House Republicans Unveil 'Pledge To America'

House Republicans went to a hardware store in the Northern Virginia suburbs on Thursday to roll out a "Pledge to America" that they hope will enable them to take back majority control of Congress in November. The plan aims to unify fractured Republicans (e.g. moderates vs. conservatives, the establishment vs. the Tea Party) under a big economic tent. It emphasizes such items as tax cuts and spending reductions rather than divisive social issues.

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Today, House Republican leaders released what they call their "Pledge to America." It's a 45-page booklet outlining the party's priorities going into the November midterm elections in which Republicans have a chance of taking over the House majority.

GOP leaders traveled out to a lumber warehouse in Sterling, Virginia, to stage their press conference, and NPR's Andrea Seabrook went along with them.

ANDREA SEABROOK: House Republican leader John Boehner strolled up to the podium, flanked by a cross-section of GOP lawmakers.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; House Minority Leader): You know, the American people are speaking out like never before. They're concerned about the future of our nation and the future for their children.

SEABROOK: Surrounded by towering shelves of lumber and nary a necktie in sight, the Republicans' message came through loud and clear - we're just like you, America, and we're worried too.

Rep. BOEHNER: The government is out of control in Washington, and we need to rein it in and begin a new drive for a smaller, less costly and more accountable government in our nation's capital.

SEABROOK: Staffers handed out copies of a glossy, magazine-sized booklet entitled "A Pledge to America," the subtitle "A New Governing Agenda Built on the Priorities of Our Nation, the Principles We Stand For and America's Founding Values."

For specifics, other lawmakers took the mic. Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling talked fiscal issues.

Representative JEB HENSARLING (Republican, Texas): We can cut government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving immediately a hundred billion dollars.

SEABROOK: That was among the most specific proposals, that and hard caps on spending in some parts of the federal budget. As for what exactly Republicans would cut to adhere to those caps, no details.

What they wouldn't cut is defense spending. In fact, the plan specifically calls for infusing new cash into missile defense. And it calls for a repeal of the new health care law. Hensarling pledged to put the country on a path to balanced budgets.

Rep. HENSARLING: With this pledge, Republicans will save the American dream as it drowns in a sea of red ink. We will make it bigger and brighter for the next generation. We will not allow the torch of liberty to be mortgaged.

SEABROOK: As for hot-button social issues, the plan says almost nothing. Abortion and gay marriage are barely touched on, mainly with a hat-tip in the opening paragraphs. That was enough for Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn.

Representative MARSHA BLACKBURN (Republican, Tennessee): The "Pledge to America" starts with a preamble that reminds us that every American citizen is endowed with certain rights from their creator.

SEABROOK: Other things left out? Immigration, earmarks, reforms for Social Security and Medicare - all big problems that split the party in ways that are uncomfortable in an election year. Leader Boehner's explanation?

Rep. BOEHNER: It's not intended to be a party platform. It's not intended to cover everything under the sun. It's about what needs to be done now, first steps toward real fiscal sanity in Washington, D.C. and real steps about getting our economy moving again and getting people back to work.

SEABROOK: Democrats seized on the document even before its official release. A barrage of emails called the plan weak, vague, recycled and predictable. Some conservatives panned it, too. One post in particular, by Eric Erickson of the blog "RedState," was burning up inboxes. It called the "Pledge to America" a, quote, "series of compromises and milquetoast rhetorical flourishes."

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, Washington

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