GOP's Pledge to America laced with 'tea party' slogans

Economically, the GOP's Pledge to America, released Thursday, is aimed at small businesses, repealing health-care reform, for example. But the document is also a clear pledge to 'tea party' supporters: You can trust us.

Larry Downing/Reuters
House Republican Leader John Boehner holds up a copy of 'A Pledge to America' while outlining 'A New Governing Agenda' for the 111th Congress at the Tart Lumber Company in Sterling, Va., on Thursday.

Flanked by drywall and cedar planks at a family-owned lumber company, House Republicans on Thursday released a long-promised governing agenda, laced with 'tea party' slogans, that aims to create jobs by shrinking the size and scope of government.

Call it the un-stimulus. The heart of the Republican plan is that you create jobs by cutting government spending and reducing the uncertainty so that small businessmen, like the Tart Lumber Company in Sterling, Va., can invest and hire.

The plan would permanently extend the Bush tax cuts, repeal and replace health-care reform, zero-out unspent stimulus funds, and roll back government spending to 2008 levels – before President George W. Bush bailed out banks or President Barack Obama signed a $789 billion stimulus package.

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The plan also aims to restore trust in Congress, now near historic lows, and boost national and border security, including fully funding missile defense, enforcing sanctions against Iran, and reaffirming the authority of state and local law enforcement to assist in the enforcement of all federal immigration laws – a slap at the Justice Department’s lawsuit against Arizona.

What the plan does not include is a call for a balanced budget amendment, privatization of Social Security, or an outright ban on earmarks or projects targeted to member districts – all GOP conservative talking points in recent years. It also did not detail specific programs to be cut or signal how the increases in defense and homeland security spending squared with getting the nation back onto a path toward a balanced budget.

Missing also, either in the text or response to questions about it, is any hint that Republicans are open to compromise on a partial or incomplete extension of expiring tax cuts, ideas floated as recently as this month by House Republican leader John Boehner.

“I’ve made clear over the last 20 months, when Republicans were in control of Congress we made our share of mistakes,” Representative Boehner said, responding to questions at a press briefing in Sterling.

But Republicans have demonstrated by their votes that they are serious about cutting back government, he added.

“All of us opposed their stimulus bill twice, all of our members voted against their budget twice, nearly all of our members voted against their energy tax, and all of our members voted against health care. We are very serious about implementing our pledge.”

After decades in the minority, Republicans took back the House in 1994 on a promised Contract with America. Now in reach of taking back the House again, Republicans are defending their record of spending during their last 12 years in power, especially to the tea party activists that have roiled primary contests for incumbents. House Republicans are calling this plan a “pledge.”

"We had a contract. This is new,” said Rep. Mike Pence (R) of Indiana. “I hope people understand it means a commitment.”

The two-page pledge introducing the policy document is anchored in the language of the tea party movement and the nation’s founding texts, notably government’s powers derived from the consent of the governed and [inalienable] rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. “Whenever the agenda of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to institute a new governing agenda and set a different course,” the document states.

But the economic policy proposals are focused on issues faced by small businesses, frozen by what Republicans describe as uncertainties of a job-killing government agenda. “Where are the jobs?” – a theme in GOP campaign stump speeches – is the subtext of the new governing agenda. In addition to extending the Bush tax cuts, now set to expire on Dec. 31, Republicans propose giving small business owners a tax deduction equal to 20 percent of their business income.

Any “economically significant” new federal regulation – that is, costing businesses $100 million or more annually – would require congressional approval. Controversial government mandates, such as a provision in this year’s health-care reform that requires small businesses to report to the Internal Revenue Service any purchases that run more than $600, would be repealed.

The GOP critique of health-care reform also reduces to a concern about the economy and jobs. The reform, which phases in over a decade, is not yet creating jobs or cutting costs, as promised: It raises taxes on the middle class and will force millions of seniors off their current Medicare coverage, Republicans say.

The plan repeals the new, “unconstitutional” government mandate requiring individuals to obtain health insurance. Republicans would replace the 2010 reform with measures to reduce costs, such as medical liability reforms to rein in costly junk lawsuits, allow Americans to purchase health insurance across state lines, and expand health savings accounts.

“On the same day that Americans will start to benefit from these protections, Republicans are unveiling an agenda that names taking those benefits away a top priority – under Republicans, insurance companies will once again be in charge of Americans’ health care,” said House majority leader Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland in a statement.

New foreign policy proposals require tough enforcement of sanctions against Iran and full funding for missile defense as a protection from Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles.

In a reversal of the Obama administration’s legal challenge to Arizona on border enforcement, the plan pledges to “reaffirm the authority of state and local law enforcement to assist in the enforcement of all federal immigration laws” and to work to ensure that foreign terrorists, such as the 9/11 conspirators, are tried in military, not civilian courts.

Like the 1994 Contract with America, the new GOP plan also proposes ensuring minority party rights, including a more open amendment process. Expanding on a campaign pledge by Democrats when they took back the House in 2006, Republicans also promised more time for members and the public to read bills before they reach the floor for a vote. The plan requires publishing the text of bills online for at least three days before a vote. Any lawmakers would be able to offer amendments to reduce spending.

Craig Fritsche, president of the Tart Lumber Company in Sterling, says his greatest concern, as a small businessman, is whether the Bush tax cuts will be extended. "Based on what happened the last time Republicans controlled the House, Senate, and presidency, I didn't see the change," he said. "I just hope they can follow through on these promises."

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