President Bush should take leadership training from the woman running Congress (or one chamber of it, anyway) at the other end of town. If he did, he'd pronounce his profligate spending habits things of the past and put himself in pay-as-you-go prison. Instead, his version of pay-go (as it's referred to on Capitol Hill) is "Pay? No!"
One of the cagiest moves made by Democrats in a long time is House approval, two days into Democratic control, of rules requiring lawmakers "to pay for any proposal to cut taxes or increase spending on the most expensive federal programs by raising taxes or cutting spending elsewhere."
Democrats paid lip service to controlling the president's addictive spending habits through the November elections. Pay-go shows they are walking the walk as well as talking the talk. Even better, pay-go could end up convincing voters that Democrats are trying on an outfit they've not worn in a long time and becoming the party of fiscal restraint.
Pay-go is the perfect way for Democrats to gracefully say "No" to left-wing ideologues who will demand payback for Democrats' November election wins. I met one on Capitol Hill last week at one of the swearing-in celebrations. A longtime supporter of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she gleefully prattled on about how, now that Pelosi was in charge, federally subsidized day care would be high on the congressional agenda.
Pelosi needs this woman as a supporter but must learn how to turn her downgently.
Republicans never learned how to say no to their friends. Most emblematic of their inability to refuse even their most ridiculous entreaties was the lame-duck Congress's vote on a so-called fetal pain bill. The bill never amassed enough support to pass, but antiabortion extremists insisted on a floor vote nonetheless. It made Bush's GOP look just as beholden to out-of-touch partisans as the American public now recognizes.
Pay-go gives Democrats the perfect "out." To lefties who long for a return to the days of "tax and spend," Pelosi can say, "We'd love to pass subsidized day care. But what other government service would you like us to cut to pay for it? Veterans benefits? How about Social Security? Or public school funding?"