Someone has broken a pledge recently – and no, it’s not one of the Republican presidential hopefuls who have been inundated with calls to assure various groups of their fealty on a host of issues.
Rather, it’s a handful of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including seven members of the House Republican freshman class.
More than a quarter of the House Republicans who signed a “cut, cap and balance” pledge during the debt-ceiling debate went back on their vow not to raise the country’s borrowing limit without the enactment of rigorous spending restrictions and the passage of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
The move suggests that while such pledge-signers have made their aversion to compromise a centerpiece of their message on Capitol Hill, not all of them view political pledges as written in stone.
Thirty-nine House Republicans signed the “cut, cap and balance” pledge, a three-part vow promoted by more than 100 conservative groups.
The pledge states:
“I, _______, pledge to oppose any debt limit increase unless all three of the following conditions have been met:”
“1. Cut – Substantial cuts in spending that will reduce the deficit next year and thereafter.”
“2. Cap – Enforceable spending caps that will put federal spending on a path to a balanced budget.”
“3. Balance – Congressional passage (not mere support) of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – but only if it includes both a spending limitation and a super-majority for raising taxes, in addition to balancing revenues and expenses.”
The debt deal fell short of some of those aims, including the provision calling for passage of a balanced budget amendment (the deal calls only for a vote, not passage).
Of the 39 pledge-signers in the House, 11 voted “yes” last week on the final debt-ceiling compromise negotiated by the White House and congressional leaders. Those voting “yes” were Republican Reps. Joe Barton (Texas), Dan Benishek (Mich.), Bill Flores (Texas), Mike Kelly (Pa.), James Lankford (Okla.), Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), Tom Marino (Pa.), Thad McCotter (Mich.), Jeff Miller (Fla.), Jean Schmidt (Ohio) and Allen West (Fla.).
The picture was different on the Senate side, where none of the GOP’s 12 “cut, cap and balance” pledge-signers voted in favor of the debt-limit deal.
The former spokesman for the Cut, Cap and Balance Coalition said that he was dismayed at the lawmakers who chose to support the debt-ceiling compromise.
“It’s disappointing that these lawmakers chose to violate a pledge they had promised to uphold,” said Joe Brettell of CRC Public Relations, who represented the Cut, Cap and Balance Coalition ahead of the debt-ceiling vote. “The fact remains that the only plan that could have retained America’s AAA rating was Cut, Cap and Balance, which restored fiscal accountability in Washington, while restraining a president that now has to answer for a credit downgrade that happened on his watch.”
Several of the pledge-signers who supported the debt deal said through spokespeople that while they believed the debt compromise was not perfect, they were willing to support it because they believed it represented a step in the right direction.
“While the Budget Control Act was imperfect, it accomplished four key objectives by cutting government spending more than it increased the debt limit; implementing spending caps to restrain future spending; advancing the cause of a Balanced Budget Amendment; and rejecting an increase in tax rates,” said Julia Thornton, Kelly’s spokeswoman. “With control of only one-half of one-third of the government, the House can only accomplish so much.”
William Allison, a spokesman for Lankford, noted that the Oklahoma freshman “was one of the earliest supporters” of the “cut, cap and balance” plan and “remains one of its biggest proponents.”
“The Congressman decided to vote for the final agreement because he believed it was the best deal we could get considering there is a Democratic-controlled Senate and a Democrat in the White House,” Allison said. “We can only do so much at a time, especially considering the Democrats didn’t even want to cut spending at the beginning of this debate; they wanted a clean-debt ceiling vote. With divided government, you take what you can get and keep moving forward with long-term solutions.”
Might the pledge come back to haunt those who eventually decided to back the debt-limit deal? Perhaps. But the fact that a bloc of pledge-signers was willing to settle for an agreement that they viewed as the best deal possible suggests that the door to compromise might be further ajar than thought.