Congress’ Budget Rules Are Rigged Against Progressives


For months, we watched the proposed federal COVID-19 relief bill get smaller and smaller as politicians complained about costs. At the same time, an overwhelming majority of lawmakers recently passed the largest military budget in U.S. history. Our communities are hurting, our anger is righteous, and the hypocrisy of Congress is loud AF.

For too long, corporate lobbyists and the politicians who do their bidding have rigged the rules against the rest of us, making it harder to pass the bills we need. That’s starting to change.

So many voters believe that “Medicare for all,” a Green New Deal, and pathway to citizenship for all immigrants are vital, now more than ever. But corporate-backed legislators on both sides of the aisle have spent decades rigging the rules against women, workers, and Black, brown, and Indigenous people, preventing the majority of us from accessing the halls of power. Our movement in the streets over the past few years has upped the pressure — Congress has heard our call to unrig the rules so we can bring the power of the people to the People’s House.

COVID-19 didn’t create a deeply unequal, unjust economy, but it definitely made our existing problems much worse. The new Congress and administration are going to need to pass visionary and transformative policies that meet the scale of the crises our communities are facing.

One barrier in the way of these bold policies is called “pay as you go” (PAYGO). This rule stops any bill that raises direct spending or cuts federal revenue from being adopted unless that funding change is offset somewhere else. But the federal government’s finances don’t work the same way that our personal and family budgets do. Sometimes the government needs to pay more upfront for things like infrastructure or COVID-19 relief. Those investments ultimately pay off if those programs can save lives during a pandemic, stave off disasters during the climate crisis, or boost economic activity during a recession.

So even though a Green New Deal and immigration relief would save billions of dollars in the long run and improve countless lives, the PAYGO rule gives politicians a convenient excuse to prevent those critical and popular policies from even getting a vote. But this rule also only applies to some bills some of the time. When sky-high Pentagon spending and corporate tax cuts are on the floor, congressional leaders simply work around the rule. Then, when we talk about funding the things our people need, corporate-backed politicians cry wolf. Congressional rules should be designed to allow us to best solve the crises we’re facing — and when they’re not, they gotta go!

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You think that’s it? Nah. So many rules were designed to advance elite interests and power while leaving us all behind. Another rigged rule is called the “motion to recommit” (MTR). Some politicians and greedy lobbyists have used and abused this obscure congressional floor procedure to put lawmakers in “gotcha” situations that threaten to derail bills like raising the minimum wage or the Dream and Promise Act, which would open a path to citizenship for Dreamers. Put simply, MTR allows the minority party to force votes on changes to a piece of legislation right before a final vote on the bill. Republican members of Congress have used MTRs to politicize antisemitism and fuel xenophobia for their benefit, driving division and fear in our communities. Repeatedly, MTRs have targeted immigrants and legislation that would otherwise build up our communities. It’s past time to overhaul or eliminate this destructive procedural maneuver.



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