'Tea party' Contract From America: Real plan or bumper sticker?

Dismantle health-care reform, stop pork, and protect the Constitution are three of 10 election priorities in the 'tea party' movement's Contract From America, to be unveiled Thursday.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
People attend a 'tea party' protest in Washington on tax day Thursday. Tea party activists will unveil their Contract From America at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Washington.

This afternoon in Austin, Texas, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who helped craft the 1994 Contract with America that helped slingshot Republicans into the congressional majority and bent the arc of the Clinton presidency, will sign onto another major political plank.

This time it's the Contract From America.

All rage and no solutions. That's been the stinging, but partly true, criticism of the national "tea party" movement that has emerged in American politics during the past year.

IN PICTURES: Tea Parties

But conservatives like Mr. Gingrich and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour hope that the new contract – a crowd-sourced document that used hundreds of suggestions and nearly half a million online votes to produce a 10-point plank for conservative rebellion – defines a way for the tea party movement to bridge angry protests with ballot box success.

Indeed, despite influencing elections in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Virginia, the tea party movement has so far failed to flex real political muscle. It needs to show voters its activists stand for something, not just against President Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress, say many political scientists.

"The way a political movement ultimately shows its power is through elections – short of revolution, anyway – and that's where success of the tea party movement so far has been very limited," says Charles Franklin, co-founder of Pollster.com

The Contract will officially be unveiled at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time Thursday at a major tea party protest in Washington. According to a press release from the Tea Party Patriots group that organized the online vote, the 10 points are:

  1. Protect the Constitution
  2. Reject cap and trade energy reforms
  3. Demand a balanced budget
  4. Enact fundamental tax reform
  5. Restore fiscal responsibility and constitutionally limited government in Washington
  6. End runaway government spending
  7. Defund, repeal, and replace government-run health care
  8. Pass an 'all-of-the-above' energy policy
  9. Stop the pork
  10. Stop the tax hikes

A key difference from the original Contract With America contract is the absence of stands on social issues such as abortion and the sanctity of marriage – culture war flashpoints that drove deep wedges in the electorate in the 1990s and early 2000s.

For many Democrats, the contract represents an unwillingness by conservatives to acknowledge the strides the Obama administration has made to bolster the middle class through bailouts, jobs programs, health-care reform, and tax breaks.

"If the Tea Party activists would put aside their rhetoric and rage long enough to look at facts, they would see that the president and Democrats have done more for working families, more to reduce the deficit, more to provide tax relief to average Americans, and more to make government work for the middle class in the past 15 months than Republicans did in eight years," Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse told ABC News. "These are bumper sticker slogans – not a plan."

But with higher taxes looming and federalism arguably on the run, tea party activists say it's Democrats who are being intellectually dishonest with the American people. To them, the Contract From America provides a foundation for a coming ballot-box rebellion.

“This is a way of taking this protest movement and turning it into a very strong reform movement,” Ryan Hecker, a Tea Party Patriots spokesman and activist in Houston, Texas, told the Monitor earlier this year. “And I think, at the end of the day, this document will offer the biggest tent possible and … will be very broad, very bold, but yet also viable.”

IN PICTURES: Tea Parties

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