Here’s hoping POTUS is ‘A Nancy Pelosi Democrat’

HERE’S HOPING POTUS IS ‘A NANCY PELOSI DEMOCRAT’…. Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, the far-right chairman of the House Budget Committee, apparently has a new rhetorical line: “President Obama is going to have to decide. Is he an Erskine Bowles Democrat or a Nancy Pelosi Democrat?”

It’s an interesting formulation. Bowles, of course, is the “centrist” Democrat who helped lead the Bowles-Simpson deficit-reduction commission, while Pelosi is the progressive former Speaker. Ryan would obviously prefer the White House emulate the moderate from North Carolina, not the liberal from San Francisco.

But as is often the case, Ryan’s perspective is shaped by flawed assumptions. While the GOP budget chief assumes centrists are more committed to fiscal responsibility than liberals, Jonathan Cohn reminds us how mistaken this is.

It was Pelosi and liberal Democrats who crusaded for the Affordable Care Act, a law that included enough new revenue and entitlement cuts to offset the program’s expense and actually reduce the deficit. It was Pelosi and the liberal Democrats who have protested extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, without which the short- and medium-term budget forecasts would be far less scary.

And the centrists? I’m not familiar enough with Bowles’ record specifically to comment on him. But, as a group, centrist Democrats are the ones pushing to extend all of the Bush tax cuts. They’re also the ones who scream the loudest about reforms within the Affordable Care Act that would reduce spending over the long term by taking money away from provider groups.

That’s true, and the progressive record on pursuing a fiscally responsible agenda is too often overlooked. For all the ambitious lawmaking Pelosi oversaw in 2009 and 2010, let’s not forget that the big-ticket items — health care, Wall Street, student loans, etc. — were all paid for and didn’t add a dime to the debt. On the contrary, they made the debt smaller, not bigger.

Indeed, let’s also not forget that Nancy Pelosi Democrats have also presented a wide variety of other policy ideas — including cap-and-trade and the DREAM Act — that would reduce, not increase, the deficit. If the assumption is that centrist Dems, not liberals, are the ones who care about the deficit, that ignores all of the available evidence.

And while Cohn’s entirely right, I’d point to two related angles here. The first is that Ryan wants President Obama to be “an Erskine Bowles Democrat,” but when it came time to vote on Erskine Bowles’ deficit reduction plan, Paul Ryan said no. This is pretty important — Ryan is suggesting he’d be more inclined to negotiate with a White House more aligned with Bowles, but when given a chance, Ryan said Bowles wasn’t good enough.

The second is that it continues to amuse me to hear Republicans talk about fiscal responsibility at all. It was Ryan’s GOP colleagues — not Democrats — who voted for the Bush tax cuts, and added the costs to the national debt; voted to finance the war in Afghanistan by adding the costs to the national debt; voted to put the costs of the war in Iraq onto the national debt; supported a massive expansion of the government’s role in health care, Medicare Part D, and voted to pile all of its costs right onto the national debt; and then backed the financial industry bailout, and added the bill to the national debt.

Ryan wants to know if Obama will be a centrist Dem or a liberal Dem on the budget. My response is, both wings of the Democratic Party have more credibility than the GOP.

As Paul Krugman recently explained, “Democrats aren’t fiscal saints. But we have one party that has been generally responsible, and tries to pay for what it wants, and another party that consistently, deliberately, takes actions to increase deficits in the long term. Saying this may be shrill; but not saying it is being deceptive.”

Postscript: On a related note, Bowles doesn’t really know what he’s talking about anyway.