House Republicans Unveil Underwhelming “Pledge To America”
In 1994, it was the Contract With America. In 2010, it's the Pledge To America. But does it really mean anything regardless of what it's called ?
Several news organizations have already received advance notice of the agenda that House Republicans will release tomorrow as the “Pledge To America,” 2010’s version of the Contract With America:
WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Thursday will issue a legislative blueprint called “A Pledge to America” that they hope will catapult them to a majority in the November elections. Its goals include a permanent extension of all of the Bush-era tax cuts, repeal of the newly enacted health care law, a cap on discretionary federal spending, and an end to government control of the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
With control of the House, the Republicans said they would seek to immediately cancel any unspent money from last year’s $787 billion economic stimulus program, to freeze the size of the “non-security” federal workforce, and to quickly slash $100 billion in discretionary spending. But the blueprint, with echoes of the 1994 Contract with America, does not specify how the spending reductions would be carried out.
While the agenda is drafted broadly, offering bullet points of overarching objectives rather than detailed proposals — and any legislation championed by Republicans in the next Congress, of course, could be subject to a veto by President Obama — the document represents the most concrete presentation of Republican goals so far this year. Aides said it was intended to show the party was prepared to govern, and that in many cases legislation had already been drafted for many of the proposals in the plan even though specific bill numbers were not cited..
The blueprint was also clearly designed to provide fresh ideas to answer allegations by President Obama and Democrats that Republicans simply want to return to the policies of the Bush administration. Still, many of the proposals represent classic Republican ideals of small government and low taxes pursued for generations by Mr. Bush and other party leaders.
You can read the whole 21 page document if you choose, but here’s a taste of the bullet points:
• Permanently Stop All Job-Killing Tax Hikes: We will help the economy by permanently stopping all tax increases, currently scheduled to take effect January 1, 2011. That means protecting middle-class families, seniors worried about their retirement, and the entrepreneurs and family-owned small businesses on which we depend to create jobs in America.
• Act Immediately to Reduce Spending: There is no reason to wait to reduce wasteful and unnecessary spending. Congress should move immediately to cancel unspent “stimulus” funds, and block any attempts to extend the timeline for spending “stimulus” funds. Throwing more money at a stimulus plan that is not working only wastes taxpayer money and puts us further in debt.
• Cut Government Spending to Pre-Stimulus, Pre-Bailout Levels: With common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops, we will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone and putting us on a path to begin paying down the debt, balancing the budget, and ending the spending spree in Washington that threatens our children’s future.
• Establish a Hard Cap on New Discretionary Spending: We must put common-sense limits on the growth of government and stop the endless increases. Only in Washington is there an expectation that whatever your budget was last year, it will be more this year and even more the next. We will set strict budget caps to limit federal spending on an annual basis. Budget caps were used in the 1990s, when a Republican Congress was able to bring the budget into balance and eventual surplus. By cutting discretionary spending from current levels and imposing a hard cap on future growth, we will save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.
• End TARP Once And For All: Americans are rightly outraged at the bailouts of businesses and entities that force responsible taxpayers to subsidize irresponsible behavior. We will cancel the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), a move that would save taxpayers roughly $16 billion.
• End Government Control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: Since taking over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage companies that triggered the financial meltdown by giving too many high risk loans to people who couldn’t afford them, taxpayers were billed more than $145 billion to save the two companies. We will reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by ending their government takeover, shrinking their portfolios, and establishing minimum capital standards. This will save taxpayers as much as $30 billion.
• Impose a Net Federal Hiring Freeze of Non-Security Employees: Small businesses and entrepreneurs are the engine of our economy and should not be crowded out by unchecked government growth. We will impose a net hiring freeze on non-security federal employees and ensure that the public sector no longer grows at the expense of the private sector.
• Advance Legislative Issues One at a Time: We will end the practice of packaging unpopular bills with “must-pass” legislation to circumvent the will of the American people. Instead, we will advance major legislation one issue at a time.
These are all very specific proposals that, if they do gain control of one or both Houses of Congress, Republicans will be required to at least take some action on or be shown to have broken the promises they’re making this year. For every specific promise, however, there are just as many nonsense proposals that make for good talk radio material but don’t really amount to anything substantive. For example:
• Read The Bill: We will ensure that bills are debated and discussed in the public square by publishing the text online for at least three days before coming up for a vote in the House of Representatives. No more hiding legislative language from the minority party, opponents, and the public. Legislation should be understood by all interested parties before it is voted on.
As I mentioned briefly on this week’s OTB Radio, I find this whole “read the bills” idea to be a little silly. Given the way legislation is drafted reading the bill isn’t what’s really important, what matters is understanding the bill. Publishing the text of a 1,000 page bill that consists mostly of additions to and deletions from the United States Code is, quite frankly, a meaningless act. Even with three days, there’s no way any single person could read and understand such a bill and what it means.
• Adhere To The Constitution: For too long, Congress has ignored the proper limits imposed by the Constitution on the federal government. Further, it has too often drafted unclear and muddled laws, leaving to an unelected judiciary the power to interpret what the law means and by what authority the law stands. This lack of respect for the clear Constitutional limits and authorities has allowed Congress to create ineffective and costly programs that add to the massive deficit year after year. We will require each bill moving through Congress to include a clause citing the specific constitutional authority upon which the bill is justified.
This is another one that’s popular among the Tea Party crowd, but which is also pretty much meaningless. A rule requiring Congress to cite the Constitutional authority for an specific bill isn’t going to stop Congress from acting. For most legislation, all they’ll have to do it cite to the Commerce Clause, the General Welfare Clause, or the Necessary and Proper Clause and their job is done. Thanks to a century or more of Supreme Court jurisprudence, there is very little that the Congress wants to do that it can’t do under the Constitution as that document is currently interpreted.
So far at least, the reaction on the right seems to be mixed, National Review and The Weekly Standard seem to be all in with the GOP on this, while Erick Erickson is among those who are underwhelmed:
It is full of mom tested, kid approved pablum that will make certain hearts on the right sing in solidarity. But like a diet full of sugar, it will actually do nothing but keep making Washington fatter before we crash from the sugar high.
It is dreck.
The pledge begins by lamenting “an arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites” issuing “mandates”, then proceeds to demand health care mandates on insurance companies that will drive up the costs of health care for ordinary Americans.
The plan wants to put “government on the path to a balanced budget” without doing anything substantive. There is a promise to “immediately reduce spending” by cutting off stimulus funds. Wow. Exciting.
There is a plan to cut Congress’s budget, which is pretty much what was promised in 1994. Seriously? In 4 years did the Democrats really blow up the Congressional budget? No — the GOP did that too.
There is no call for a Spending Limitation Amendment or a Balanced Budget Amendment. It is just meaningless stuff the Democrats can easily undo and that ultimately the Senate GOP will even turn its nose up at.
The entirety of this Promise is laughable. Why? It is an illusion that fixates on stuff the GOP already should be doing while not daring to touch on stuff that will have any meaningful longterm effects on the size and scope of the federal government.
This document proves the GOP is more focused on the acquisition of power than the advocacy of long term sound public policy. All the good stuff in it is stuff we expect them to do. What is not in it is more than a little telling that the House GOP has not learned much of anything from 2006.
The one interesting about the Pledge is that, despite earlier reports that there would be at least some emphasis on social issues, the document is almost entirely devoid of any mention of the hot button issues that tend to divided the fiscally conservative/libertarian wing of the GOP from it’s social conservative/populist wing:
Here’s the sum total of language in the document about that: “We pledge to honor families, traditional marriage, life, and the private and faith-based organizations that form the core of our American values.” One line, buried at the end of the preamble on page one, and according to sources, even that was only added at the very last minute after Mike Pence objected. Think social cons are going to like that, after all the warnings lately about not taking them for granted? In fact, the cursory treatment here reminds me of the Mitch Daniels/Mike Huckabee dust-up a few months ago about whether or not there should be a “truce” on social issues until the country’s financial house is in order. This isn’t a truce, but it’s waaaay further towards the libertarian end in its priorities than the social con end. Sign o’ the times.
This leaves us with two questions to be dealt with; (1) what impact will this “pledge” have on the 2010 Elections, and (2) Will the GOP actually follow through on any of these promises ?
With regard to both questions, Reason’s Nick Gillespie offers what I think it is the correct answer, and a fair warning to people who might be enthused by this pledge:
The original Contract With America had about zero impact on the election of 1994. Somewhere around 70 percent of voters told exit pollsters that they had never heard of the CWA before casting their ballots. Of those who had heard of it, equal tiny amounts (around 7 percent) said that it was as likely to tip them toward the Republicans or the Democrats. The GOP scored huge wins because everybody hated Clinton at that point (libs as well as cons) and political grotesques such as Dan Rostenkowski personified a Congress gone mad. Let’s be bold and say that given Obama’s growing lack of popularity, even the GOP can’t fuck this midterm up. But it will be fun to watch them try.
The GOP leadership, with incredibly few exceptions, has never offered up a serious alternative to Obama’s spend-spend-spend agenda. Earlier this year, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virg.), one of the self-styled “Young Guns,” debuted a YouCut website, where bored prisoners and shut-ins with Internet access could vote on various ways to cut the federal budget. The average annual price tag of each possible reduction came to a whopping $638 million, or about 0.02 of a $3.7 trillion budget. If that’s what these Young Guns are slinging, I’m sticking with Lou Diamond Phillips and Casey Siezmasko. Paul Ryan’s much-ballyhooed “Roadmap to America’s Future” is a serious stab at bringing revenue and outlays into some vague approximation of one another. Yet it only balances the budget in 2063, which might as well be a Zager and Evans song. Dr. Newt Gingrich, who is to the Republicans what Dr. X is to Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime, is on the recent record as holding Medicare and Social Security spending even holier than the Ground Zero Burlington Coat Factory (It’s not just coats!).
So, while Republicans likely garner some media coverage for this “Pledge With America,” it’s unlikely that what they announce will have any real impact on the election, and even less likely that they’ll actually live up to their promises.
Update: Marc Ambinder argues this morning that the Pledge is basically meaningless:
First, a Pledge, even capitalized, is less meaningful than a promise. I’ve pledged to my editors that I will refrain from making typos in my blog posts. If I made a contract with them over such errors, I would be significantly poorer.
Second, the reality is that the Republicans will not have a governing majority. This helps explain why several planks of the pledge are straight-forward counter-points to legislation that Democrats have passed. THEY did that, and WE will undo that. There is no affirmative vision for governing because such affirmations are the kiss of death this year. The Pledge is not aimed at a majority at all — it is aimed at the energized plurality that has embraced economic libertarianism and is prepared to be motivated by the sense that Republican leaders in Congress do share their values after all.
Thirdly, Republicans don’t need a Contract or a Pledge. Their base is energized. The Democrats aren’t. A Pledge that doesn’t increase the information content about the Republican brand.-The folks who are going to vote arguably know Republicans stand for the stuff in the pledge because Republicans have been talking about this stuff since the beginning of the cycle. Arguably, it gives Democrats more of a defined target, something that they can reach out with two fingers, poke eyeballs, and redirect to. Arguably-ably, a more substantive governing document, had the Republicans been able to produce such a creature, would have made it harder for Democrats to demagogue.
I’m not sure I agree with Ambinder’s broader point that the Pledge gives the Democrats a target to work with for the next five weeks, thus potentially constituting an unforced Republican error, but he’s right that this was totally unnecessary.