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Meet the GOP's New Pledge. Same as the Old Pledge.

September 23, 2010

What is old is new again. Hoping to once again party like it's 1994, Republicans Thursday unveiled their 2010 campaign "Pledge to America." But what the Daily Beast referred to the as "bastard child" of the Contract with America isn't just a warmed over version of the GOP's very successful ploy from sixteen years ago. The 21 page document differs little from the 2008 Republican platform, the April Tea Party "Contract from America" or even would-be Speaker Boehner's proclamations in Cleveland last month. And by committing the Party of Nothing to actually standing for something, the new Pledge could boomerang on Republicans this fall.

And that, the Washington Post's Ezra Klein insists, makes it a bad idea:

Their policy agenda is detailed and specific -- a decision they will almost certainly come to regret. Because when you get past the adjectives and soaring language, the talk of inalienable rights and constitutional guarantees, you're left with a set of hard promises that will increase the deficit by trillions of dollars, take health-care insurance away from tens of millions of people, create a level of policy uncertainty businesses have never previously known, and suck demand out of an economy that's already got too little of it.

And those proposals, like the budget-busting $700 billion tax cut windfall for the wealthy and repealing patient protections in the Affordable Care Act, aren't just unpopular. They are just pages ripped right out of the old GOP playbook. The only remaining question heading into today's unveiling was which ones.
As a quick glance reveals, the Pledge document put together by corporate lobbyist turned Boehner aide Brian Wild borrowed liberally from recent conservative encyclicals. And as the numbers show, the result only served to confirm Vice President Joe Biden's description of the "Republican Tea Party."
As the chart above shows, six in ten of the provisions John Boehner rolled out in a Virginia hardware store today appeared in the Tea Party proclamation in April. In turn, six of the 10 pillars of the Tea Party Contract are part and parcel of the 2008 Republican platform John McCain rode to defeat. But while the Pledge did not follow the Tea Party document or the Republican National Convention in calling for a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution and "supermajority requirement in both the House and Senate to guard against tax hikes" (3), a new simplified tax system (4) and "an immediate moratorium on the earmarking system." (9), making the Bush tax cuts permanent (10) is its centerpiece. And that pledge is a promise of $4 trillion in red ink over the next decade, $700 billion of it to the richest 2% of Americans.
The duplication hardly ends there. Like the Tea Party Contract, the Republican Pledge "proclaims that "We will require that every bill contain a citation of Constitutional authority." (1) With its "drill, baby drill" mantra, the 2008 Republican program echoed the Tea Baggers' call for an "all-of-the-above energy policy," while today's Pledge simply announced, "We will fight to increase access to domestic energy sources." (8)
Two other Tea Party favorites not included in the 2008 GOP platform have since become Republican orthodoxy. In June 2008, presidential candidate John McCain announced, "I have proposed a new system of cap-and-trade that over time will change the dynamic of our energy economy." But a year later, the one-time maverick joined the Tea Baggers in their call to "reject cap and trade." (2) The Congressional GOP's Pledge similarly states "we oppose attempts to impose a national 'cap and trade' energy tax."
And when it comes to rolling back health care reform (7), the Pledge and the Tea Party Contract alike were merely regurgitating Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's 2010 GOP campaign slogan declared in March:

"I think the slogan will be 'repeal and replace', 'repeal and replace,'" Mr. McConnell said. "No one that I know in the Republican conference in the Senate believes that no action is appropriate."

As for the remaining codicils of the Tea Party agreement, they, too, have long been floating around the Republican ether. That's especially the case with their sixth demand to "impose a statutory cap limiting the annual growth in total federal spending to the sum of the inflation rate plus the percentage of population growth." That's just a restatement of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) long pushed by Grover Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform. (It's also the same formula that wrought fiscal havoc in Colorado.) But in the Pledge as in his comical address in Cleveland in August, Minority Leader Boehner never explains what Republicans will cut to achieve their supposed deficit-cutting goals:

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 balance the budget and pay down the debt. We will also establish strict budget caps to limit federal spending from this point forward.

As Politico, TPM and others noted in the spring, the question was not whether the Republicans would roll out their Contract with America 2.0 after Labor Day, but how they'll spin it. House GOP leaders like Cantor, Sessions and Pence wanted a document with specific legislative proposals, while document chairman Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) doesn't want items which could potentially alienate independent voters "written out." And while Tea Party Contract from America signer Newt Gingrich lauded the movement as "the militant wing" of the GOP, Texan Pete Sessions said the only thing that matters is winning a House majority. Anything less, he insisted, "is a warm bucket of spit."
Or, in the case of the new Republican Pledge to America, a warmed over bucket of spit.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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