Budget Discipline: The Democratic Theme for ‘O6?

Remember when some of us limited-government types were wondering when the Democrats would finally realize voters were fed up with the GOP’s massive federal budgets and start talking about fiscal discipline? Well, it’s finally happened — the talking, at least.  House minority leader Nancy Pelosi just gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) in which she professed that Democrats would launch a campaign to reduce the number of budget earmarks if they won a House majority in November.

She even sounded a bit like Jeff Flake at times: “Personally … I’d get rid of all of them. None of them is worth the skepticism, the cynicism the public has … and the fiscal irresponsibility of it.”  

Most of the time, her message degenerated into standard Democratic tones. Pelosi still hopes to eliminate the Bush tax cuts for high-income taxpayers and hike the minimum wage. Yet even her support for the latter seemed to be focus-group tested: “We will not support a raise for Congress until Congress supports raising the minimum wage.” But that’s hardly a concession to fiscal discipline — it’s a hellacious twofer! (If you like this bad policy, you should love this even worse one!)

Frankly, I can’t help but be skeptical that Pelosi is really interested in getting federal spending under control. Nor am I convinced that she could keep her troops in line in such a battle. She and other Democrats had their chance to rail against earmarks and the GOP spending explosion during the past five years, but most — with very few exceptions, like Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee — sat out that fight. 

What Pelosi really wants, of course, is to regain Democratic control of the House. The good news is that she feels like she has to talk even a little like a fiscal conservative in order to do it.   

The GOP spending explosion has been awful to behold. Perhaps the fact that the public’s outrage over it is loud enough to entice a San Francisco Democrat to try to sound a teensy bit like a budget hawk might be worth savoring.