The headline in the Capitol Hill journal Politico reads, “Republicans Suffer From Pledge Fatigue.” And that premise is amplified in the subhead, “GOP grows weary of litmus tests, despite tea party groups’ pressure.”
All members of Congress, and especially candidates for that body, are under intense and constant pressure from special-interest groups to sign pledges swearing that they will support or oppose some specific course of action in office.
Freshman Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., confessed to Politico, “I think I’ve kind of supported enough pledges. I’ve restricted myself too much in this Congress.”
The most widely signed pledge among Republicans is one by the anti-tax Americans for Tax Reform that commits members to opposing any and all tax increases, and the organization defines “increase” quite broadly.
There was an ugly incident early this month when ATR’s president, Grover Norquist, savaged the reliably frugal and conservative Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., for his amendment to repeal costly, wasteful, market-distorting ethanol subsidies. Ending that giveaway to ethanol producers, Norquist argued, was effectively a tax increase.
With that kind of thinking, we’ll never get the deficit under control.
Now a coalition of tea party movement and other far-right interests is trying to browbeat Republicans into signing the “Cut, Cap and Balance” pledge.
As the price of agreeing to lift the ceiling on the federal debt, it demands deep cuts in current spending, caps on future spending and a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
The proposal is both simplistic and economically destructive. But more immediately, Republicans charged with reaching an agreement on the ceiling say that it ties their hands in negotiations and sets up the GOP for taking all the blame if the increase fails and negative consequences ensue.
The Republican and Democratic caucuses should instruct their members and candidates to not sign pledges. If the special interests complain, they should recite to their constituents the wisdom of Edmund Burke, an 18th-century member of the British Parliament, political philosopher and — tea partiers, take note — supporter of the American Revolution:
“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”