On Sept. 27, 1994, 367 Republican House members and candidates stood on the steps of the Capitol and endorsed what they called the Contract With America. On Sept. 23 last week, 12 Republican House members stood in a hardware store in Sterling, Va., and issued a Pledge to America.
The interesting thing is that this year's Pledge to America concentrates more on substantive issues of governance than the Contract With America did 16 years ago.
Yes, the Pledge does include some procedural reforms (any House member can get a vote on an amendment cutting spending), as did the Contract (cutting the number of committees and committee staff).
But the Pledge to America also addresses two central economic issues and makes commitments that will embarrass House Republicans if they gain a majority but fail to deliver.
One is to roll back non-defense discretionary spending to 2008 levels. The other is to repeal -- not revise or amend or embroider, but repeal -- the health care bill signed by Barack Obama exactly six months before the shirt-sleeved House Republicans made their pledge.
The rollback to 2008 strikes me as good policy and politics -- or, at least, good conservative policy and good Republican politics.
Good conservative policy because the Obama administration and Democratic congressional leaders vastly increased domestic spending in the 2009 stimulus package and the 2010 budget. With a Democratic president and Democratic supermajorities for the first time in more than 30 years, experienced and dedicated Democrats took out their wish lists and turned them into law.
In particular, they increased the budget baselines for many domestic programs. Getting those baselines back down will make a significant difference not just this year but for years to come.
But wouldn't it hurt Republicans, if they have a House majority, to get into a budget fight as it hurt Newt Gingrich's new majority back in 1995? Not necessarily. The benefits from those spending increases are pretty invisible to the ordinary voters (though visible to public employee union leaders who give millions to Democrats). How many ads are Democratic candidates running bragging about these spending increases?
And despite the widespread consensus that Gingrich's Republicans lost the 1995-96 budget fight with Bill Clinton, they went on to win more popular votes and more House seats than Democrats in the next five House elections.
Moreover, the macroeconomy is in a very different place than it was during the Gingrich era. Then, we were well launched into an economic recovery, one aided by Republicans' partial victories on budget and tax issues. Money didn't seem scarce, and shutting down the government seemed extreme.