Herseth Sandlin’s Phony War on Deficits

hersethsandlinBy Ryan McNeely

Roll Call has an extremely flattering profile of Blue Dog Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD), in which she is portrayed as a thorn in the side of Nancy Pelosi, bravely defending the nation from increased deficits. Her accomplishments include forcing Pelosi to cut her original $200 billion jobs bill in half, and leading the Blue Dogs to trim the war spending bill to include just $10 billion to prevent teacher layoffs — “less than half the amount sought by leadership and President Barack Obama.” Described as a “star” and as someone who “speaks truth to power,” Herseth Sandlin explains that she is merely being consistent in her insistence that all new spending be completely offset:

“Blue Dogs … are grateful that we finally have not only some wind at our backs in terms of public sentiment, but we have colleagues in our Caucus and Republicans who are now expressing the same amount of concern about the debt and deficits that we’ve been expressing for a number of years, regardless of who has been in the White House and who has been in control.”

The problem is that Herseth Sandlin voted to permanently cut the estate tax, which “would have reduced government revenue by an estimated $268 billion over the next decade, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.” There were no corresponding spending cuts. She also voted for the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which contained billions in tax breaks for extremely profitable oil companies. She also voted against the deficit-reducing Affordable Care Act. Finally, she voted for a $100 billion emergency supplemental for the Iraq War without requiring a withdrawl timeline, against the wishes of Democratic leadership.

Now, perhaps the Iraq War funding vote is somewhat forgivable, as the pay-as-you-go rules that Herseth Sandlin now claims tie her hands do contain an exemption for emergencies. Clearly she believed that the possibility of war funding being cut off was an emergency. But an unemployment rate of nearly 10% is also an emergency. That’s what this debate is about — the significance of this crisis and the appropriate federal response. When the media frames this as about deficits without noting that Blue Dogs routinely support measures that increase deficits when it suits them, it does a grave disservice to our discourse. If Herseth Sandlin doesn’t believe it’s worth spending money to help create jobs or to extend UI benefits because she’d rather spend the money elsewhere, then that’s the debate we need to have, not the pretend debate of brave members standing up to Pelosi as part of an “anti-deficit insurgency.”