Born-Again Budget Hawks (D-BS)

“Now on Democrats’ agenda: Budget cuts,” proclaims a front-page headline in Saturday’s Washington Post. The online headline reads, “Democrats add fiscal austerity as a campaign issue.”

Good news, huh? Let’s check it out:

The candidate was outraged – just outraged – at the country’s sorry fiscal state.

“We have managed to acquire $13 trillion of debt on our balance sheet,” he fumed to a roomful of voters. “In my view, we have nothing to show for it.”

And that was a Democrat, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, who voted “yes” on the stimulus, the health-care overhaul, increased education funding and other costly bills Congress approved under his party’s control.

Meanwhile,

Paul Hodes, the Democratic Senate candidate in New Hampshire, recently proposed $3 billion in spending cuts that would slice airport, railroad and housing funds. Elected to the House four years ago as an anti-war progressive, Hodes lamented that “for too long, both parties have willfully spent with no regard for our nation’s debt.”

So Senator Bennet is outraged at the national debt – for which we have “nothing to show” – but he has voted, apparently, for every one of the spending bills in his time in the Senate that have created today’s $13 trillion debt. The National Taxpayers Union says his overall voting record on spending bills rates an F.

And Representative Hodes is calling for a $3 billion spending cut. Sounds big, eh? Front-page news indeed. But of course, it’s less than 0.1 percent of the 2011 federal budget – and that’s assuming that all these cuts would come out of this year’s budget. Hodes’s press release doesn’t make that clear; they might be cuts over 5 years or so. And his very next press release said he was fighting for federal funds for local New Hampshire services.

Both Republicans and Democrats want voters to think that they’re getting tough on spending, deficits, and debts. But their statements are at wide variance with their actual records and actions. We didn’t pile up $13 trillion in debt while no one was looking; members of Congress, of both parties, voted for these bills. Voters need to watch what they do, not what they say.

My colleague Chris Edwards, quoted by reporter Shailagh Murray, is a little more polite:

“The problem from a fiscal conservative voter’s point of view is that every member or wannabe member claims to be a fiscal conservative these days, so it’s more difficult than usual to separate the wheat from the chaff,” said Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank.