If you look carefully at The Republican Pledge, what you see is the culmination of a decades long effort by anti-government conservatives to undermine American self-government. The ideological posture of these folks has been since the 1960s that government is inherently bad, that it is by definition the problem and not the solution when engaged in anything other than defending the nation from foreign aggression.
The premise underlying: A Plan To Stop Out-Of-Control Spending and Reduce The Size of Government, is pretty transparent. Blame the government for all the irresponsible and unethical actions of our governing elite and capitalist class. Government was to blame for all those greedy Wall Street types whose speculation gone wrong sent the American economy into what could have been the greatest depression of all time. Blame the government for the negligence of multinational energy conglomerates such as BP for the ongoing assault on the global environment, most recently the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Blame the government for the way mortgage brokers all across the US sold unsuspecting families mortgages that they could not afford and that resulted in record numbers of home foreclosures. Blame the government, not the financial industry, for then bundling all those sub-prime mortgages into what ended up being worthless securities and putting the world economy on the brink of collapse.
Underlying the anti-government prescriptions in this section of the Pledge is the notion that government spending is the problem when in reality, government spending is the only economic medicine that had any chance of rescuing the world economy from catastrophic collapse. In the course of a few short weeks, 7 trillion dollars in assets literally vanished as the house of cards known as derivatives brought world credit markets to a grinding halt. And yet, the Republican Pledge suggests that all we have to do is cut back spending and shrink government and magically, our problems are solved.
Let’s take a look at the policy proposed in the Pledge:
Act Immediately to Reduce Spending
Cut Government Spending to Pre-Stimulus, Pre-Bailout Levels
Establish a Hard Cap on New Discretionary Spending
Cut Congress’ Budget
Hold Weekly Votes on Spending Cuts
End TARP Once And For All
End Government Control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
Impose a Net Federal Hiring Freeze of Non-Security Employees
Root Out Government Waste and Sunset Outdated Duplicative Programs
Reform the Budget Process to Focus on Long-Term Challenges
Acting immediately to reduce spending is the wrong medicine until the private sector recovers sufficiently to ensure that we don’t slip back into recession. The Pledge also includes the meaningless suggestions that we cut spending to “pre-stimulus, pre-bailout” levels, root out government waste, sunset outdated and duplicative programs, and reform the budget process. Politicians have cited these kinds of platitudes for generations — even using projected savings from eliminating government waste to pronounce budgets balanced.
The idea that government spending needs to be reduced once the economy recovers should be embraced across the political spectrum to avoid the kind of debt problems recently experienced by some of our European trading partners — but only after the economy is back on a solid foundation. Also ignored is the truth that it has been Republican administrations dating back to Ronald Reagan whose borrow-and-spend policies have contributed most directly to the irresponsible accumulation of national debt.
The irony of the idea that we should place a “hard cap” on discretionary spending is that such a spending cap was used very effectively by President Clinton to produce large government surpluses during the 1990s. George W. Bush and the Republican Congress were the ones who ended this practice.
The idea of cutting Congress’ budget suggests that it is Congressional action that is the problem rather than Congressional inaction. In addition, Republican blame the government proposals such as cutting the Congress’ budget, holding weekly votes on spending cuts, ending TARP, ending government control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, imposing a federal hiring freeze, would continue the Republican assault on the very government resources that they have attacking with great success since the Reagan years – the same government resources needed to do the hard work of reform and to develop real solutions.
Real solutions to our nation’s real problems will in fact require making some hard choices, and likely even some unpopular ones. There will need to be some investments in people and infrastructure that we have to find a way to pay for without more government borrowing. However, the Republicans would like us to believe that we can fix what ails us, and be more competitive in the world economy, simply by slashing government resources and cutting taxes. One quote from Ronald Reagan cited in the Pledge document is most telling:
“Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: if it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”
Our former President always did well with one-liners and short, catchy soundbites. I guess I didn’t realize that the government was an animate object with a monolithic “view”. I’ve always thought of our government as our way of governing ourselves. I didn’t realize it was the enemy. Come to think of it, I’ve always assumed that for better or worse, the government was us – you know, we the people. It’s time to wake up and use the institutions of government to help us solve the very real problems we face. We can do better people.