Public servants and politicians should refrain from signing special-interest pledges to do this or not to do that. Yet many in Kansas take these vows with pride, unashamedly tying their own hands and pre-empting their own discretion.
Promising to serve the mission of an interest group makes its unelected henchman happy, assuring support for future campaigns. But it also suggests the pledge takers won’t — or can’t — think for themselves.
The signers may protest that they simply are standing with others for a righteous common cause. In fact, they are lining up behind people and organizations with agendas that may not reflect reality or serve their constituents.
The issue of pledges has come up in the debt-ceiling debate and the GOP presidential campaign.
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Legislation stemming from the “Cut Cap Balance pledge,” whose early signatories included Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, passed the House this week and is expected to be considered and rejected by the Senate today or Saturday. It ties a $2.4 trillion increase in the nation’s debt limit to deep immediate spending cuts, an unrealistic future spending cap and a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
All but 13 Republicans in Congress also are willing hostages to Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist and his Tax Protection Pledge, which obligates them to oppose any and all tax increases.
The Kansans who’ve taken Norquist’s pledges include Moran and Sen. Pat Roberts; Huelskamp and Reps. Mike Pompeo and Lynn Jenkins; five state senators; and 19 state representatives. Gov. Sam Brownback also has taken the pledge in the past.
Norquist underscored the meaning of his pledges recently in a vivid hypothetical on Comedy Central, when Stephen Colbert asked what he would advise if terrorists kidnapped the nation’s grandmothers, slathered them with honey and threatened to kill them with fire ants unless the marginal tax rate was increased on the richest 2 percent of Americans. “I think we console ourself with the fact that we have pictures and memories,” Norquist deadpanned, before allowing a smile.
Moran, Jenkins and Roberts also have taken the Club for Growth’s pledge to work to repeal the 2010 health care reform act. And Brownback, Roberts, Moran, Pompeo, Huelskamp, Jenkins, six state senators and 15 state representatives took Americans for Prosperity’s “No Climate Tax Pledge,” vowing to “oppose legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in federal revenue.”
In Iowa, GOP presidential hopefuls are being asked by the Family Leader group to pledge not only to oppose same-sex marriage and serve a dozen other socially conservative goals but to be faithful to their spouses. Then there is the Pro-Life Presidential Leadership Pledge pushed by the Susan B. Anthony List.
The past decade, with a terrorist attack and two punishing recessions, should have demonstrated the need for elected officials to reserve judgment.
It should suffice to take the oath of office and regularly say — and mean — the Pledge of Allegiance.
— For the editorial board, Rhonda HolmanWhen officials take pledges for special-interest groups, they tie their own hands.