We're Way Beyond the Pledge to America

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 25 2011 1:24 PM

We're Way Beyond the Pledge to America

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Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

How did we get to this point in the debt crisis? How'd we get to a "debt crisis" at all? Just for fun, I went back to the pledges that Republicans agreed to before the 2010 elections. The Norquist "no tax hike" pledge has been pretty well explained. The "Pledge to America" has been pretty well ignored. There's a good reason: the Pledge said nothing about the debt limit and noting about a balanced budget amendment.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

These were the Pledge's committments on spending: Cutting Congress's budget, weekly spending cut votes, refunding unused stimulus money, spending caps, and ending TARP. On the spending cap:

With common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops, we will roll back government spending to pre- stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone and putting us on a path to begin paying down the debt, balancing the budget, and ending the spending spree in Washington that threatens our children’s future... we will set strict budget caps to limit federal spending on an annual basis. Budget caps were used in the 1990s, when a Republican Congress was able to bring the budget into balance and eventual surplus. By cutting discretionary spending from current levels and imposing a hard cap on future growth, we will save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.
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Reading through this there's no indication that Republicans ran on fundamental reform. There was no hint about the looming debt limit vote. In fact:

We will fight efforts to use a national crisis for political gain.

Ahem. Moving on... was there anything that presaged the GOP's current position? Yes. Seventy GOP winners signed the Contract FROM America, a Tea Party/grassroots/think tank endorsed 10-point pledge. It didn't mention the debt limit, but it did ask for a radical reform of spending habits.

Change the way Congress works, and you can cut spending. Begin the Constitutional amendment process to require a balanced budget with a two-thirds majority needed for any tax hike.

Does that sound familiar? That's the version of the Balanced Budget Amendment that was included with Cut, Cap, and Balance. "The GOP's being run by the Tea Party wing" has become sort of a hoary cliche, but it's also totally true.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.