Republicans Are Pledging Allegiance to the Disastrous Policies of the Bush Years

by Faiz Shakir, Benjamin Armbruster, George Zornick, Zaid Jilani, Alex Seitz-Wald, Pat Garofalo, and Tanya Somanader

On Thursday, House Republicans unveiled the "Pledge to America" -- a pre-election document styled after 1994's Contract with America -- at a hardware store in Sterling, VA. The plan sorts policy items into "five broad categories" -- jobs, government reform, federal spending, national security, and health care -- and is part of "an effort to respond to the allegation that the GOP is the 'party of no.'" "It's important to show what Republicans are for," said one House Republican involved in the drafting. The document only includes two items regarding social issues -- defending "traditional marriage" and preventing taxpayer funding of abortion in line with the current Hyde amendment -- and Republican aides have "cautioned against comparing the new proposal with the party's original Contract With America." In fact, only incumbent lawmakers were involved in its drafting, and they won't even be signing it. "The new agenda is not a political platform, aides said, but rather an outline of the party's targets in the final weeks of the legislative session," the New York Times reported. If that's the case, then, the document makes it abundantly clear that House Republicans are ready to double down on the failed policies of the Bush administration, on everything from taxes and federal spending to national security, and want to undo some of the strong progressive policies enacted by the current Congress.

REVIVING BUSH'S DEFICITS AND TAX CUTS: First and foremost, the Pledge calls for retaining the entirety of the Bush tax cuts -- rejecting President Obama's plan to save $830 billion by letting the tax cuts for the richest two percent of Americans expire on schedule -- and cutting overall government spending back to the 2008 level next year, thus literally embracing Bush's tax and spending policies. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has pointed out, cutting the budget back to 2008 levels across-the-board means 21 percent reductions in discretionary programs, including more than $8 billion in cuts to K-12 education. But the cuts don't come close to eliminating the deficit, particularly considering the GOP plans to pass $4 trillion more in tax cuts, plus an additional small business tax cut. Of course, endorsing an across-the-board cut, instead of laying out specific areas of the budget that can be pared back alongside responsible revenue increases, epitomizes the Republican approach to budgeting. In fact, when directly asked, many House Republicans, including House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (VA), can't name a single program they'd like to cut. And already, some Republicans are saying that the Pledge isn't even radical enough when it comes to cutting spending. "It's not taking us where we ultimately have to go as a country, dealing with entitlements and permanent tax changes," said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) who has reportedly "advocated for a plan that dealt specifically with Social Security." Notably, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) -- the Republican budget chief who has released a full plan for privatizing Social Security and Medicare -- was not scheduled to appear at the Pledge unveiling, confirming that many in the Republican leadership are hesitant to publicly tie themselves to his proposals.

REPEALING HEALTH CARE REFORM: The Republican pledge also dedicates an entire section to repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with some of the same solutions that the GOP promoted during the health care reform debate, such as medical malpractice reform (which won't do much to bring down health care costs) and allowing insurance to be sold across state lines (which would lead to a regulatory race to the bottom). However, repealing the ACA will add $143 billion to the deficit over ten years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, as the cost containment measures and revenue increases in the bill also disappear. Interestingly, the Pledge also says that Republican health care reform will prevent health insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, but without including an individual mandate that everyone purchase health insurance. Of course, as Newsweek's Ben Adler explains, "Such a prohibition is economically infeasible without the individual mandate that health-care reform included," as people wouldn't buy health insurance until after they get sick. Forcing insurance companies to cover those with pre-existing conditions also puts House Republicans at odds with conservatives like former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR), who has likened the prohibition to automobile insurers being forced to insure already wrecked cars.

BRING ON THE SHUTDOWN: One of the most notorious episodes of the Congress that was sworn in after the original Contract with America was the government shutdown of 1995. For three weeks, then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) shuttered the government after Congress was unable to approve a budget. And House Republicans are already saying that they're game for a repeat performance. "If government shuts down, we want you with us," said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA). "It's going to take some pain for us to do the things that we need to do to right the ship." Rep. Steve King (R-IA) has demanded a "blood oath" from House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) to include a repeal of health care reform in every appropriations bill next year, even if a government shutdown results. "We must not blink," he said. "If the House says no, it's no." Boehner, for his part, has disavowed the notion, saying, "Our goal is not to shut down the government." "It's absurd," added Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH). "That's not our goal at all." But Gingrich himself seems to think that another government shutdown would be productive, even though it means, among other things, that Social Security payments and veterans' benefits are not disbursed. "When we win control of the House and Senate this fall, Stage One of the end of Obamaism will be a new Republican Congress in January that simply refuses to fund any of the radical efforts," Gingrich said. Such talk has earned the GOP a scolding from President Clinton. "You see what happened last time: It didn't work out very well for them," Clinton said.


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