Matthew Yglesias analyzes the “Pledge to America” – sort of the election program of the Republicans this fall, based on the “Contract with America” with which the Republicans under the leadership of Newt Gingrich swept the 1994 elections – for what it is: a lot of ideology, and a lot of interest group politics.
I haven’t had time to read and process the whole thing, but from what I can glean this morning it does in fact reflect the core elements of today’s conservative agenda—whining about the deficit, deficit-increasing tax cuts, additional whining about the deficit, and deficit-increasing promises to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But there’s also lots of good stuff in their for the business lobbyist community in terms of making it much harder to regulate anyone or prevent any kind of misconduct.
Perhaps the most telling thing about where the modern conservative movement is now, however, is their pledge on spending which says that “with common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops we will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels.” Of course once you except Social Security, Medicare, and defense from cuts you’re talking about not touching the government’s three largest programs. So notwithstanding all the rhetorical flourishes throughout the document about small government, liberty, etc. that try to paint a portrait of broadly conflicting philosophical visions about the size and scope of the federal government you actually see a rather narrower difference of priorities. Are they pledging to cut spending while leaving intact programs that support the poorest Americans? No. Are they pledging to cut spending while leaving intact the most effective programs? No.
Instead it’s a plan that says we’ll cut spending on children, the poor, and the next generation’s infrastructure in order to ensure that taxes can be cut on the rich while protecting our own base constituencies—old people, defense contractors, veterans—from the scythe. But by the same logic of “cut spending but not on people who vote Republican” do we really think the authors of this document would pare back other, smaller initiatives that help favored constituencies? Are Customs and Border Patrol and the rest of federal law enforcement going to be cut? Farm subsidies? Timber subsidies? Rural telecom subsidies? We already know that Senate Republicans when given a chance to cut taxes on small businesses and pay for it by reducing oil and gas subsidies chose to mount a filibuster.
Paul Krugman also adds his two cents:
On Thursday, House Republicans released their “Pledge to America,” supposedly outlining their policy agenda. In essence, what they say is, “Deficits are a terrible thing. Let’s make them much bigger.” The document repeatedly condemns federal debt — 16 times, by my count. But the main substantive policy proposal is to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, which independent estimates say would add about $3.7 trillion to the debt over the next decade — about $700 billion more than the Obama administration’s tax proposals.
True, the document talks about the need to cut spending. But as far as I can see, there’s only one specific cut proposed — canceling the rest of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which Republicans claim (implausibly) would save $16 billion. That’s less than half of 1 percent of the budget cost of those tax cuts. As for the rest, everything must be cut, in ways not specified — “except for common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops.” In other words, Social Security, Medicare and the defense budget are off-limits.
So what’s left? Howard Gleckman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has done the math. As he points out, the only way to balance the budget by 2020, while simultaneously (a) making the Bush tax cuts permanent and (b) protecting all the programs Republicans say they won’t cut, is to completely abolish the rest of the federal government: “No more national parks, no more Small Business Administration loans, no more export subsidies, no more N.I.H. No more Medicaid (one-third of its budget pays for long-term care for our parents and others with disabilities). No more child health or child nutrition programs. No more highway construction. No more homeland security. Oh, and no more Congress.”