Republican leaders were short on specifics at the unveiling of their much-anticipated governing agenda today at a hardware store in Virginia, stressing that the document is not comprehensive and meant to just outline "first steps" of what they would do if they take back the majority in Congress.
One item noticeably missing from the Pledge is an explanation of how the party would cut spending, particularly by dealing with Social Security and Medicare, which many Republicans have publicly said need to be cut and privatized, although they've been reluctant to embrace such measures as an official party position. (Social Security is mentioned just twice, and Medicare mentioned eight times.)
In today's "Pledge for America" press conference, Boehner refused to answer reporters' questions with specifics about how the party would cut spending -- saying instead that the country needs to have an "adult conversation" about the issues -- although he eventually admitted that cuts to entitlement programs are still on the table:
Q: What are you actually going to cut? Are you willing to go in and cut entitlements, which of course is where the real money is?
BOEHNER: If we're going to deal with deficits and we're going to be honest with the American people, we have to cut spending and we need real economic growth in America that puts more Americans back to work caring for themselves and caring for their families. And you can't have real economic growth in America if you insist on raising taxes on the American people. [...]
Q: There are not very many specifics in here about how you would actually get to the balanced budget if you do plan to extend all the tax cuts and expand defense spending. Again, just to follow up on the previous question, there's really no specifics on what you would do about Social Security and Medicare, which are some of the biggest drivers of deficit spending. So could you give us more detail on exactly how you could fulfill these pretty big promises, and spending caps don't seem like they would do it?
BOEHNER: Well, I think it's pretty clear that by having the spending cap at 2008 levels, we can save $100 billion a year -- that's one $1 trillion over the next 10 years. When it comes to dealing with the entitlement programs, I've made it pretty clear: It's time for us to have an adult conversation with each other about the serious challenges that face our country. I don't have all of the solutions, but I believe if we work with the American people, the American people will want to work with us to come to grips with these challenges that face our country. [...]
Q: What are we to think of ideas that are not included in here, for example, private accounts for Social Security? Since it's not in here, is that to say it's off the table?
BOEHNER: No. If you look at the Pledge, it's not intended to be a party platform. It's not intended to cover everything under the sun. ... It's about what needs to be done now -- first steps toward real fiscal sanity in Washington, D.C. and real steps about getting our economy moving again and getting people back to work.
When the reporter followed up and asked what "percentage of the problem, in terms of our deficit, is being taken care of by this plan," Boehner said, "What we intend to do is take first steps, and those first steps would be to reduce spending to 2008 levels, saving $100 billion a year, our commitment to put ourselves on a course to balance the budget and to pay down the debt."
One provision in the GOP's Pledge is a requirement that every bill contains "a citation from Constitutional authority," picking up on the conservative complaint that health care reform is unconstitutional. At the press conference, a reporter asked Boehner, "Would you speak for a minute about the pledge to give a sort of constitutional test to all legislation, and talk about where in the Constitution is states that Congress should have to follow that test for legislature?" Boehner didn't really have a reply for this question, just saying that he believes most Americans "believe Washington is involved in far too many things." "And so I believe, if we're going to bring a bill to the floor, cite the specific constitutional authority that allows it to come to the floor," he added.
As ThinkProgress's Pat Garofalo pointed out, notably absent from the press conference was Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Ohio), who is the author of a budget roadmap that many GOP leaders have been reluctant to publicly endorse because it includes sharp cuts in just about all government spending -- Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, defense, education, the FBI, etc. But according to Boehner at today's event, the GOP may still be open to such measures. Indeed, Ryan has stated that privately, Republican leaders are supporting his proposals.
Some Republicans are even criticizing the new Pledge to America, saying it doesn't go far enough to address the deficit. "It's not taking us where we ultimately have to go as a country, dealing with entitlements and permanent tax changes," said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who wanted a plan that dealt specifically with Social Security. "But I can't fault the [Republican] leadership, because it is political season and they are putting out the best possible thing."
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