The House Republicans’ “Pledge to America” has provoked disapproving reactions from both the left and the right: Friday’s editorial in the Washington Post called it a “profile in cowardice” for a lack of specifics, especially in paying for an extension of the Bush tax cuts. (At least the Post notes that Democrats haven’t said how they’re going to pay for them either.) At the other end of the political spectrum, Erick Erickson of RedState.com calls it “pablum” that is “best forgotten.”
If you read the entire document--which is a quick read at 45 pages (lots of photos), even though it is far longer than the one-pager 1994 Contract With America--you’ll see that the highlights include calling for a balanced budget amendment, spending caps, a federal hiring freeze, repealing and replacing healthcare reform, keeping the Bush tax cuts, and reforming Social Security, Medicare, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. Most Tea Partyers would support that list of priorities, as would most “establishment” Republicans and independents.
What’s more interesting is what’s not there: Beyond a cursory reference to “traditional marriage” in the preamble, there’s no mention of social issues. Instead, there’s a focus on fiscal priorities that attract independents. A ban on congressional earmarks, which most Tea Partyers would have liked, may not have gotten past the incumbent House leaders and so there’s a noticeable hole there. A conservative favorite on the campaign trail, calling for the abolition of the federal Department of Education and the IRS on constitutional grounds, may not have pleased too many middle-of-the-road Republicans, and so they’re missing. (Thankfully, there’s no mention of witchcraft anywhere in the document.) So there are some holes, but all of them are ones that would have caused problems this fall.
So the pledge doesn’t contain any Hail Mary passes policy-wise--nor any shocking fumbles--but it does move the ball forward. It represents a first step toward showing what a governing majority of Republicans would stand for in the House. Many of us on the right have been saying for a long time that there’s a lot of value in stopping bad policies--that there’s nothing wrong with being the “Party of No” when it comes to Obama’s policies--but at some point Republicans have to give voters a reason to say “Yes” to the GOP.
The value of the “Pledge to America” is that it starts a national debate this fall that Americans want to have on the issues most important to them: reducing the size and scope of government, creating jobs and investment, and reducing the deficit. The White House is trying to keep “all politics local” this fall and is not particularly interested in a national debate on those priorities. But as former President Bill Clinton said this week, that’s the debate we should be having and are not. This will change that.