Rep. Roskam on The ‘Pledge To America’ (Answers to Earmarks Question)

-By Warner Todd Huston

Last week the House Republicans issued their update of the 1994 “Contract With America.” They have labeled it the “Pledge To America,” and it was launched to a standing ovation from House Republicans. On Friday I spoke to Representative Peter Roskam (R, Ill.) and asked a few questions about this new effort.

Roskam said that the preamble of the pledge, “which is really, I think, moving,” was met with a standing ovation when it was presented to all the Hose Republicans and the representative was pleased that the National Review said that the new pledge was bolder than the original 1994 contract.

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He also threw out a little taunt to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi saying, “our members are game on and ready to go… if the Speaker wants to mock this stuff then the best way for her to deal with it is to call us out, which of course she won’t.”

As the “intellectual argument is unraveling underneath the left,” Roskam said. It is clear, he said, that with all the defections from Obama’s economic team it is impossible to raise taxes right now. “They’re really out there on an intellectual peninsula and the water is rising high on them,” he said of the Democrat’s big taxing and big spending plans. “We need to make the [Bush] tax cuts permanent,” he said.

On the wonkish side, Roskam said that the Republicans intend to force the House back to “open rules on appropriations bills.” It used to be the tradition of the House, Roskam said, that amendments to cut spending were allowed. The Democrats have, however, eliminated that old tradition and Roskam says the GOP will reinstate it. The reinstating of the “open rules” is spurred to mind by the relative success of the House Republicans YouCut program where voters can vote on programs and spending that should be cut from the federal budget.

The idea is, “instead of spending, spending, spending, to instead having amendments to cut, cut, cut,” Roskam said, “are all things that get us on a pathway to legislative logrolling,” or to get bills moving cleaner and more swiftly through the House. Roskam pledged that the House would allow “no more bundling of bills into these big omnibus monsters that are completely unrelated, no more healthcare bills blobbed onto student loans. Essentially more along the lines of a single subject rule.”

On national security budgeting, Roskam said the same thing would hold true. He said the GOP would implement an “up or down” vote on budgeting without “piggybacking” other items onto military budgeting.

On Obamacae, Roskam said they’d repeal it and work on bills that would address pre-existing conditions and lowering the cost of healthcare. He’d expand health savings accounts and would open helathcare insurance across state lines.

“It’s a governing document,” Roskam said of the pledge, “and there’s an urgency to it and an immediacy to it.”

Roskam also said that they want to remove the Hyde Amendment from just appropriations and apply it as straight federal law. Currently the Hyde Amendment to prevent federal funds from going to pay for abortion has to be applied individually to every appropriations bill. Roskam and the Republicans want it to be automatic, codified law as opposed to an add on to appropriations.

Roskam also responded to my question on the lack of mention of earmarks. Roskam said that even though earmarks aren’t specifically mentioned, “it’s in the context of this entire Congress.”

This pledge to America is a governing document for right now. We’re saying, call these bills right now, madam Speaker, and let’s get this thing going.

The House Republicans have dealt with earmarks for this Congress and have put in a moratorium and we challenged the Democrats to do the same thing. So our feeling was, we’ve spoken to earmarks and we’ve raised it as an issue, we’ve developed a conference wide policy on it and now we’ve got to deal with the rest of these issues in their totality.

I followed up asking about a balanced budget amendment idea and if they’d make an effort on that issue.

Here’s what we’re trying to navigate through. You’ve got very different attitudes coming… everybody agrees that the budget needs to be balanced. But there’s debate internally even among conservatives about — not just in the House Republicans but across the spectrum of leading thinkers — some say do it with budgeting, some say do a spending limit amendment, some say do a combination of both. So rather than getting hung up on that sort of internal debate on quote “balanced budget amendment, yes or no” — and I’m in favor of a balanced budget amendment but you’ve got to make sure it isn’t a prelude to raising taxes — what we were trying to do was get right to the issues, what we know we need to do now so we’re on a pathway to a balanced budget and to pay down the debt.

As Roskam said in his recent National Review piece, the House Republicans intend to “put job creation and economic growth front and center.”

Unlike the myriad sideline issues that have consumed the time and energy of Washington leaders, House Republicans’ Pledge to America puts job creation and economic growth front and center. With a firm commitment to extend all current tax rates and prevent a job-killing tax hike on small businesses set to take effect on January 1, 2011, the plan will inject stability and predictability into a shaken economy, unleash frozen investments, and allow American businesses to focus their valuable time and resources on innovation and growth.

Many voices on the right are expressing dissatisfaction with this pledge but I have to say that I think it is not as bad and detractors are claiming it is and if Roskam has his hand on the tiller it should go well enough.

“The only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.”
–Samuel Johnson

Warner Todd Huston is a Chicago based freelance writer. He has been writing opinion editorials and social criticism since early 2001 and before that he wrote articles on U.S. history for several small American magazines. His political columns are featured on many websites such as Andrew Breitbart’s,, and, as well as,,,, among many, many others. Mr. Huston is also endlessly amused that one of his articles formed the basis of an article in Germany’s Der Spiegel Magazine in 2008.

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