"America is more than a country," begins the GOP's 'Pledge to America.' America, it turns out, is an "idea," an "inspiration," and a "belief." And the GOP wants to govern it.
Their policy agenda is detailed and specific -- a decision they will almost certainly come to regret. Because when you get past the adjectives and soaring language, the talk of inalienable rights and constitutional guarantees, you're left with a set of hard promises that will increase the deficit by trillions of dollars, take health-care insurance away from tens of millions of people, create a level of policy uncertainty businesses have never previously known, and suck demand out of an economy that's already got too little of it.
You're also left with a difficult question: What, exactly, does the Republican Party believe? The document speaks constantly and eloquently of the dangers of debt -- but offers a raft of proposals that would sharply increase it. It says, in one paragraph, that the Republican Party will commit itself to "greater liberty" and then, in the next, that it will protect "traditional marriage." It says that "small business must have certainty that the rules won't change every few months" and then promises to change all the rules that the Obama administration has passed in recent months. It is a document with a clear theory of what has gone wrong -- debt, policy uncertainty, and too much government -- and a solid promise to make most of it worse.
Take the deficit. Perhaps the two most consequential policies in the proposal are the full extension of the Bush tax cuts and the full repeal of the health-care law. The first would increase the deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next 10 years, and many trillions of dollars more after that. The second would increase the deficit by more than $100 billion over the next 10 years, and many trillions of dollars more after that. Nothing in the document comes close to paying for these two proposals, and the authors know it: The document never says that the policy proposals it offers will ultimately reduces the deficit.
Then there's the question of policy uncertainty. The health-care law, which is now in the early stages of implementation, would be repealed. In its place, Republicans would write a new health-care bill. They offer some guidance as to what it would look like, but as every business knows, the congressional and regulatory processes are both long and uncertain. That's joined by three sentences on shrinking and reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- the policy's anticipated effects on the housing market, where the two mortgage giants are backing nine out of every 10 new loans, are not mentioned -- and a promise to force a separate congressional vote on every regulation with more than $100 million in economic impact, which would force businesses to figure out a new, dual-track regulatory process.
The agenda is least confused on the subject of reducing government. Though it says little about specific cuts it would make, the pledge includes a cap on non-security discretionary funding, the aforementioned congressional review process for big-ticket regulations, a hiring freeze on federal employees, and weekly votes on spending cuts. None of these policies is spelled out in any detail, but nor are they contradicted by other elements of the plan. If you believe, as the Republicans say they do, in the benefits of reducing the number of public jobs and the amount of public spending in an economy that has too few jobs and too little spending, then this makes some sense. Otherwise, it doesn't. And as Republicans have been hammering Democrats over recent jobs reports where public payrolls fall and private payrolls rise, it's not even clear that they believe this.
Of course, you could say that about most of the plan. It is hard to believe in both deficit reduction and policies that would add trillions to the deficit. It's also hard to warn of the dangers posed by regulatory uncertainty and then propose changing all the rules.
At the end of the day, America may be an idea -- but it is also a country. And it needs to be governed. This proposal avoids the hard choices of governance. It says what it thinks will be popular and then proposes what it thinks will be popular -- even when the two conflict. That, I fear, is a bad idea.