Exchequer

About the Pledge

I have to admit that I am scratching my bald noggin over the fact that a fair number of my fellow right-wingers are dismissing “The Pledge” as pusillanimous, lacking sufficient specificity, etc. I do not get it.

I don’t think you can get to the militant side of me when it comes to debt and spending, and my distrust for Republicans — especially congressional Republicans — is longstanding and well-documented. That being written, if a new Republican majority can, in fact, pare back spending to 2008 levels (even if it is only non-defense discretionary spending, a small part of the overall budget nightmare) and enact caps, that will be an enormous victory, a hugely significant step in the right direction. If the Class of 2010 can get that done, they will have accomplished something worthwhile — even if they do not achieve a single thing beyond that.

On Fannie and Freddie, especially, the Pledge has been criticized for a lack of clarity. I think it’s suffering more from a lack of good writing: I take “shrink their portfolio” and “end their government bailout” to mean forcing the GSEs to offload a bunch of assets as a prelude to breaking them up and fully privatizing them, withdrawing both the federal line of credit and the federal guarantee backing them. I don’t know what else those words could mean, and the Republicans I have talked to suggest that is what they have in mind.

I agree that they could have been more robust on the entitlements and that defense spending will have to be addressed. As a matter of politics, entitlement reform is going to be a long and complex fight, and difficult to summarize in a short campaign document. (And, yes, I know, call it cowardice or call it the political survival instinct, nobody is eager to grab that third rail at this moment.) As for defense spending, I think we spending hawks can, at the risk of waking the ghost of Murray Rothbard, count on the Left to make that an issue before the Republicans do. There’s a lot of room to cut at in the kingdom of Pentagonia; I suspect that the Republicans, if they are smart (I know! I know! Caveat!) will allow the Democrats to propose those and will agree to some of them as a compromise.

And the budget-process reforms look pretty smart to me.

Also: Repealing Obamacare, enacting national medical liability reform, opening up a nationwide insurance market to replace the fragmented, oligopolistic state-by-state market, better HSAs — what’s not to like?

Cutting and capping domestic spending: You guys do appreciate that this would be more than President Reagan managed on the spending front, right?

And getting that done would do a lot to repair the Republicans’ reputation on fiscal prudence, laying the groundwork for the bigger and more difficult fight over entitlements. And there is no point in passing a bold entitlement-reform bill in the next year, anyway — it would be vetoed by President Obama, and it is extremely unlikely that such a bill would command anything like a veto-proof majority.

The Obama-Reid-Pelosi gang got into trouble for doing too much too quickly: stimulus (and stimulus, and stimulus), health care, attempting cap and trade, etc. The Class of 2010 is not going to: 1. Reduce and cap non-defense discretionary spending; 2. repeal Obamacare; 3. enact free-market health-care reform; 4. fix Social Security; 5. fix Medicare; 6. fix Medicaid; 7. reform national-defense policy and, consequently, national-defense spending; 8. reform the tax code — all at once. If they manage to do 1-3 in a single Congress, conservatives should take up a collection to build a statue of John Boehner — on horseback.

– Kevin D. Williamson is deputy managing editor of National Review and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, to be published in January.

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