A few days ago, the Republican Party unveiled A Pledge to America, their campaign for this autumn’s Congressional races.
I downloaded the PDF. I printed it out. I read it on the train on Friday, only to wish that I were reading Clash of the Geeks instead. I’m a self-admitted policy and politics junkie, but I think that Unicorn-Pegasus-Kittens are vastly more realistic than the Republican Party’s policy prescriptions.
At least one of these pamphlets — A Pledge to America and Clash of the Geeks — knows that it’s a joke. The other thinks it’s serious — but it’s really a joke, too.
Paul Krugman laid out the central fiscal problem in A Pledge to America in his New York Times column this week: once you’ve placed Social Security, Medicare, and the military budget off-limits, as the Pledge does, “the only way to balance the budget by 2020, while simultaneously (a) making the Bush tax cuts permanent and (b) protecting all the programs Republicans say they wont cut, is to completely abolish the rest of the federal government….”
That, sadly, has been a Republican goal for at least the past decade. Grover Norquist, a taxation reform advocate who wants tax rates drastically slashed, is famous for his widely-cited quote: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” In the view of the Republican Party, tax cuts can achieve the goal of reducing the size and scope of government; rather than abolish an agency, slash tax rates drastically and deprive the government of revnue with the result that the agency is starved of funding, thus starved the agency must be shuttered, and the agency has effectively been abolished. In the Republican view, government, through laws and regulations, is making decisions that individuals should make.
Let’s suppose for a moment, however, that the Republican Party gets its way, that their mantra of a “small government” comes to pass and the federal government is reduced to handling only a few things, like Social Security (probably privatized) and Medicare (handled through vouchers) and the military.
The economies of northern Virginia and suburban Maryland would be utterly destroyed. A drastically reduced federal government would put hundreds of thousands, if not millions of federal employees and contractors on the streets, looking for work.
As bad as that would be, however, there’s something far worse that would happen.
Let’s suppose that an agency is abolished, either legislatively or through deregulation. Let’s take the Food and Drug Administration. Thanks to Republican policies, the FDA no longer exists.
Drugs could be brought to market without testing. Unsafe foods could be imported. Unsafe meats could be sold to consumers. Without the government to rein them in, the drug companies and the food companies could do whatever they wanted. If someone died from eating rancid meat, if a drug caused someone’s skin to flay off, yes the company could be sued, but at that point it’s already too late.
Without a federal government to regulate companies, without a Fed to set interest rates, banks can charge whatever interest rates they want. The corporations’ need for profit would trump the public’s needs.
A government without the power to do anything would throw its citizens to the wolves of the banks, the insurance companies, the drug companies, and so on.
The Pledge to America says that “An arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites makes decisions, issues mandates, and enacts laws without accepting or requesting the input of the many,” but what it doesn’t say is that by removing what the Republicans see as “an arrogant and out-of-touch government” we, as a society, would be replacing that government with an arrogant and out-of-touch corporatocracy that is answerable to no one.