The GOP Pledge: Smaller Government, Bigger Deficits

By :: September 23rd, 2010

Now it is official. Neither Democrats nor Republicans will run in 2010 on a serious platform to address the budget deficit.

We knew the Obama Administration and the Democrats weren’t going there. Now, despite all the breathless publicity given to the tea party’s alleged fiscal conservatism, neither are Republicans. The House GOP’s Pledge to America is an attempt to win support of fiscal conservatives without actually reducing the deficit. Indeed, taken together, the promises included in the document would result in long-term deficits far higher than if Congress merely maintained the status quo for the next two years.      

The campaign and governing manifesto that House Republicans rolled out today is filled with rhetoric about smaller government. It begins with a watered-down, self-conscious echoe of the Declaration of Independence in its cry for less intrusive federal government. It is sad evidence of what happens to prose-by-committee.

But when it gets down to specifics, the pledge really turns to mush. The GOP says it would cut government spending to pre-2009 levels and cap future discretionary spending. But in the same breath, the Republican lawmakers say they’d exempt spending for “seniors, veterans and our troops” from their rollback. And they never tell us at what level they’d freeze future outlays, or for how long.

Then, in a classic bit of Washingtonese, the pledge goes on to say this: “Instead of pushing off our fiscal challenges, we will reform the budget process to ensure that Congress begins making the decisions that are necessary to protect our entitlement programs for today’s seniors and future generations.”

Huh?  Those entitlement programs for seniors--and the need for taxes to pay for them-- are the nation’s long-term fiscal challenge. By mid-century, according to the Congressional Budget Office, every penny of federal tax revenue will go to pay for Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid (a large share of which is spent on long-term care for the elderly), as well as the interest on the debt needed to fund these programs.

Compared to these benefits for seniors, all other federal spending—the main target of the GOP’s manifesto-- is loose change in the fiscal sofa cushion.

Thus, what this bit of Orwellian double-speak really means is: “We have absolutely no intention of telling you how we will meet our fiscal challenges today. Sometime after the election, we'll let you know how we’d slow the growth of Social Security and Medicare.”

When it comes to revenues, the GOP reprises its long-term pledge to permanently extend all of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. Plus it adds a few more tax breaks, including a proposal to give small businesses a new 20 percent deduction. For those interested in deficit reduction, these tax cuts would dwarf any spending cuts in the GOP agenda. 

As a political document, the pledge seems in synch with the tea party/GOP base: Smaller government, lower taxes, but little real interest in tough fiscal decisions. Like the Contract with America before it, the pledge may succeed in driving votes. But as a governing platform, it is neither serious nor credible.


  1. Anonymous  ::  9:17 pm on September 23rd, 2010:

    Their promises on tax rates are a day late and a few hundred million dollars short, since any effort to keep the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts in place must be done in the current term.
    It is a bit cynical actually, since changes will likely be made in the lame duck session. If they capture the House in the interim, having this happen detracts from the perceived legitimacy of government – which is what they are counting on.
    It is the ultimate in cynicism, totally unpatriotic and likely fueled by campaign contributions from libertarians who want to destabilize the system – the Koch brothers (who are major Tea Party funders).
    In no universe is their strategy not damaging to their oath to protect and defend the Constitution.

  2. Anonymous  ::  4:30 pm on September 24th, 2010:

    The correct hyperlink to the GOP Pledge is

  3. Anonymous  ::  6:57 pm on September 25th, 2010:

    I have looked for an answer to this question but I cant find one so…
    If social Security is 'self funding' (its revenue source is dedicated — payrolltaxes) then why is social security funding included in the budget? what am I missing?

  4. Anonymous  ::  5:28 pm on September 27th, 2010:

    Because we have a “consolidated budget” as mandated by the Budget Act.

  5. Anonymous  ::  10:46 pm on September 28th, 2010:

    One of the first steps to show the American public that you want to help correct our out of balance budget is to mandate a 10% reduction of all elected & appointed federal government officials pay checks. This would show that your are serious, then you can reduce no eliminate the funding for non eccential programs. Also mandate term limits on all elected officials two or three terms max. This would reduce the amount of owed promises to his/hers supporters. It would also prevent the elected saying & doing what is only good for thier relection, instead of enacting laws for the general benefit of America,

  6. Anonymous  ::  1:59 pm on September 29th, 2010:

    If the republicans win in November they better remember their pledge! They Tea Party will still be there for the next election if they don't and they (the republicans in office) will not be there after the next election.
    There several things that the republicans can to to reduce the deficit. One way would to require every bill contain only items that are germain to the bill its self and every amendment would have to be voted on after the main bill is passed. An other way would be to equalize the pay and benifits between government workers and non government workers. For both government and non government the retirement and other benifets would have deposited (quarterly/annually) in a sererate account that could not be taped by either government nor business for their own perposes.
    There is another devise that I think would help also. Each bill would have to be summarized on one page (8 1/2 X 11) and each bill be read before a vote can be taken on it.

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