What’s in the water in the 5th Congressional District? Justin Bernier, Republican candidate for Congress, is the latest to join the “Cut, Cap and Balance” pledge craze – or should I say, craziness, joining fellow candidate Mark Greenberg.

For those who have missed it, the pledge requires signers to oppose any increase in the national debt limit without all of the following three conditions being met: 1) substantial cuts in spending, 2) enforceable spending caps at 18 percent of GDP, and 3) Congressional passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—but only if it includes both a spending limitation and a super-majority for raising taxes, in addition to balancing revenues and expenses.

Are they doing this to play to the Republican base, or to out Tea Party each other to gain traction with new GOP leader, Jerry Labriola?  What I’m struggling to figure out is how their decision actually works to help make the Republican party a relevant force in Connecticut politics.

At a time when most Americans are still struggling from the impact of the recession, only people who are extremely ideological, very well off, or who don’t, quite simply, understand macroeconomics, are buying the message.  A Quinnipiac Poll released Thursday showed by a 62-32 percent margin, American voters say it’s more important to reduce unemployment than to reduce the federal deficit. Voters do want to reduce government spending but still feel it’s more important to reduce unemployment by a 49-43 percent margin.

Part of the problem is that the average American doesn’t understand macroeconomics, so it’s easy for politicians to make nonsensical statements and pass them off as “common sense.” A Pew Research survey released Thursday showed only 18 percent of those surveyed felt they understand the issue “very well” and 37 percent felt they understand it “fairly well.” Only about 25 percent of those surveyed were following the debt talks very closely.

But as more people learn about this, they are starting to realize how serious it is, as is seen by the rise in concern amongst Independent voters in polls. Well, everyone except for the Tea Partiers. On Greta Van Susteren’s Fox News show on Wednesday, Michelle Bachmann, who clearly studied economics on the back of a Cornflakes box, said “It’s more fashionable for the president to scare people and say, ‘The sky is about to fall. We’re going to lose our credit rating.’ No, we won’t! We have plenty of money to pay it. Just pay it, take that issue off the table.”

Does she even listen to herself? Maybe she’ll listen to Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s: within 24 hours of Bachmann having emitted that drivel , both issued warnings about a possible downgrade of the country’s AAA credit rating.

I wrote to both Bernier and Greenberg for comment about their decision. Bernier responded, “Americans shouldn’t be forced to choose between a balanced budget and genuine spending priorities, such as the welfare of our troops—a priority near and dear to me.  In fact, it is because of the need to protect these core functions of government that Congress must take the federal deficit seriously now.  Unless we change course, the spending path our government is on could lead to a sovereign debt crisis in the U.S. similar to the one we are witnessing in Greece and elsewhere today.”

Yet, as I wrote back to him, I see the President and one part of the GOP trying to craft a compromise that involves deep spending cuts and closing tax loopholes, but being stymied in doing so by the very wing of the Republican party that is ideologically committed to this pledge. Ideology is one thing, but even Reagan, the great Conservative icon, whom Mark Greenberg quotes on his website , raised taxes. Reagan outlined Conservative principles, but he was a pragmatist, rather than an ideologue.  And ironically, according to Dick Cheney, it was Reagan who taught us that “deficits don’t matter” .  (I don’t agree – I’m just quoting Cheney.)

Do these candidates really think it is better for the US to default than for the GOP to compromise one iota? Bernier talks about the spending path leading to a sovereign debt crisis, but right now it’s not the spending, it’s the completely unwillingness to compromise that is leading us there even quicker. And if GOP intransigence results in no deal and we’re tipped into an even greater economic recession than we faced two years ago – which looks increasingly likely – Bernier and Greenberg can kiss their hopes of Congress goodbye.

Sarah Darer Littman is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers and an award-winning novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.

Sarah Darer Littman is a critically-acclaimed author of books for young people. Her latest novel, Some Kind of Hate, comes out Nov. 1 from Scholastic Press.

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