The Spending Pledge

by Ramesh Ponnuru

I’ve long wondered whether it is possible to create an anti-spending pledge as effective as the famous anti-tax pledge. Jonathan Bydlak writes about an effort to do that on the home page today. I’m with him in spirit, but I don’t think the pledge would work very well. It generally requires an affirmative vote of Congress for taxes to rise, making accountability easy. (The fact that this condition doesn’t apply right now, of course, is causing anti-taxers all sorts of problems.) Yet spending rises automatically all the time with no affirmative vote, because of entitlements–and the anti-spending pledge does not account for this fact.

Also, refusing to raise taxes generally does not keep the government from sending out Social Security checks, maintaining the military, and doing other things the vast majority of people want it to do. Holding the line on appropriations bills, as the pledge demands, can lead to partial government shutdowns; so can refusing to raise the debt limit, as the pledge also demands. 

So while I wish it could be done, I don’t think it’s possible to pledge our way to lower spending.