When members of Congress begin their terms in office, they raise their right hands and say this: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter, so help me God."
When members of Congress begin their terms in office, they raise their right hands and say this: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter, so help me God.”
That and the Pledge of Allegiance ought to pretty much cover it.
Unfortunately, in recent years outside groups have been pressing members of Congress to make other pledges. Two have been quite effective in hamstringing public officials: The Taxpayer Protection Pledge and the Social Security Protectors pledge. More than 80 percent of the members of Congress have signed one or the other.
The Taxpayer Protection Pledge, pushed by Americans for Tax Reform, requires signers to promise to resist any attempts to raise taxes, and if they vote to close deductions, they will lower rates by a corresponding amount so that the government doesn’t collect any extra money.
It’s basically a Republican thing. It has been signed by 276 members including four Arkansans: Rep. Rick Crawford, Rep. Tim Griffin, Rep. Steve Womack and Sen. John Boozman. Tom Cotton, the Republican candidate in Arkansas’ 4th District, also has signed it.
Americans for Tax Reform’s leader, Grover Norquist, plays hardball and allows no deviation no matter the situation. Earlier this year, Crawford proposed a 5 percent tax increase on million-dollar earners in exchange for something he thought more important, a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Let’s just say he wasn’t rewarded for his willingness to give a little in order to get a little.
Then there’s the Social Security Protectors pledge, pushed by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. It’s for Democrats. Its 123 signers, including Arkansas’ Rep. Mike Ross from the 4th District, have promised never to cut any Social Security benefits, including raising the retirement age, and also to oppose privatizing the program in any way.
In other words, they’re promising never to fix a program that mathematically can’t be sustained without at least a major tweak.
There’s a very good reason why these groups are demanding that members of Congress sign these pledges: Political candidates too often have broken their campaign promises. Besides, who’s not for lower taxes and protecting Social Security?
But now the federal government annually is running deficits of more than $1 trillion. The cumulative national debt has reached $16 trillion, or $50,000 for every American man, woman and child. Half of what the country borrows come from foreign countries, the largest lender being China.
The government is going into debt for the same reason you and I go into debt: It collects far less than it spends.
The budget can’t be balanced unless income equals outgo. It would be good if members of Congress would work together to responsibly increase revenues and reform Social Security. Unfortunately, 80 percent of them have promised never to do that.
Enough with the pledges to these special interest groups. The oath of office and the Pledge of Allegiance are enough. In every relationship in life, compromise and cooperation are necessary to get things done, especially when circumstances change.
Despite all of these pledges, at some point in the future there will be an agreement where taxes are raised and Social Security benefits are reduced — if not for current recipients, then for future ones. It will happen in one of two circumstances — while Congress is choosing to be responsible, or in the midst of a crisis, as is happening in Greece.
At that point, members of Congress will take an oath to defend the Constitution, but they’ll follow the dictates of the government’s lenders. Is that what we want?
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Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His blog — Independent Arkansas — is linked at arkansasnews.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org