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Republicans’ “Pledge to America”: lacking credibility, full of intensity

Last week House Republicans announced their "Pledge to America", which promises to restrain government spending. But the fact is, despite all their puffed up rhetoric, Republicans lack credibility when it comes to deficit reduction.

Two useful articles published today make this point. First, Jacob Sullum in Reason argues that Republicans' vows to restore more balance to the government accounts "ring hollow". The "Pledge to America", says Sullum, "seems to be based on the assumption that America has a short memory". The "Pledge" calls for a "sustained effort to stem the relentless growth in government that has occurred over the past decade," and yet Republicans ran government for most of that time. Under George W. Bush's administration "both discretionary and total spending doubled - nearly 10 times the growth seen during Bill Clinton's two terms". Republicans supported wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Bush's Medicare prescription drug benefit. A fair number of Republicans - including leading representatives John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan - voted for the now-derided TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program). 

Second, David Leonhardt in the New York Times highlights that the "Pledge" avoids discussion of specific spending cuts, presumably because those would be politically unpopular. He notes: "The bulk of the deficit problem instead comes from three popular programs, Medicare, Social Security and the military, and they happen to be the ones the Republican pledge exempts from cuts." Over the past two years Republicans have rejected Obama admnistration plans for "cuts to Medicare, weapons programs and farm subsidies, as well as tax increases on the affluent". The Republican leaders are not serious, they're just playing political games.

The bigger problem with the debate over deficits is that all the focus is on cutting spending (and possibly raising taxes), rather than on increasing economic growth. Greater prosperity means higher revenues and lower deficits. In our conservative, "batten down the hatches" environment, the possibility of using government spending to support growth gets overlooked: as Leonhardt notes, "the internet, the highway system and the biotechnology sector all began as government programs".

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