If anyone were to suggest that members of the House and Senate should abandon their own judgment and instead follow a strict dogma laid down by an outside body, we would be appalled. And if it were proposed that the president should be little more than a rubber stamp to sign any and all legislation presented to him by Congress, we would throw up our hands in horror.
Under the Constitution, members of Congress are representatives of all their constituents, and they are expected to weigh the value of legislation, discuss it, then vote according to their conscience. It is, after all, the House of Representatives, not the Supreme Soviet or the Chinese National People’s Congress. The Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, didn’t intend congressmen to be mere delegates or toe a line drawn by others.
Since 1978, however, when California passed Proposition 13 to reduce property taxes, this essential element of our democracy has been compromised by those who have tied the hands of lawmakers by having them sign solemn and binding “pledges.” By far the most successful is the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” promoted by Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), in which congressional candidates agree in advance of election to “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates” and “oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.” It was Ronald Reagan who in 1986 urged Grover Norquist, president of the ATR, to administer a no-tax-increases pledge, though as president he went on to raise taxes 11 times.
According to ATR, 238 representatives and 41 senators have made the pledge, though some now regret signing it. Of GOP congressmen, 95 percent have promised not to raise taxes in any circumstances. It is this unanimity among Republicans that has led to the end of give-and-take across the aisle in Washington and brought government to a grinding halt.
Other pledges that bind lawmakers include promises to oppose abortions, to ban pornography, to prevent women from fighting in the armed forces, to outlaw Sharia law, to deny gay marriages, to cut and cap public spending, to pass a constitutional amendment demanding a balanced federal budget, to remain faithful to their spouses (good luck with that), and to support “robust childbearing and reproduction” (whatever that is).