Remembering the Republican "Pledge to America"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 2 2013 4:37 PM

Remembering the Republican "Pledge to America"

Tonight, for the last time, the sun will set on the 112th Congress. The new House, elected by voters who meant to put the Democrats into power but lived in the wrong districts, will contain seven fewer Republicans than the last one -- a total of 234. With this in mind I thumbed back through the Pledge to America, the governing document unveiled with trumpets and fanfare and a no-ties press conference before the GOP's 2010 win. The new, rebranded GOP made a lot of promises about how they'd govern and how they'd (to borrow a phrase) fix the debt.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

It didn't quite work out. Without going into every cranny of the pledge, you can see the highlights.

All legislative text must be posted online for 3 days prior to voting. If you've paid any attention to our current crises, you've noticed that bills seem to rocket from the Secret Talks to the House floor. That's because the Rules Committee can take a bill and rescue it from the three-day rule. And it has done so, whenever necessary.

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We will require each bill moving through Congress to include a clause citing the specific constitutional authority upon which the bill is justified. Republicans pulled that off, usually just citing Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. When it got dicey -- like bill of attainder-esque stuff to defund liberal groups -- they cited Art I Sec 8 some more.

We will let any lawmaker — Democrat or Republican — offer amendments to reduce spending. Done! Unfortunately for everybody, after a few months the only big spending bills that passed were ugly compromises that no one dared to slow down with amendments.

We will end the practice of packaging unpopular bills with "must-pass" legislation to circumvent the will of the American people. There was that whole debt limit ordeal. See also "We will fight efforts to use a national crisis for political gain."

The House passed H. Res. 9, a resolution instructing House committees to develop legislation replacing the job-killing health care law. It did, but because Democrats in the Senate opposed the repeal bill, the action team never got anywhere with the replacement.

With common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops, we will roll back government spending to prestimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone. They did cut $100 billion from the FY2012 baseline, but never got close to "2008 levels" of spending -- thwarted by Democrats, and not helped by Paul Ryan's budgets.

No more troop funding bills held up by unrelated policy changes, or extraneous domestic spending and pork-barrel projects. Promise kept! By and large, all of the national security promises were kept, or at least the party made college tries before being shut down.

We will continue to hold weekly votes on spending cuts. They quietly ceased this gimmick in 2012.

Be fair: With control of the House, and nothing else, Republicans were never going to get what they wanted. But they responded to the challenge by using every possible crisis moment to get leverage. They even created a crisis moment, demanding that a debt limit increase be matched by commensurate spending cuts. Unlike the mid-1990s, when a Republican Congress produced budgets that Bill Clinton had to work with, the 2011-2012 slog saw Paul Ryan's budgets die in the Democratic Senate. As Jonathan Allen puts it, the Republicans "wracked up more processes than policies" as they tried to find ways around the impasse. In the process, as the polls suggest, they alienated roughly nine in ten Americans.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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