The Pledge: the first steps forward

Today is Pledge Day, when the house Republican Caucus releases their new “Pledge to America” that details the commitments they will make for the 112th Session of Congress, assuming as most do by now that they will run the show. The 21-page draft has been called “dreck” by my friend Erick Erickson, but perhaps a closer read and a consideration of context might be in order. It doesn’t contain complete solutions to the woes we currently face, but then again, Republicans controlling the House will have limited power to make those kinds of sweeping changes many want while Barack Obama remains in the White House, and certainly not enough votes to get constitutional amendments through either chamber even apart from Obama.

House Republicans put the preamble into a YouTube video, and CBS has the document online with Scribd:

GOP Pledge to America

After reading through this a couple of times, I’d call it the Two Year Plan, or perhaps the Guiding Principles for a Two Year Plan. People tend to forget (although Allahpundit didn’t) that the Contract With America was a rather short-term document, too — and became even more so once the effort to get term limits got dropped. The CWA was mostly about changing Congressional rules in the wake of a series of scandals to make Congress more accountable. This Pledge is far more about policy than process; in fact, it’s almost entirely a challenge to Obama and a promise to undo everything he’s done, and some of what George Bush did on top of it.

That’s not to say that it couldn’t have gone farther.  The plan calls for rolling back spending to a pre-bailout, pre-stimulus level, but that’s not going to be good enough to start reducing debt.  It won’t eliminate the current deficit, especially with the pledges for rolling back some of the Obama-era tax and fee hikes contained in the bill.  Spending would have to roll all the way back to FY2007 or FY2006 just to hit the break-even mark.  But here again, perhaps it’s good to remember to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  Rolling back to FY2008 levels (which is presumably what the HRC has in mind) would at least be going in the right direction, and may be all that the GOP can get if the Senate remains in Democratic hands and Obama wants to provoke another government shutdown.

Some of the rules and promises in the bill are rather gimmicky and obviously intended just to tweak Democrats.  Republicans propose a “must read” rule for voting on bills that would be difficult to enforce, even within their own caucus, for instance.  Voters need to hold their own Representatives accountable for ignorant vote-casting.  Demanding a Constitutional citation for every bill that hits the floor sounds like a great idea, but it would only mean a little more work to develop boilerplate language regarding the Commerce Clause to append to every bill.  The problem with Congress isn’t that they can’t make an argument for Constitutionality of their schemes, after all.  They mutter platitudes about the Commerce Clause and the “good and welfare clause” by rote, except for the clueless few who are foolish enough to admit they don’t care about controls on their power anyway.

The weekly spending-cut votes seem like another gimmick, but that may have more teeth than one would presume.  It’s actually a rather clever device to keep the grassroots engaged.  When controversial votes take place in either chamber, bloggers and talk radio flood Congressional offices with calls, hang on the outcomes, and publish the vote lists.  Having those on a weekly or otherwise regular basis isn’t a bad idea, and putting elected officials on the spot for spending reductions isn’t a bad idea either.  If the House sends a spending cut once a week to the Senate and/or the White House, they’ll either force Democrats to publicly oppose them or start signing off on some of the cuts — and either would be a pretty good development for small-government conservatives.

Don’t be too quick to dismiss this Pledge.  It’s not the alpha and omega of small-government goals, but it may at least be the alpha and beta of getting the process started.

Update: The final version of the pledge can be found here.