Meh. It is the opposite of the Ryan Roadmap. The Roadmap is an admirably serious (which is not to say perfect) attempt to grapple with our long-term economic challenges, but is not a prudent campaign platform. The Pledge won't hurt Republican prospects for this election but doesn't do much to address our economic problems or even move public opinion in the direction of understanding the kinds of policies we will need. I'm not mocking. Coming up with a program that can address our economic challenges in a realistic way and attract enough public support that candidates that support the program can be elected in sufficient number is really, really hard.
I have sympathy. There is no consensus on the center-right on exactly how to design the means-testing of Social Security or how that means-testing should be balanced with some kind of increase to retirement ages (and there is more than one way to design that) and what role private accounts might (or might not) play in Social Security reform. And none of those policies are all that popular anyway. Reforming Medicare, if it is to mean more than just cuts to provider reimbursements, only makes sense in the context of a wider, incremental reform of health care policy. But there is no consensus among conservative policy analysts about exactly how to do it. The situation in the Republican Party is even worse. You have moderates with no principles that are leery of any politically untested idea that might incriminate them in the court of public opinion. I don't doubt that there are many conservatives who would be happy to repeal Obamacare, make some futile noises about tort reform and never think about health care policy again - until the next time Democrats pass a huge step toward government-run medicine.
A worthwhile consensus on entitlements, health care reform and tax reform (huge issues there) won't come from John Boehner consulting with the House Republican backbenchers. It will have to be an organic and entrepreneurial process. Entrepreneurial backbench members of Congress as well as candidates for governor and President will have to show that they can win elections based on the kinds of reforms we need. The Republican congressional leadership will come along last. What the Republican leadership can do is push to create the kind of regulatory space that would allow state-level policy experimentation in health care and that expands the number of Americans with consumer-driven health care policies in a way that doesn't immediately threaten people who are happy with their employer-provided policies.
So what would I do? Glad you asked. Off the top of my head I have four non-earth shattering (actually somewhat minor) ideas. I assumed that the House Republican leadership (and much of the membership) would not accept any idea that would encounter massive initial resistance from the majority and I kept that in mind in crafting this list.
1. Capping expenditures for federal civilian personnel costs.
2. Granting the President (yes, even President Obama) the impoundment power. Once granted, it might be put to some good use later.
3. Adding an Indiana-style HSA/catastrophic coverage option to the range of health insurance options available to all federal employees and making the sale of such policies by private entities or by state and local governments legal in all states. The program proved popular among Indiana state employees, and saved the state money too, so it can be sold to the public as a way to reduce the deficit. And if it good enough for federal employees, there is no reason why it should be illegal for the rest of us is there?
I'm a little less confident about my last suggestion.
4. Turning Medicaid into a voucher for high deductible private health insurance. I think it would be a good idea as Medicaid is presently a disaster, but crafting a funding mechanism would be really complicated given the combined state and federal nature of the current program. Republicans would also need ready answers to charges that they were abandoning the poor to die (as the program would not be immediately understood by the public.) I doubt most Republicans could master the argument in a few short months.