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The End of Pay-Go?

We wrote recently that Democrats could have a tough time passing their big-ticket priorities next year because some freshman members — many of whom represent moderate districts — will likely join the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition in opposing deficit spending.

Scrap that.

According to Dow Jones, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), a leading Blue Dog, said last week that the group will probably not hold president-elect Barack Obama to the same budget standards that Democrats urged when they established “pay-go” rules after taking control of Congress in 2006:

“I’m not sure the old rules are relevant anymore,” Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., who is a member of the House Blue Dog Coalition, said in an interview.

Cooper argued that Obama shouldn’t have to live within the pay/go rules that congressional Democrats sought to apply to President George W. Bush’s proposals. “It would be unfair to the new president to put him in a budget straitjacket,” he said.

The comments didn’t escape the eye of Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who has a long history of taking on the Blue Dogs for their inconsistent position on pay-go rules.

“If the Blue Dogs really believed in pay-go,” Grassley said in a statement, “they would seek to apply pay-go rules regardless of which party controls the White House.”

Cooper’s comments, Grassley added, “might reveal what Blue Dogs have secretly believed all along — that pay-go applies only to tax relief they don’t like. That’s intellectually dishonest and raises the questions about whether they were sincere about pay-go in the first place.”

Faced with the country’s economic turmoil, Congress has already committed more than $1 trillion in corporate bailouts, buyouts and prop-ups. With the economy still declining, though, many lawmakers are pushing for hundreds of billions more in funding for infrastructure projects and social services — most of it borrowed from abroad; all of it applied to the country’s exploding debt. If Congress doesn’t pass that bill this month, Obama has vowed to do it first thing in January.

All things considered, it looks like 2009 will be a tough season for budget hawks.

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