relief package loaded with pork and perks for non-pandemic priorities through on a party-line vote, few people were surprised.
But now some Democrats are actually admitting that the red ink-spilling spending spree can't keep going: Congress has to find a way to pay for the Biden agenda.
What are they saying?
President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), and their left-wing supporters in the media, government, and electorate celebrated the passage of the massive relief bill this week.
With this notch on their wallet, Democrats don't plan to slow down. Party leaders intend to use this momentum to push through an infrastructure package with a price tag that's likely to surpass the stimulus bill.
But, according to Politico, some Democratic lawmakers — the outlet called them "centrists" — are hoping to "pump the brakes."
Though they've been willing to spend trillions of dollars to allegedly combat the COVID-19 crisis without bothering to ask where the money would come from, some Democrats on Capitol Hill are finally starting to ask who's going to foot the bill as the pandemic seems to be winding down.
Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats and keeps them in the majority, told Politico, "At some point we've got to start paying for things."
The sudden interest in fiscal responsibility from the likes of King and others could make life much more difficult for Schumer and Pelosi.
Biden's massive infrastructure bill and other giant spending priorities could move interest rates higher, King fears, and "become an albatross on the economy," Politico said.
"It's got to be paid for," the Maine lawmaker said. "It's just a question of who pays. Are we going to pay or our kids going to pay?"
Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester told the outlet, "Some of it needs to be paid for," and wants an "all of the above" plan for paying for Biden's infrastructure bill with spending cuts and tax and fee hikes.
"You're going to remind me of this [later] when none of it's paid for," Tester told Politico, "but I do think some of it needs to be paid for."
Other Democrats indicated to Politico that paying for spending bills needs to at least be considered:
- House Budget Chairman John Yarmouth (Ky.) shared that his fellow Democrats are under the "assumption" that they'll pay for at least some of the infrastructure bill, but called paying for the entire thing "unrealistic."
- Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) said he will not support a bill without his party at least attempting to get Republicans on board. And he wants to "pay" for the bill — but by repealing the Trump tax cuts.
- Rep. Dean Phillips (Minn.) stated, "I think it's time for everybody in this body, in the country, to start injecting that term back into the vernacular — 'paid for.'" He also said that his fellow centrists are in talks with party chiefs about how important it is that the the next package be paid for.
- Rep. Kurt Schrader (Ore.) quipped, "Well, I assume it'll be paid for," adding, "According to Democrat rules, the only thing we're at liberty to put on our children's credit card is Covid [relief] and climate change."
- Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) said that, though she thinks addressing infrastructure is more important than the deficit and the debt, "there would need to be revenues paid for some portions of it. I don't think there's an appetite for all deficit spending."
The Biden administration, though, wants to go big:
But key figures in Biden's Cabinet are envisioning a different approach. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for instance, has signaled that he prefers deficit spending, telling POLITICO in a recent interview that "the opportunity and the constraints are just different when you have historically low interest rates."
Democrats are largely of the mind that going big is better than going small, trumpeting that they've learned their lessons from the Obama years about trimming their ambitions to cut a deal with Republicans. And they say there's never been a crisis that warrants more spending than the pandemic, which has left 18 million Americans still out of work and as many as 10 million jobs permanently lost.
You read that right: They are not planning to let this "crisis" go to waste.