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But if one insists on a pledge and demands real fiscal responsibility, the pledge should be the one proposed here rather than Norquist’s. Voters who are actually committed fiscal hawks must reject the destabilizing asymmetry inherent in Norquist’s pledge — and those who favor Norquist’s pledge must explain why and how they believe it is going to deliver balanced budgets in the future, despite the contrary experience of the last decade.
If our elected officials were to honor the pay-as-you-go pledge proposed here, our national debt would stabilize. No doubt that following this path to achieve a rapid narrowing of the federal deficit would be painful.
But more painful in the long run would be a continuation of the status quo: just enough bipartisan “compromise” to repeatedly worsen our fiscal trajectory, with Norquist-inspired reductions in revenues unmatched by comparable decreases in spending.
Pledges aside, if all politicians can do in coming years is make the long-term budget picture worse, it will be long past time for voters to adopt a far more heavy-handed approach to their leaders: Get new ones.
Phil Wallach is a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.