House Republicans today are to formally unveil "A Pledge to America," a collection of pre-election promises, some specific and some vague, that would -- as they describe it -- form a new and inspirational agenda to reconnect Washington with the nation's founding values and principles.
The document also calls for the unlikely prospect of House and Senate Democratic leaders bringing "these reforms and policies to an immediate vote" and asks "all citizens of our Nation -- men and women of good will and good heart -- who share in our beliefs, to join with us today."
The 21-page manifesto -- which some have anticipated would be something like the 1994 "Contract with America" -- is to be officially announced and distributed by House Republican leaders and other members today at an event set at a hardware store in Sterling, Va.
Rank-and-file Republicans were given a peek at a draft of the document Wednesday night, and it was not long before Democrats were panning the contents of the document, dismissing it as a retread of failed GOP policies of the past.
In fact, much of what is found in the document reflects familiar GOP positions and legislative proposals on topics ranging from national security to cutting the size of government, as well as taxes cuts, health care, and government transparency. For instance, there are promises to repeal and replace the healthcare law, extend Bush-era tax cuts due to expire Dec. 31, cut unspent stimulus funding, and cancel the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
The repeal of the massive health package, signed by President Obama six months ago today, remains a top priority. In the draft, GOP leaders say that the White House has broken some of the key promises it made when it sold the health care reform. Costs, they said, would continue to climb, new taxes will be levied and a Democratic pledge to allow individuals the same level of coverage as they had before will fall by the wayside under the new law.
"This bill did not bend the cost curve at all," said Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn. "As a matter of fact, costs are going to continue to go up." In their counter proposal, Republicans said they would swap out the current law with one that caps damages on medical liability lawsuits, allows for the sale of insurance across state lines, expands the use of health savings accounts and bolsters the physician-patient relationship.
But the pledge also acknowledges that the current healthcare law is not all bad: It borrows at least one proposal from the current law -- one that aims to overhaul one of the more nefarious insurance sector practices. The pledge calls for an end to the practice of rescissions, where health plans drop patients once they get sick, and would put an end to discrimination against individuals who have a pre-existing condition. Under the GOP proposal, annual and lifetime caps would also be eliminated. "All of those things we're in agreement with," said Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., on Wednesday. "But there is so much bad ... in this bill that the easiest thing to do is repeal it and start over."
Notably absent from the pledge are specific positions on tougher issues, such as the future of Social Security or Medicare.
Over its development throughout the summer, the document has been compared by some in the GOP to the 1994 "Contract with America," a document credited with helping the GOP take control of the Congress that year.
The current Pledge does bear some similarities to the 1994 Contract, but this time around members and candidates will not be called on to sign this document, as a demonstration of fealty to the party.
"I'm not going to tell them what to be for," said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas, who said members and candidates will be allowed to make their own determinations about which portions of the pledge to embrace.
Republican aides tried to cast the pledge as evidence of the GOP's attention to the concerns of voters. Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Chief Deputy Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California -- who led the effort to craft the document -- described the document as the result of "effort to listen to the American people and ask them their priorities. They are all things we think can be done right now, and we'll be calling on the speaker to allow them to come to the floor."
Among the general proposals are promises also to roll back most government spending to pre-stimulus levels, set strict budget caps, fight attempts "to impose a national 'cap and trade' energy tax'," pass "clean" defense appropriations bills, ensuring that alleged foreign terrorists are tried in military, not civilian courts, and preventing the closure of the Guantanamo prison.
Some proposals were very specific, including one that would require congressional approval of any new federal regulations that would cost businesses more than $100 million. Others were more vague, echoing familiar political slogans. "We must take action to secure our borders, and that action starts with enforcing our laws" and "we will fight efforts to use a national crisis for political gain." There also are calls for bills to "adhere to the Constitution," including requiring each bill moving through Congress to include a clause citing the specific constitutional authority upon which it can "be justified."
Democrats have questioned the seriousness the effort and the credibility of the document, saying that any notion that all these proposals can or should be passed by Congress before it adjourns in one or two weeks is unrealistic.
"If you liked the Bush years you're going to love what Washington Republicans have in store for America," said Doug Thornell, a spokesman for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, assistant to Speaker Pelosi.
Added Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami: "Congressional Republicans are pledging to ship jobs overseas; blow a $700 billion hole in the deficit to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires; ...once again, subject American families to the recklessness of Wall Street; and take away patients' rights. Republicans want to return to the same failed economic policies that hurt millions of American and threatened our economy."
Senate Republicans leaders, who have been relatively quiet on the House effort, say they will release a statement today about the pledge, but it is unclear how much of an embrace or endorsement that will constitute of the House plan. In August, when pressed, Senate Minority Leader McConnell would only say that Republicans would offer a plan.
"We clearly do need to make sure Americans know what we would do, and we're going to make that announcement in late September," McConnell said in an interview with Bloomberg television. Republican aides said this week that the Senate GOP will treat the proposals as a House Republican agenda and not a plan that applies to the entire party.
This article appears in the Sep. 25, 2010, edition of National Journal Daily.