Faking the Pledge

Republicans are now pledging to undo our tangled fiscal mess that they are blaming entirely on Democrats. Apparently, the GOP believes that Americans have the collective attention span of a gnat.

In the "Pledge to America" they unveiled last week, House Republicans promise they will "launch a sustained effort to stem the relentless growth in government that has occurred over the past decade." Who better for the job than the folks who ran the government for most of that time?
If the GOP's record of fiscal fecklessness were not enough reason to doubt its newfound commitment to curbing "Washington's irresponsible spending habits," the pledge's failure to address entitlement and defense programs would be.
The Republicans say they want to "have a responsible, fact-based conversation with the American people about the scale of the fiscal challenges we face and the urgent action that is required to deal with them." That's hard to do when only a small share of the $3.8 trillion budget is open for discussion, and then only in the vaguest terms.
The Pledge to America, which seems to be based on the assumption that America has a short memory, castigates Democrats for "their out-of-control spending spree." Republicans, you may recall, had a spending spree of their own during George W. Bush's recently concluded administration, when both discretionary and total spending doubled — nearly 10 times the growth seen during Bill Clinton's two terms.
In fact, says Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at George Mason University's Mercatus Center, "President Bush increased government spending more than any of the six presidents preceding him, including LBJ."

Republicans controlled the House of Representatives for six of Bush's eight years, and their fingerprints are all over Bush's budget busters, including the trillion-dollar wars to replace dictators with democrats in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Medicare prescription drug benefit, enacted in 2003, is expected to cost something like $800 billion during its first decade, further darkening Medicare's already dire fiscal outlook. It passed the Senate with 42 Republican votes and the House with 207.
The Troubled Asset Relief Program, which the Republicans now promise to "cancel" because it exemplifies the "bailouts" that have "rightly outraged" the public by "forc(ing) responsible taxpayers to subsidize irresponsible behavior," received 34 Republican votes in the Senate and 91 in the House. The yeas included House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, Republican Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. — all of whom are pictured in the Pledge to America as models of fiscal rectitude and all of whom also supported the reckless Medicare expansion.
As of last week, however, the Republicans pledge to "make the decisions that are necessary to protect our entitlement programs for today's seniors and future generations." Such as? Sorry, that's all you're getting before the elections.
"Let's not get to the potential solutions," Boehner said in a Fox News interview on Sunday. "When you start down that path, you just invite all kinds of problems." Aren't solutions that invite problems what Congress is all about?
Boehner's insistence that an "adult conversation" about entitlements need not include any discussion of what to do about them suggests a certain lack of seriousness. Likewise the Pledge to America's complaints about Barack Obama's "massive Medicare cuts" and its treatment of anything pertaining to "seniors" (one-third of the budget) as a sacred category.
The Republicans think expenditures related to "security" deserve the same exalted status, presumably because a government that is bumbling, wasteful and ineffective in every other endeavor could not possibly display those characteristics when protecting Americans from terrorists.

Yet defense is, among other things, a fiscal issue, consuming a fifth of the budget. The Republicans' grandiose goal of "bringing certainty to an uncertain world" is inconsistent with their goal of "a smaller, less costly and more accountable government."
Even if you trust the Republicans when they say "we have a plan" to cut $100 billion from the budget, that amounts to just 8 percent of the current $1.3 trillion deficit. And why trust them? As the Pledge to America warns, "It's not enough" to "swap out one set of leaders for another."

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine, and his work appears in the new Reason anthology Choice (BenBella Books). Sullum is a graduate of Cornell University, where he majored in economics and psychology. He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and daughter.

8 comments from readers  

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This is the exact issue I have with today's politics. You have the tax and spend liberals and he don't tax and do spend conservatives. What kind of choice is that?

I think both parties need to look back to the 90s and learn something. Clinton raised taxes to a reasonable level. 39% sounds like a lot for top earners but with all the exemptions and deductions you'll be hard pressed to find a rich person paying much more then 25% to the Feds. He cut defense in half, reduced welfare expenditures, signed cuts in Medicare spending (the "doc fix" everyone wussed out on implementing even though 13 of the top 15 salaried fields are in medicine despite that field being a huge drain on GDP). Should we mortgage education and our future so a doctor making 200k+ doesn't have to take a pay cut that reduces his 5 series to a 3 series?

We currently have a fight in Washington between the stupid and he weak willed; that's a fight no one wins. The generation of the 40s won world war two and built the greatest nation in the world through sacrifice and perseverance. The boomers and gen xers in power now can't even figure out how to not spend more then we take in right in the middle of peacetime.
The gov has not been "accountable" since its inception. That's the problem with gov. You can't give people all the power and then hold them accountable. And even if the mistake is acknowledged (an unlikely act of bravery) it is uncertain if the people have the courage to take back the power. Freedom was lost (in principle) the day the Constitution was adopted authorizing taxation (theft) and eminent domain (negation of property), not to mention it condoned slavery. The document was a compromise of good & evil. As such we got what we deserved. Ayn Rand noted the result is always the same in any such compromise. It's time to stop compromising and start correcting the mistake by embracing voluntary interaction instead of authoritarianism. It's the reasonable thing to do.
Get real! We have two choices. 1) stick with the Reid, Pelosi, Obama regime, or 2) vote for change. I submit that we have a far better chance of achieving a real return to the fundamental principles that made this country great by electing Republicans, who, if they have not seen the error of their ways, are seeing it through the primary challenges.

If they do not make meaningful progress toward a restoration of the Constitution and free market policies, they will be challenged with great opponents in the primaries and will be removed. This should be obvious.
The problems that we have with government our not totally the responsibility of the Republicans. They are not even mostly the fault of the GOP. The blame should be shared on both sides. Let's face it: the push to collectivization has been largely driven by the Democrats and it has been going on for about 110 years with the initial blows to free markets and freedom being delivered by the first progressive president, Teddy Roosevelt. Additional, and major damage was inflicted by Wilson, Hoover, FDR, LBJ, Nixon and that bumbler, Jimmy Carter. All of them were statists.

The Capitalist Manifesto by Andrew Bernstein contains the solution to our problem. It is our responsibility to work unrelentingly towards the goal of recovering the freedom that was promised by the founders. Nitpicking one party or the other is not going to help reach that goal.

The upcoming elections are an opportunity to make a dent in the power of the statists of both parties.
The men of the Pledge are arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. They think the deck ought to be orderly, meaning spending should be orderly in relationship to income.

That it should.

However, the issue so big they can't see it is moral. Since when is it OK to take from your neighbor to provide for another one? Hell if that's OK, why not take as much as you can? If there's nothing wrong with the moral matter here, then Obama and Company are doing it exactly as they ought. We should be applauding them rather than damning them.
While the Republicans were too happy to accommodate big government under President Bush, Sullum exaggerates the scale of federal spending by talking in terms of dollars, rather than in terms of the spending as a percentage of GDP. Federal spending in 2001 was 18.11% of GDP and by 2006 it had grown to 19.82% of GDP. An unfortunate growth, but not at all like a doubling. In 2007 and 2008, the Democrats controlled Congress and could have slowed spending if they had a mind to. Instead, it rose to 20.65% of GDP in 2008. Under Obama and the Democrat Congress, the 2009 expenditures were 24.67% of GDP and in 2010 it is 25.44% of GDP.

So, in 6 years of Bush and a Republican Congress, spending went up 1.71% of GDP. That is very bad. In four years with a Democrat Congress, it has gone up 5.62% of GDP, which is an act of mass destruction. In two years under Obama and the Democrat Congress, it has increased by 4.79% of GDP. The Democrats ran up spending in two years at a rate 8.4 times faster than did the Republicans per year in the six years they controlled the White House and Congress.

The Tea Party is working on reforming the Republican Party to make it more cost conscious. The old leadership does not like this, but they are being pushed about a fair bit. This will continue to happen. The Republican Party of 2012 will be wiser than it is now. Let us keep the process at work.
You are entirely correct. Thank you for writing this.

My own plan is to concentrate on primary elections in years coming, and to focus on those candidates who are least like those currently in office, yet who still have a possibility of winning a general election.
No reason to trust the GOP, but they're the only realistic avenue to fix anything. If enough tea-partiers are included in the new House, we have a chance at some success. In any case, if we haven't learned to watch the bastards, shame on us. This is only the beginning. The left has the tenacity of the Nazis on Omaha Beach--the fight is far from over.
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