The Draft Pledge to America represents the clearest statement we have had of the Republican Party’s relationship to the Tea Party movement. Social and foreign-policy issues are virtually absent from this document (aside from sanctions against Iran and SDI missile defense), and national security and immigration play a modest role in it.
The document laments the perceived current state of “An unchecked executive, a compliant legislature, and an overreaching judiciary,” and rather than referring to the poorly-executed wars and strangely-broad unwarranted wiretapping of the W. Bush years, it is referring to the President and Congress that passed hate crimes legislation to protect gays and the disabled, reformed health care while actually reducing spending on Medicare, reformed the Federal student loan program, passed a major economic stimulus, helped the American auto industry overhaul its business model and avoid collapse, provide Federal aid to States to help them ease the impact of drastic budget cuts, and pass a massive overhaul of the fast-and-loose and dizzyingly-complex financial sector that threw us into the Second Great Depression.
The focus on President Obama only carries on for half a page, though; after this emphasis shifts to a positive policy message–a thing which the Liberal Ironist has been hoping to see from a coherent conservative party since 2006. Notably, there is a specific commitment to Judicial philosophy of Originalism, and to emphasize Federalism and State’s rights in policymaking.
“It’s time to do away with the old politics: that much is clear.” Hoo boy. You won’t quite reach the middle of page 4 before the draft of the Republican Party’s guiding document just assumes you are a sucker. It’s true that anti-Washington messages have a certain resonance…in just about every national election since 1976. Promising to do away with the old politics is old politics. No one has ever really explained what the relationship would be between “doing away with the old politics” and, oh, implementing the desired policy reforms. On the margins, Baby Boomers seem to respond to ’60s-style contempt of the political process every election cycle.
“Structure dictates behavior,” the Pledge continues, referring to Congressional reform. I agree, but even moreso in the case of the Republican Party’s current political situation: The party has heard the small-government message from the Tea Party’s dramatic primary wins, loud and clear. The Pledge is a formal announcement by the Republican Party that it will make limited government, political Federalism and market solutions to policy problems its full-time job. President Bush‘s big-government “Compassionate Conservatism” and Neoconservativism are gone.
In bullet form, highlights of the policy proposals in the Pledge to America are…
Taxes: Make the Bush tax cuts permanent, and allow small businesses a tax deduction equal to 20% of their income.
Regulations: Require Congressional approval for any new Federal regulation that would either add to the Federal budget deficit or “make it harder to create jobs.” (The causal logic required to determine either isn’t entirely clear; what is clear is that Congressional Republicans want more leverage over the President and these issues have caused a lot of public anxiety.) There is a pledge to repeal the small business health care mandates in the new health care law.
Federal spending: Excluding Medicare, Social Security, the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration (which the Pledge calls “common-sense exceptions,” certainly the right way to put it from a political standpoint), the Republicans commit to reduce Federal spending to pre-Bailout levels. This is plausible, and not as radical as it sounds considering the Bailout and the Stimulus were a two-off, and the exclusion of…well, 60% of the Federal budget from the calculations. Still, this should result in comparative austerity in Federal spending, which the Pledge claims of “at least $100 billion in the first year alone.” There is a pledge to audit and review every current Federal program to identify waste. The Republicans promise to cancel what remains of the stimulus and reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Entitlements: Though no specifics are yet given, the Republicans promise to pass budgetary reforms that will require making the Federal entitlement programs solvent now. Paul Ryan, an ideological but well-mannered Republican from Wisconsin who expressed himself professionally when his party seemed most-aimless, has proposed a conservative plan for doing that, though his party clearly hasn’t committed to it yet.
Health care: The Republicans pledge to repeal the President’s signature health care bill and replace it, I think it is fair to say, with a series of gimmicks: Limits on medical malpractice lawsuits, small business health care consortia, buying insurance across state lines, and health savings accounts. These measures will do little in general to restrain costs, abuses, and gaps in health care coverage among the neediest.
The Pledge doesn’t address the fact that repealing the health care bill would increase Medicare spending by $500 billion over 10 years.
Congressional reform: The Pledge mentions a new law that would require a citation of Constitutional enabling authority to be included in every new bill. This is an interesting idea, but with Presidential signing statements almost to laws unto themselves and a Supreme Court that makes bold decisions regardless of the deciding judicial philosophy, imposing such procedural restraints on Congress, if effective, may further weaken the Legislative Branch rather than limit the power of the Federal Government.
Defense/National Security: There is a pledge to keep the Guantanamo Bay detention center open (hardly an issue as President Obama hasn’t closed it yet), to continue the fortification of the border with Mexico, and an implicit commitment to expand the ICE program of collaboration between local and Federal law enforcement for checking the immigration status of criminal detainees.
This document is interesting in representing the purposes and goals of a Republican Party that embodies greater enthusiasm and self-confidence than it has in the past 5 years. True, it’s just a “pledge,” and “contract”-type documents are narrower than a party platform, but the overwhelming focus on reducing the scope of the Federal Government, the secondary focus on law-and-order issues and the near-total silence on social issues and even the wars abroad and the issue of terrorism is interesting. Because of the narrowness of the document it’s too early to tell if we’re looking at the outline of the “new Republican Party” here, but that’s a real possibility.
Considering current electoral projections from Nate Silver‘s FiveThirtyEight.com suggest a House majority of 223 Republicans and Republican pickups from 23 to 30 Governorships just in time for the post-Census Congressional reapportionment, the Republicans will probably have the chance to demonstrate whether this is the case very soon.