By Zayida Baker

Democrats chose Bill Nelson to lead the resurrected Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility. His commitment to the issue is questionable.

Sen. Bill Nelson oversees one of government’s most basic duties as chairman of the Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility, housed in the Senate Finance Committee. The Finance Committee oversees all taxes, revenue and entitlements. Nelson also serves on the Budget Committee, which drafts the yearly federal budget and delimits congressional expenditures.

Created in February, the Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth had its only hearing on the fiscally paltry topic of identity theft committed in furtherance of tax fraud. Nelson seldom mentions the subcommittee or his chairmanship of it—for instance, he discusses his chairmanship of the Space Subcommittee far oftener. The Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility does not have its own website, so it is hard to track. Lastly, Democrats have abandoned fiscal responsibility: despite then controlling Congress, they did not pass a budget for fiscal year 2011, instead running deficits with continuing resolutions that default to last year’s elevated spending levels.

The subcommittee is not actually new. It occupies the vacancy left by the former Subcommittee on Long-Term Growth and Debt Reduction, which had existed under various names since the late ’70s. Democrats eliminated it in 2007 as they took control of the Senate. Now the resurrected body no longer carries “debt reduction” in its title; Democrats prefer the vaguer “fiscal responsibility.”

Since Nelson became senator, the debt has ballooned from $5.7 trillion to $14.3 trillion. He voted for Bush’s trillion-dollar Medicare prescription drug benefit, Obama’s $800 billion stimulus package, and even multitrillion-dollar ObamaCare, when one switched vote would have killed it. He also supported up to $7.6 billion in mortgage bailouts, the recently defeated $2.5 billion federally funded high-speed rail project in South Florida, and the $50 billion extension of unemployment insurance.

However, though neglected, the topic of fiscal responsibility is not entirely absent from Nelson’s repertoire. He repeatedly claims he was, as a congressman, “an early voice in the fight to balance the federal budget” in the ’80s. He vowed to save, not spend, budget surpluses in his 2000 Senate campaign. Before his 2006 reelection, he skewered Republicans for spending “like a drunken sailor” and advocated a “pay-as-you-go policy.” He uniformly voted against raising the debt ceiling when Republicans ran the Senate from 2003 to 2006 and supported raising it every time but one since Democrats took over in 2007, even though Democrats’ rate of spending and borrowing has been much higher.

He rejects Republicans’ current balanced-budget amendment but voted in March for a failed measure to express support for such an amendment generally. He writes, “The House is blindly slashing programs to posture for 2012 political campaigns. What we need instead are responsible solutions to reduce the deficit.”

Stepping forward to insulate entitlement spending from a potential government shutdown or future austerity, Nelson introduced a bill July 13 to pay Social Security without counting it toward the debt ceiling.

Nelson has not committed to reduce federal spending under the Cut, Cap, and Balance Pledge, unlike Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and at least three of Nelson’s prospective Republican 2012 opponents. The Cut, Cap, and Balance Act passed the House July 19 but was tabled by Nelson and Democrats July 22 in the Senate.

When informed that Nelson heads the Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility, Pace Allen, of Daytona Beach’s Tax Tea Party, scoffed, “That has to be a joke.” Nelson’s support for a balanced budget rings hollow because Nelson already “had his time to do [it], but he hasn’t.”

Nelson’s office ignored multiple requests for comment.

You may wish to contact
Sen. Nelson: (202) 224-5274
Sen. Rubio: (202) 224-3041
The Finance Cmte: (202) 224-4515
The Budget Cmte: (202) 224-0642

Zayida Baker covers Rep. Steve Southerland and Sen. Bill Nelson for Tea Party Patriots’ Government Accountability Project. She can be reached at zayida.baker@tppjournalism.org.