In recent columns for the American Conservative about the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, Scott Galupo has expressed discontent with the fact that over time, federal government spending has increased. I’m sure many taxpayers and most conservatives share his concerns.
Galupo misses the mark, whether it is on purpose or by mistake, for a number of reasons. First, the Pledge is one protection for taxpayers against an increased financial burden of a growing federal government. It is but one tool in the shed of protections against a government that demands you fork over more of your hard earned cash to pay for its overspending problem.
This problem, overspending, is what resulted in the tea party. What began as small, disorganized meetings grew into a national movement. It was all in response to the federal government’s solution to a down economy: spend, spend, spend.
The role that the Pledge has played is ensuring that those bad deeds do not go unpunished. As politicians who signed the Pledge to their constituents held the line on taxes, they ensured that the focal point of budget discussions was not how much we have to raise taxes to pay for Washington’s mistakes, but how much we needed to cut back on the overpromised overspending binge.
Additionally, the Taxpayer Protection Pledge has succeeded in giving taxpayers an easy metric to measure the promises that politicians make to them.
The federal Pledge reads as follows:
I, _____, pledge to the taxpayers of the ____district of the state of ______, and to the American people that I will:
ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business; and
TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.
The power of the pledge is that it allows a politician to credibly commit to his or her voters that he will not raise taxes. In the past, many politicians have made verbal promises that crumbled like pie crust.
But the Taxpayer Protection Pledge is public. In writing. Voters don't have to parse the phrasing or a speech. There are no weasel words in the Pledge. It says what it means and it means what it says. No tax increases. No excuses.
Galupo may have a problem with the fact that over time spending has grown and specifically was not cut during the Bush years. His anger, however, is misdirected. The Pledge is a tax-centric promise that politicians make simply so that a voter knows where they stand on that single important issue.
The biggest failure of Galupo’s critique of the Pledge is his attempt to make a connection between holding the line on taxes as an excuse for increasing spending. By no logic are they connected. Sure, during the Bush years Republicans ushered in significant tax reform (i.e. cuts) and yes, they did raise spending. Getting spending under control, however, was never a priority for the Bush administration. Despite positive tax reform, increasing spending will be a long-lasting stain on his legacy.
This "output" was not at all related to the Pledge, which commits a politician to nothing more than an opposition to higher taxes.
This is the value of the Pledge. Anybody can oppose taxes on the stump as an abstraction. It is now, when increasing taxes is touted as the only possible solution, that the Pledge proves its worth.
It reminds fiscally conservative voters why they supported the candidates they voted for. It reminds their representatives in Congress of the promise they made to not add to their constituents’ tax burden. And it provides a rare clear view of which politicians can be trusted to keep their word. America, despite the massive growth in the burdens imposed by government, remains that shining entrepreneurial society on the hill. We need no further stimulus, no creative accounting games.
At CEI, we recognize One need not teach the grass to grow, simply move the rocks off our [economic] lawn! The Pledge has made it harder to put move some of the tax rocks off the lawn. More rocks need to be moved, but it is an important step and Grover and ATR merit support, not condemnation, for that.
Washington’s problems are based in overregulation, over-taxation, and overspending. Neither Grover nor anyone at Americans for Tax Reform has ever claimed that the Pledge is the only protection against spending or remotely related to regulation (unless such regulation includes higher taxes). The role it does play is ensuring that taxes do not go up. The reason that is important is because when taxes tend to rise, so follows spending. Blue states like California and Illinois best exemplify this phenomenon.
We suggest Galupo stop searching for singular mechanism by which to prevent all that is “bad” in Washington. No such force exists. The Pledge is a simple promise with a simple goal: put the tax hike opposition plank in writing to constituents. Given that a Republican has not voted for a rate increase in more than 20 years, most people would consider the Pledge a success.