Last month, as the Senate was gridlocked by a Republican filibuster of a bill to extend much-needed unemployment benefits to millions of out-of-work Americans, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) stood with the GOP against the extension. Nelson claimed that his concerns about the deficit overrode his support for the extension; he voted against the bill that finally passed 60-40.
Later that week, Nelson came out in support of an extension — “for now” — of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, which adds many billions more to the deficit than the unemployment insurance extension. In fact, extending the Bush tax cuts for one year alone would add $115 billion to the deficit, compared to the “relatively tiny budgetary cost of $33 billion” for the extension of UI benefits.
Today, though, Ben Nelson provided further evidence that he is a deficit peacock — someone who claims to be concerned about the deficit but isn’t actually interested in taking serious steps toward a balanced budget. Before the final vote on the states’ aid bill that passed today, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) offered two amendments that would, in effect, permanently extend the Bush tax cuts. David Dayen has the results:
Before passing the state fiscal aid bill, Democrats actually gave Jim DeMint two votes on tax rates. He wanted to add massively to the deficit – literally trillions of dollars – by freezing in place the tax rates on individuals and “small businesses” that we have now, and which make us one of the most lightly-taxed industrialized nations on the planet. And look at this: Democrats rejected the measure entirely. On both votes, only Ben Nelson [and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (AR)] crossed the aisle to vote with all Republicans [except deficit hawk George Voinovich (OH)]
Nelson and Lincoln (who also claims to be concerned about deficits) apparently don’t mind spending $3.1 trillion over the next ten years to pursue ineffective tax cuts for the wealthy. Perhaps they should have listened to their colleague, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), who said of DeMint’s proposal, “that’s not serious. Is that a stunt? Yes, it’s a stunt. Is it a gimmick? Yes, it’s a gimmick. Is it serious? No, it’s not serious.”
DeMint is particularly “not serious” when it comes to paying for his extraordinarily expensive amendments. Both came “with instructions to offset as necessary through spending reduction,” Senate-speak for “we’ll worry about the cost later.”
Cross-posted on The Wonk Room.