Washington Matters


GOP's 'Pledge' Resets Campaign Debate

Richard Sammon

Its political value is immense, even if little of it actually gets enacted.



House Republicans’ election inspired legislative agenda -- A Pledge to America -- is not a toss-away political document. When Democrats lose seats in the House and Senate in fewer than two months, Republicans will credit their victories in part to this credo.

Like its predecessor, the 1994 Contract with America that helped propel the Republican Party 16 years ago, the Pledge serves large political purposes. Its effect is far from a one-day news item.

For starters, it will probably have the effect of setting the course for much of the congressional debate that will mark the next two years in Washington, running up to the 2012 presidential election.

Confident they’ll retake the House from Democrats, the politically inspirational pledge is a call to arms for the GOP faithful and for many Tea Party sympathizers. It’s a policy wish list for what a GOP Congress would do -- or at least attempt -- in the next few years. It strikes at the center of the Obama White House agenda and at Democrats’ mixed record on the economy, domestic and social policy, national security and fiscal responsibility.

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Politically, it hardly matters that little of it will be enacted. Very little of the Contract with America was enacted, either, including the principal planks championed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich calling for a balanced budget amendment, legislative term limits, tort reform and entitlement overhauls.

Even with Republicans sure to make significant gains in November, there’s practically no chance of Congress following through with Pledge particulars to repeal and replace the new health care law or end the big bank TARP program.

Or, for that matter, permanently extending all of the Bush era tax cuts, blocking remaining stimulus money from being spent, requiring congressional approval of all major regulations or applying a strict cap on discretionary domestic spending.

But legislative success is far from the whole purpose of the pledge. Its value is in how it frames the national debate and how it anchors a Republican message for voters and donors.

If Republicans regain the House, which is increasingly likely, the majority leadership and chairmen of House committees will use the Pledge as marching orders to reset the center-left compass heading of Democrats, no matter that GOP legislative efforts may be tough to pass in the House, or are ultimately stymied in the Senate where Democrats may narrowly retain control, or are vetoed by President Obama.

The Pledge has plenty of political edge, too. It’s written specifically to build GOP momentum and to underscore public disapproval of majority Democrats’ record on the economy and jobs and the general direction of the country.

In that regard, Democrats will be on the defense, not only in the final weeks of the midterm campaign as they brace for losses but also next year as Republicans gain leverage and renew commitments to act, if they win the gavel. The first 20 bills that congressional Republicans draft and introduce in January will come straight from this week’s Pledge.



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