A Pledge for Wimps

So, we finally know what the Republican congressional leadership has in mind for fixing America’s problems. “A Pledge to America,” unveiled earlier this month, sets clear-cut priorities: creating jobs, reducing the size and scope of government, repealing Obamacare, keeping America safe and restoring trust in Congress. It’s a pretty good set of priorities, and the specifics are pretty good as far as they go. But make no mistake: This is not a revolutionary document. This is not Rep. Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap for America.” It is, more or less, a promise to return the U.S. to the way it was… under George W. Bush.

“A Pledge to America” sounds the right rhetorical notes. On the economy: “Washington’s heavy-handed approach is not working. … It is time to end this liberal Keynesian experiment and stop the attacks on our employers. … We need private sector jobs, not more government.”

And on the national debt: “Our debt is now on track to exceed the size of our economy in the next two years. The lack of a credible plan to pay this debt back causes anxiety among consumers and uncertainty for investors and employers.”

All very true. But the Pledge disappoints. It is like persuading a smoker to cut back from four packs of cigarettes a day to three — he will still end up with cancer. To maintain long-term credibility with bond investors — the guys who bankroll the national debt — the U.S. needs to close a budget gap of roughly $1 trillion through reduced spending or higher taxes. The Pledge barely makes a down payment on that sum. The most substantive deficit-cutting proposal in the entire document vows to cut government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving $100 billion a year.

One hundred billion dollars down, only $900 billion a year to go.

Otherwise, the GOP Pledge promises mainly to stop throwing more money onto the bonfire — cancel unspent stimulus funds, scrap what’s left of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), end subsidies to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and trim Congress’ own budget. Longer term, the Pledge would endeavor to restrain future spending growth by applying “strict budget caps” to limit federal spending on an annual basis, imposing a hiring freeze on non-security federal employees, and adopting sunset legislation.

Congratulations, Mr. Fireman, you have turned off the gas line that has been feeding the blaze. How do you actually propose to put out the fire?

Oh, and then there’s this hard-hitting promise to the American people:

We will make the decisions that are necessary to protect our entitlement programs for today’s seniors and future generations. That means requiring a full accounting of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, setting benchmarks for these programs and reviewing them regularly, and preventing the expansion of unfunded liabilities.

That’s it, the full sum and substance of what the Pledge has to say about entitlement reform. Wow, a “full accounting.” Benchmarks. Regular reviews. That will reassure hard-nosed bond vigilantes, for sure!

I acknowledge that Republican leaders must walk a fine line. They need to be specific enough to make it look like they’re serious, but vague enough to avoid giving Democrats any ammunition. My problem is that the Pledge shows no indication that its authors fully comprehend just how serious the country’s fiscal condition is, how small the window of opportunity is for fixing it, or the magnitude of the changes that must be made.

Publishing “The Pledge to America” actually may be worse than doing nothing at all. It creates the illusion that Republicans are serious about correcting the nation’s grievously flawed fiscal imbalance. In so doing, it displaces any serious discussion about the radical surgery that we need to perform. Returning to the fiscal condition of 2007 will not begin to undo the damage we have afflicted upon ourselves.

(This column was first published in the Washington Examiner.)

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


Leave a Reply