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Why the GOP Pledge to America Bombed

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The Party of No puts it in writing -- and no one really cares"

In 1994, the Contract with America sealed the deal. For months, Republicans had been demonizing Bill Clinton and the Democratic Congress. Newt Gingrich disparaged Clinton daily for a "socialist" agenda, philandering, and insider capitalism. Gingrich was having his own affair and would soon leave in disgrace. But in '94, the Contract was the knockout punch for a Republican takeover of the House of Representatives.

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Given electoral success in the '94 midterms, it only made sense to try a repeat. But the Pledge to America landed like a load of elephant dung at the circus, barely capturing one news cycle before being shoveled up and binned. What went wrong? Here's the prevailing analysis:

That's a lot of filler in there, big fella

The 45 page document is full of white space and big color photographs of mountains and monuments. It has three title pages, a two-page "pledge" that says almost nothing, a six-page forward that rehashes old Republican talking points, and thirty more pages. About half the remaining pages contain photos of Republican House Members, no fewer than 44 in all. It even has a two-page back cover. Taken at a glance, it looks like one of those planned-community brochures that real estate developers create so you won't notice they knocked down all the trees; there's lots of shiny, not much shade.

It's simply The Party of No" on paper

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In many ways, the Pledge is a written version of what we've already heard. Republicans promise: to stop healthcare, stop regulation of business, stop collecting taxes, stop old people from retiring, and stop any attempt to stop favoring the rich.

The document envisions a government that does nothing for citizens, does anything for corporations, and protects the Department of Defense as the primary instrument for corporate welfare. But none of this is new. These ideas have dominated Fox News (and enjoyed substantial airing at other news outlets) for two years now.

Consider this sentence,

"With common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops, we will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, prebailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone and putting us on a path to balance the budget and pay down the debt."

While claiming to protect seniors (they vote) and soldiers (they provide cover for corporate welfare), what they've really done here is pretend that one-time stimulus was actually an annual expense, then claim to save about seven percent of the annual deficit. This is simply a combination of a political trick and an accounting trick. Even if it were real, cutting the deficit seven percent annually would lead to the first balanced budget in fourteen years, 2024. Seven House terms, that's a mighty long "path."

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The Pledge is insubstantial

Republicans propose to "freeze government spending" and eliminate "waste and fraud." They also promise to protect the borders and enforce sanctions on Iran. Of course, all of these ideas are both bi-partisan and as fluffy as a well-made souffle'. Then, we enjoy two pages with photographs of Republican House Members!

On income tax policy, they propose to extend the tax cuts of middle class families. These are the same ones that they blocked just last week. That's it. On business tax policy, they propose to give business a 20 percent deduction. Since most all businesses already have deductions that drive taxable profits below 20 percent, this means they've proposed to eliminate business taxes altogether. Now there's a deficit reduction strategy for you; cut all services to individuals and cut all taxes for business. And then, more pictures of Republican Members.

On government spending, cut waste, cut Congress, a federal hiring freeze. Cut what? Well, "everything" which really means nothing. The Pledge calls for not spending money allocated to stimulus. That might sound good if you're not a fan of Keynesian economics, but it isn't a cut in the budget. It's largely a reduction of federal support for state and local government. After that, you guessed it, more pictures of House Republicans.
On health care, "Repeal and replace."

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Jimmy Zuma writes the online political journal Smart v. Stupid. He also writes a weekly column for the Tucson Sentinel under the same title, and a weekly feature, DC Water Cooler, for Technorati. His beat is national politics.

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