The "pay-for game" is that gotcha game that Conservatives like to play, wherein the ridiculous boondoggles favored by the right (billions for Trump's wall, more than a trillion in tax cuts for the wealthy, massive increases in Pentagon and intelligence agency spending, even a $16 million bomb used for no military reason) can be financed with infinite amounts of deficit spending, while any program that benefits the majority of America needs has to be "fully funded," generally by making cuts in other programs that benefit the majority of America — something that the idiotic Democratic establishment has bought into.
When Republicans are asked how they'll pay for their corporate welfare, authoritarian up-armoring, mass surveillance and military adventures, they are silent, or, if they are Donald Trump, the insist that "Mexico will pay for it."
America has spent $10b on Trump's wall so far (Trump picked a design that can be carved through in minutes with a $100 reciprocating saw and a $15 blade), a downpayment on the $21b+ that Trump has pledged to spend. On the campaign trail, Trump promised the "Mexico would pay for the wall" more than 200 times.
Trump has added $4t to the national debt in less than 3 years in office. Republican' "pay-for game" is an unfunny joke: they are the party of fiscal irresponsibility and unfunded liabilities, while Democrats are the party of paying for programs with a proven ROI: public health, public education, sustainable energy, green resiliency, public infrastructure, and other programs that deliver more dollars out than the government puts in to them.
It's absurd for Democrats to be trapped in the pay-for game. Sure, it's great to give a more substantive answer as AOC does when asked about how she'll pay for the Green New Deal: "As if we're not paying for climate change now" (c.f.: "California wildfires, Hurricane Maria, decreasing crop yields").
But there's a snappier answer, one that will remind voters that deficit spending is absolutely fine with the Republican Party — just not when it's used to buy things America actually needs.
A handful of Democrats are refusing to play along. Last year, Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, offered a pretty robust response to a question from Vox about how he would fund his $95 billion proposal to offer debt-free college to students at public universities.
"I don't play the pay-for game," the senator replied. "I reject the pay-for game. After the Republicans did the $1.5 trillion in unpaid-for tax cuts … I just reject the idea that only progressive ideas have to be paid for. We can work on that as we go through the process, but I think it's a trap."
It is a trap that the Democrats' own leader in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has set for the next Democratic president, by insisting on pay-as-you-go rules that prevent future deficit spending. "We cannot just increase the debt," she told Bloomberg News earlier this month.
Democrats at Debate, Don't Play GOP's "How Will You Pay for It?" Game [Mehdi Hasan/The Intercept]