House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan has a new one-liner and I assume it's only a matter of time before the right-wing noise machine picks up on it. "President Obama is going to have to decide," Ryan told National Review. "Is he an Erskine Bowles Democrat or a Nancy Pelosi Democrat?"
The implication here is that Bowles, a centrist who led the Bowles-Simpson commission, wants to balance the budget while Pelosi, the liberal who presided over all of that spending in the House, doesn't. And it's consistent with the stereotype: Centrists are serious about fiscal conservatism and liberals are not.
But the recent historical record tells a different story. 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 not to say liberals are always as committed to fiscal responsibility as they should be. Early in the health care debate, for example, plenty of House liberals were willing to raise physician payments without finding offsetting cuts or revenue. But I think they're record is certainly more impressive than the centrists'. They're also more willing to consider new taxes, which is a prerequisite for having a serious conversation about balancing the budget.
A few more Nancy Pelosi Democrats might be just what our fiscal debate needs.
Update: Of course, the fiscal record of the Republicans is another matter entirely.