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Freshman Democrats to chairs: Follow PAYGO, get CBO scores before markups

Letter led by Rep. Sharice Davids asks House committee chairs to ensure legislation does not add to deficit

Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids and nine other House Democratic freshmen want committee chairs to adhere to PAYGO rules and offset legislation that would increase the deficit. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids and nine other House Democratic freshmen want committee chairs to adhere to PAYGO rules and offset legislation that would increase the deficit. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Ten moderate Democratic freshmen are sending a letter Wednesday to House committee chairs asking that their panels better adhere to the chamber’s rule for offsetting legislation that would add to the deficit. 

Back in the majority for the first time in eight years, Democrats kicked off the 116th Congress by reinstating a pay-as-you-go, or PAYGO, provision in House rules. Under the provision, legislation that would increase the deficit must be offset by spending cuts or revenue increases.

(When Republicans took the majority from Democrats in 2011, they replaced PAYGO with cut-as-you-go, or CUTGO, which required deficit-increasing legislation be offset with only spending cuts, preventing the use of revenue increases as pay-fors.)

[House adopts rules package with few Democratic defections over PAYGO provision]

Since House Democrats adopted PAYGO as part of their rules package in January, the majority has waived it several times to pass legislation that was not fully offset. 

“Unfortunately, for much of the first eight months of the 116th Congress, we feel that PAYGO principles have not been followed throughout the legislative process, particularly as legislation is being considered at the committee level,” the 10 freshmen wrote to committee chairs in a letter first shared with Roll Call.

Led by Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids, the letter notes that committees have frequently marked up bills before the Congressional Budget Office has had time to score them, leaving panel members having to cast votes on the measures without knowing the cost.

“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 freshmen wrote. “We also ask that legislation is not advanced out of committees until it has received a CBO score.”

Besides Davids, other signatories to the letter included Reps. Colin Allred of Texas, Cindy Axne of Iowa, Ed Case of Hawaii, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Ben McAdams of Utah, Dean Phillips of Minnesota, Abigail Spanberger of Virginia and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey.

All but Case — who is technically a freshman despite previously serving in Congress from 2002 through 2006 — flipped Republican districts in 2018, helping Democrats win the majority. And all except Case and Phillips are in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline program for vulnerable incumbents. 

Nine of the letter signers are members of the New Democrat Coalition and six are members of Blue Dog Coalition — the two moderate factions of the Democratic Caucus. 

Davids, Cunningham, Horn and McAdams were among nine Democrats who in a rare rebuke to Democratic leaders voted against the rule for debating a party priority immigration bill, the Dream and Promise Act, because it waived PAYGO. 

[Democrats defect on rule vote, even as caucus shows more unity]

The Dream and Promise Act would add more than $30 billion to the deficit, according to CBO estimates released May 30. The scores were released a week after the Judiciary Committee marked up the bills on May 22 and a few days before the June 4 floor vote.

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