The Corner

Unpacking the “Pledge to America”

House Republicans will release Thursday morning their “Pledge to America,” a detailed and ambitious set of economic, social, and procedural reforms that, if enacted, would dramatically change the course set by President Obama and congressional Democrats.

National Review Online has obtained an advanced copy of the text, which is divided into five parts, including plans to create jobs and increase competitiveness; reduce spending and shrink government; repeal and replace Obamacare; reform the legislative process; and strengthen national defense.  

The Pledge places job creation front and center, promising to stop all tax hikes scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2011 — not just those singled out by the Obama administration. The plan would also give small businesses the ability to deduct 20 percent of income from tax returns and, in an effort to tame productivity-stifling overregulation, would require congressional approval for any new administration rules that would impact the economy by $100 million or more.

Turning its attention to spending and the size of government, the Pledge proposes to immediately end TARP, cancel unspent stimulus dollars, and “roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels,” a move estimated to save $116 billion in the first year alone. It promises to end the government’s involvement in the revenue-sapping GSEs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac while shrinking their portfolios and establishing new capital standards.

To rein in the size of government, the document proposes a hiring freeze on non-security personnel, and calls for any new federal program to come with a “sunset” clause that would place the onus on legislators to routinely reassess its merits and justify new funding.

But the plan does not set specific spending targets, promising only to “significantly” reduce Congress’s next budget and place a “hard cap” on the growth of future discretionary spending.

And it is decidedly vague on entitlement reform, laying out in broad terms a commitment to “regularly review” and “fully account” for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid growth, but stopping well short of embracing specific entitlement reforms like those proposed in Wisconsin GOP congressman Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap.”

On health care, the Pledge reiterates the House Republican leadership’s intention to force a repeal vote on the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”), and commits to giving the “Hyde Amendment” the full strength of law — which would permanently prevent federal dollars from being spent on abortion, or from subsidizing insurance policies that cover abortion. In Obamacare’s stead, the Pledge offers a mix of reforms similar to those Republicans proposed during debate on the Democratic bill: expanded health savings accounts, insurance purchase across state lines, state-based high-risk pools and reinsurance programs, and tort reform.

Significantly, the document explicitly supports a version of Obamacare’s ban on insurance companies denying coverage to individuals with preexisting conditions, and vows to “eliminate annual and lifetime spending caps, and prevent insurers from dropping your coverage just because you get sick.” However, important differences would appear to remain. Unlike the Democratic bill, the preexisting conditions language in the Pledge implies only that coverage must be available — it does set price controls. Similarly, the prohibition on dropping coverage for those who become sick suggests that it applies only to those who already have coverage.

On the war on terror, the Pledge affirms that “Foreign terrorists do not have the same rights as American citizens” and calls for their trial under military commissions, not civilian courts. It also promises to block any efforts by the administration to transfer Guantanamo Bay detainees to American soil.

On Iran, the Pledge calls for a tougher sanctions regime and promises to expand funding to nuclear missile defense.

On border security, it “reaffirms the authority of state and local law enforcement to assist in the enforcement of all federal immigration laws,” contra the Obama administration’s lawsuit challenging an Arizona law designed to do just that.

But perhaps the most significant part of the Pledge to America, amid all the policy proposals subject to any number of hurdles, setbacks, and distortions that could limit their impact, is a number of procedural reforms that promise to make the legislative process more transparent.

It would publicize bills — and alternatives offered by the minority party — for at least three days before they are voted on and, contrary to Speaker Pelosi’s policy, allow an open debate and amendment process on spending bills. It would also bring to an end the practice of piggy-backing controversial measures on “must-pass” bills.

The Pledge would also require all legislation to include a citation of “the specific constitutional authority upon which the bill is justified.”

That commitment to limited government and constitutionalism is signaled early on, in a preamble full of philosophical flourishes that borrow from America’s founding documents. The Pledge declares that “Whenever the agenda of government becomes destructive” the “economic, political, and religious liberty” of men and women, “it is the right of the people to institute a new governing agenda and set a different course.”

In a self-governing society, the only bulwark against the power of the state is the consent of the governed, and regarding the policies of the current government, the governed do not consent.

An unchecked executive, a compliant legislature, and an overreaching judiciary have combined to thwart the will of the people and overturn their votes and their values, striking down long-standing laws and institutions and scorning the deepest beliefs of the American people.

An arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites makes decisions, issues mandates, and enacts laws without accepting or requesting the input of the many.

Rising joblessness, crushing debt, and a polarizing political environment are fraying the bonds among our people and blurring our sense of national purpose.

Like free peoples of the past, our citizens refuse to accommodate a government that believes it can replace the will of the people with its own. The American people are speaking out, demanding that we realign our country’s compass with its founding principles and apply those principles to solve our common problems for the common good.

The need for urgent action to repair our economy and reclaim our government for the people cannot be overstated.

With this document, we pledge to dedicate ourselves to the task of reconnecting our highest aspirations to the permanent truths of our founding by keeping faith with the values our nation was founded on, the principles we stand for, and the priorities of our people. This is our Pledge to America.

Daniel Foster — Daniel Foster is a former news editor of National Review Online.

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