Anyone who remembers 1994's Contract with America will also remember that it really didn't go anywhere. Newt Gingrich's "Republican Revolution" began to revolve back the very next election cycle and everything went downhill from there. "Gingrich, and the freshmen congressmen who signed on to the contract, thought they could turn the House of Representatives upside down and reverse the process: Issue a political agenda and demand it be approved, virtually without hearings or debate," wrote Connecticut columnist William Torpey in 1996. Government doesn't work this way, because government wasn't designed to work this way. Worse, the ideas that House Republicans spell out are bad ones to begin with, much like they were in contract version 1.0.
Their policy agenda is detailed and specific -- a decision they will almost certainly come to regret. Because when you get past the adjectives and soaring language, the talk of inalienable rights and constitutional guarantees, you're left with a set of hard promises that will increase the deficit by trillions of dollars, take health-care insurance away from tens of millions of people, create a level of policy uncertainty businesses have never previously known, and suck demand out of an economy that's already got too little of it.
MSNBC's Rachel Maddow pins down one obvious agenda item that Republicans have left out.
"Democrats have been running away from the new deal for so long, they're sometimes afraid to say it," Maddow said. "But the new deal brought us Social Security, and Social Security has been really good for America. And Republicans want to ash can it. Some Democrats may be too scared of their own shadows to say it, but it is worth saying."
If privatizing Social Security and Medicare aren't on the agenda, there's a reason for it -- those are political losers. But looking at the rest, it's hard to find political winners. Repealing healthcare reform, for example, sounds like fun now. But a lot of what's in that reform is popular. Republicans are already pretty squishy on this issue and promising to repeal the whole thing is setting yourself up for disaster. Especially considering that there's no way in hell Republicans would be able to override a veto. I suppose the maxim "If you're going to fail, fail big" applies here and the GOP thinks they can score points for ambition, but this is more of a sop to the teabaggers than anyone else.
As is making Bush's top-heavy tax cuts permanent. Not only would this explode the deficit, but it's not very popular. Which points to one of the real purposes of the 1994 Contract with America -- to create the illusion of popular support.
Most people don't remember it, but when Gingrich unveiled his big CwA, the GOP were already on their way to taking the House. The contract didn't do much to get anyone elected who wouldn't have been. And, like today's pledge, the contract was rolled out just before the elections. It was basically a bait and switch. Once Republicans got elected, they waved the contract around like a flag and said, "This is what America elected us to do!" And America was surprised to learn that they'd voted for a "Stockholder Rights Reform" package, among other things. In short, Gingrich played the "will of the people" card when he didn't actually have it. That was the whole point of the contract. And that's the point of this new CwA 2.0. John Boehner will wave around the pledge as he demands we re-fund overly expensive missile defense systems that don't work. Because that's what you voted for. See? It's right here in the pledge. America demands it!
What we're going to see in a GOP-controlled House -- assuming it happens -- is the same thing we saw after '94. Republicans will rush into office and get right to work doing things no one actually wants them to. It's what they do. Remember how Bush got reelected by scaring the bejeezus out of everyone over gays and terrorism and stem cells? And remember how he got right to work after reelection on privatizing Social Security, claiming it was what everyone voted for? Yeah, it's like that. It's why Republicans cry over abortion on the campaign trail and it's why they're freaking out over Muslims now. They say whatever it takes to get elected, then they do whatever the hell they feel like afterward. Again, it's what they do. It's what they always do. It's what they're doing now.
Luckily, it never works out well for them in the long run.
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