Republican leaders have heard the public’s anger at Washington, and they’ve come up with an election-year plan: increase the federal debt. You won’t find “more borrowing” listed as an agenda item in the House Republicans’ pandering “Pledge to America.” But sending the country deeper into debt is integral to their plan.
Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio) and his crew want to extend tax cuts for all taxpayers regardless of income level, which would add nearly $4 trillion to the national debt over the next decade. It is a formula for extra borrowing from foreign governments, to be paid by generations of future taxpayers — the very problems that supposedly motivated the GOP’s action plan. The House GOP leaders propose to cut discretionary non-security spending with a blunt axe, reducing federal agencies across-the-board by about 20 percent. That would amount to the biggest social cuts in recent history, but it still wouldn’t come close to offsetting the cost of the tax cuts.
If Boehner and his pals were serious about producing something more meaningful than a feel-good campaign document, they would have talked about a balanced-budget amendment. They didn’t, because that would require hard work. If they wanted to show their commitment to cutting government waste, they would have proposed eliminating federal “earmarks.” They didn’t, because Republicans have feasted at this incumbent-protection smorgasbord as eagerly as Democrats.
As for controlling the cost of Social Security and Medicare, Boehner would only say that his team is ready to have an “adult conversation” about entitlements. And as soon as he can round up a few adults, he’ll get back to us. No doubt there is room, as they claim, to cut the federal civilian workforce of about 2.1 million. It’s about 17 percent higher than it was in 2001. But most of that growth has been in the areas of homeland defense and national security, where the GOP appears unwilling to cut. Instead they want an across-the-board freeze on federal hiring, which wouldn’t allow the flexibility to handle increased demand for, say, Social Security claims or veterans’ benefits.
Democrats also lack a credible plan to reduce deficits. But their tax-cut proposal is slightly less burdensome to the overall debt because it would raise taxes on families earning more than $250,000 per year. The GOP “Pledge to America” includes few specifics and a host of phrases intended to pander to the tea party. It’s a campaign document that offers no real plan for governing.
As such, it might produce its desired effect by making Boehner the new Speaker. The Republican leadership is actively courting the tea-party movement, while Democratic leaders are simply running for their lives. In 1994, another year of great unrest, Newt Gingrich came out with the “Contract for America.” It brought Gingrich the power and fame he sought, but it had little practical effect for the public. The “Pledge to America” looks like more of the same.