With a little more than five weeks to go before Election Day, House Republicans unveiled their long-awaited "Pledge to America" plan Thursday, a policy blueprint for what the GOP would do if the party gains majority control of Congress.
The rollout press event for the plan was clearly intended to underline its appeal outside the Beltway. Republican House leaders John Boehner of Ohio, Eric Cantor of Virginia and Kevin McCarthy of California abjured their usual power suits in favor of khakis and shirtsleeves to signal both their identification with middle America and their intent to get down to work. The setting, too, was designed to drive home those points: a hardware store in the outer-ring D.C. suburb of Sterling, Va. "The land of opportunity has become the land of shrinking prosperity. ... Our government has failed us," McCarthy said. "We will take back our country. We will restore for a better future. This is our pledge to you."
For all the choreographing, though, the event seemed longer on theatrics than on substance. The plan, which includes promises to freeze federal spending and repeal President Obama's health care plan, will probably draw comparisons to the GOP's 1994 Contract With America. But the policy blueprint actually is closer — in structural terms, anyway — to the Six for '06 agenda that House Democrats unveiled four years ago. Both these platforms issue a broad set of familiar ideas, as opposed to the '94 Contract With America's dramatic and detailed change agenda.
Indeed, virtually none of the proposals pushed by the House GOP are new. GOP lawmakers have been talking up the ideas for months on the campaign trail. In some respects, it singles out dubiously relevant targets, such as the Troubled Assets Relief Program, which is on a path to being refunded and in any event is slated to expire Oct. 3. The main innovation here is in the formatting: The proposals are now all listed on a single document that Republicans hope will better explain where they stand and counter Democrats' claims that the party is bereft of ideas.
The 21-page document, which you can read here, spells out policy priorities in five areas: jobs and the economy, government reform, national security, spending and health care. Among other things, the GOP pledges to make the so-called Bush tax cuts permanent, enact a hiring freeze on non-security-related federal workers, post the text of any congressional legislation online three days before a vote, fund missile defense, pass tough sanctions on Iran, and beef up enforcement on the nation's borders. The GOP also promises to keep Guantanamo Bay open — vowing, in the words of the Pledge to America, to "prevent the government from importing terrorists onto American soil."
Most, if not all, of these priorities have already come up in legislation currently pending before Congress. And unlike the '94 Contract With America, the 2010 Pledge to America makes no mention of hot-button issues like Social Security reform and entitlement spending. The pledge also includes no mention of what the GOP thinks the United States should do about the ongoing war in Afghanistan, even though Republicans and Democrats alike have openly questioned Obama's strategy in the region.
Not surprisingly, Democrats mocked the GOP's presentation. But the pledge also elicited mixed reactions among Republicans. Red State's Erick Erickson called it "ridiculous" and slammed the House GOP for lacking "the fortitude to lead boldly in opposition to Barack Obama." But the editors of National Review praised the pledge, calling it "bolder" than the Contract With America.
(Photo of Boehner by J. Scott Applewhite)