GOP agenda is not your father's 'Contract With America'

As House Republican leaders prepare for this week's unveiling of their "new governing agenda," rank-and-file members are getting more advice about what the document is not than what it is:

"Rather than a broad party platform or long-term agenda, this document will be focused narrowly on the top priorities of the American people," states a memo distributed to GOP press secretaries on Monday. The memo went on to say that, "Republicans will call on Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and Majority Leader [Harry] Reid to implement them all before this Congress adjourns."

In response, House Democratic leadership aides questioned the GOP's seriousness about the document, in light of the Republican demand that its provisions be implemented in the next two weeks before the House is to adjourn Oct. 8.

Some Democratic aides also said they detect skittishness within the GOP about producing an agenda that is too rich in detail for fear that it might provide Democrats with campaign ammunition for the Nov. 2 midterm elections. They say Republicans may also be concerned that such a document could complicate relations for GOP candidates with the tea party movements, or exacerbate divisions within the party itself.

Last-second changes this week have not been ruled out for the document, which some in the GOP had previously compared with the Contract With America that Republicans rode to power in 1994.

Since launching the effort to devise a 2010 version of a "governing document" in late May, Republican leaders have raised expectations that the document will have three main attributes:

  1. That it would be detailed and not vague;
  2. That it would include new ideas that break from those of the Bush-era GOP agendas;
  3. That it would reflect ideas garnered from the "grass roots" in town hall meetings and internet social-networking avenues over the past three months.

The effort was dubbed the "America Speaking Out" project, and how close they came to meeting those goals remain unclear. Exact language of the final document was still under wraps on Monday, as House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, sent an e-mail to members saying a draft will be discussed with them during a closed meeting at the Capitol on Wednesday night.

Republican aides said Monday that the document will cover five categories -- jobs, spending, health care, national security and government reform -- with four or five items then listed under each, and that there will be nothing scaled back from what has been promised.

Aides with knowledge of the document also said it would include some ideas already touted by Boehner and other GOP leaders, such as repealing the healthcare bill, renewing the Bush-era tax cuts, and cutting spending. Another item would require that House members get 72 hours to read bills before having to vote on them.

Boehner and Chief Deputy Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California -- who led the effort to craft the document -- will be among members on hand to unveil the document following a small-business roundtable event at a hardware store in Sterling, Va., Thursday.

"What we believe in doesn't fluctuate with the political environment," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for McCarthy, when pressed about whether the effort has been scaled back from its original promises.

"We've always said this will be about addressing what people are most concerned about -- finding out those priorities ... And we've always said it will be things we can do this Congress -- so we'll be offering solutions we think could attract bipartisan support and be passed immediately," said Buck. He declined to be more specific about other issues, like whether the document will address longer-term issues such as a GOP vision regarding Social Security reform.

On the question of whether it is realistic to believe that Congress could actually pass any of the items suggested before Oct. 8, Buck said: "It will surely be hard, but that won't stop us from trying."

Pelosi's office charged that the Republican agenda is already transparent.

"No matter how they package it, Americans know the real Republican agenda: Republicans want to privatize Social Security, ship American jobs overseas and give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires," said Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly.

"I do think it's going to be interesting how many actual ideas from the grassroots (outreach) they've been touting over the last few months actually are incorporated into their agenda," said Doug Thornell, a spokesman for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

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