Republicans’ Deficit Double-Talk

September 15, 2010 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

By all accounts, it is a good time to pass the food safety bill that has languished between the upper and lower chambers of Congress for 14 months — since last July. In early September, in the wake of a salmonella outbreak and national egg recall, the family members of Americans who have died from eating contaminated food came to Washington to lobby for a food-safety overhaul. This week, the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonpartisan group, released a report saying that food-safety inspectors feel undue political and corporate pressure and that reforms are needed. On top of that, September is the national food safety month.

But, this week, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) put the kibosh on moving the bipartisan food safety bill forward.

Why? The deficit. The bill costs $1.4 billion over five years — about $280 million a year, out of the $3.8 trillion annual federal budget. Aides say the bill actually does not break Congress’ self-set paygo rules, as Politico explains: “[T]he overall package [is] compliant…and deficit neutral because it authorizes appropriations, as opposed to setting them.” Still, Coburn says he won’t let it pass until its total cost is zero.

The same day, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) unveiled the Tax Hike Prevention Act, which extends the Bush tax cuts and adds something like $4 trillion to the deficit. To offset that cost, Republicans point to $300 billion from a spending freeze. They would look to the deficit commission to name cuts to make up the remaining $3.7 trillion.

Again, though the Congressional Budget Office has not yet scored the Tax Hike Prevention Act, Republicans are getting behind legislation that would putatively raise the debt by $4 trillion. But a Republican is holding up legislation that probably meets Senate paygo rules and costs about $280 million a year.