Republicans have billed their “Pledge to America” as a governing agenda, but it is nothing of the sort. Instead of offering bold solutions to today’s most pressing challenges, Republicans chose to compile some small ideas that wouldn’t endanger their chances of regaining the majority this November.
National Review‘s editors, in their endorsement of the “Pledge,” argue that its proposals are bolder than 1994’s “Contract With America.” That may be so, but the times we’re living in call for much more drastic measures than before. In 1994, the Cold War had just ended, the annual deficit was at $203 billion and trending downward, unemployment was at under 6 percent and falling, HillaryCare had just gone down in flames, and we still had decades to deal with the entitlement crisis. Today we’re engaged in two wars as well as facing the broader threat from Islamic terrorism, the deficit stands at over $1.3 trillion, the unemployment rate has been hovering near the double-digits and isn’t receding, ObamaCare is the law of the land, and the entitlement crisis is upon us — or just a few years away if you’re being more charitable.
One Republican (Rep. Paul Ryan) has at least taken a stab at proposing a comprehensive set of solutions that aim to address our nation’s problems, but his fellow GOP House members have run away from the plan like the plague, and are reinforcing their timidity by releasing today’s document.
Take the document’s economic proposals. Republicans have largely recycled ideas such as extending the Bush tax cuts, offering small business owners a tax deduction, and reducing regulation. Yet given the maginitude of the problems we face, we have to think much more ambitiously about an overhaul of our complex tax system that inhibits growth and restricts global competitiveness.
Republicans call for repealing the health care law, which I support, but their replacement proposals ignore the fact that even with ObamaCare undone, we still need to fundamentally change our health care system. Instead of proposing something that would move us away from a system where employers and government dominate the market and toward a system where individuals would have control over their own health care dollars and choose policies that suit their budget and medical needs, Republicans chose to play small ball. A few proposals — such as preventing taxpayer funding for abortions and allowing individuals to purchase insurance across state lines — are worthy of support, but they fall far short of a vision for real reform our health care system. And they are coupled with vague promises, such as “We will incentivize states to develop innovative programs that lower premiums and reduce the number of uninsured Americans” and “We will repeal President Obama’s government takeover of health care and replace it with common-sense reforms focused on strengthening the doctor patient relationship.”
But the most egregious problem with this “Pledge” is that it’s a slap in the face to the youth of America. While it proposes ideas such as rolling back discretionary spending to 2008 levels, it completely avoids any concrete proposals on the biggest threat facing America: our looming entitlement crisis. Instead, the document reads: “We will make the decisions that are necessary to protect our entitlement programs for today’s seniors and future generations. That means requiring a full accounting of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, setting benchmarks for these programs and reviewing them regularly, and preventing the expansion of unfunded liabilities.” So in other words: “trust us.” This coming from the party that added trillions to our long-term deficits by enacting the Medicare prescription drug plan. And it’s worth noting that at another place in the document, the GOP attacks Medicare cuts within the new health care law.
I understand that some would argue that it’s unrealistic to expect a major political party to propose serious entitlement reform weeks before the election. But by the same token, Republicans shouldn’t expect conservatives to adopt this exercise in cowardice as their battle cry. Republicans like to address Tea Parties and talk in terms of the revolutionary spirit sweeping across the nation, and they even invoke the Declaration of Independence in the opening of their “Pledge to America.” But the proposals contained within the document show that all this revolutionary talk is mere rhetoric, and that in reality Republicans have learned nothing from their time in the wilderness. The House Republicans are interested in attaining and then maintaining power, and not concerned with advancing the cause of limited government at a make-or-break moment in American history.