It didn't take long for commentators — on the left and the right — to start tearing apart House Republicans' new "Pledge To America," the campaign-season agenda released Thursday at a news conference in a Virginia lumber warehouse. Its purpose is to unify the party — but it's already revealing fissures among House Republicans.
The Pledge To America is an intentional echo of the 1994 Contract with America the Republicans put out just before sweeping the midterm elections and taking the House majority. That was a simple 10-point agenda. This is a thick, glossy booklet, with a preamble, a foreword, five main sections and some last words. Staffers handed out copies to the media, while Republican Leader John Boehner explained.
"We're here today to put forth a new governing agenda, built by listening to the American people, that offers a new way forward," he said.
He assembled a cross-section of the House Republicans to describe that new agenda. California's Kevin McCarthy said they listened hard to their constituents: "When you said you wanted a more prosperous, competitive economy, we heard you. When you said you wanted a more accountable government, we heard you. When you said you wanted to repeal the health care bill, we heard you."
Last spring, GOP leaders set up a website where conservatives of all stripes could suggest ideas and vote on what they thought the party should be doing. The Pledge To America is, if not a distillation of that, a paraphrase.
"These are the things that the American people are demanding," Boehner said. "And our pledge to America is that the Republicans stand ready to get it done, and beginning today."
Create jobs, end economic uncertainty and increase American competitiveness
- "Permanently" stop tax hikes on families and small businesses.
- Give small businesses a tax deduction equal to 20 percent of their income.
- Require congressional approval for any new federal regulation that adds to deficits or makes it harder to create jobs.
- Repeal health care mandates on small businesses.
- "With common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops," roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels.
- Place caps on government spending.
- Impose a hiring freeze for non-security-related federal positions.
- Cancel the Troubled Asset Relief Program and reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Repeal and replace the health care overhaul
- Enact "real medical liability reform."
- Allow purchase of health care across state lines.
- Require that every bill contain a citation of "constitutional authority."
- Give all representatives and citizens at least three days to read a bill before a vote.
Maintain security at home and abroad
- Provide resources, authority, and support to deployed forces.
- Fully fund missile defense.
- Enforce sanctions against Iran.
- Keep enemy combatants in Guantanamo Bay.
- Secure U.S. borders.
The plan calls for an extension of all the Bush-era tax cuts, new tax deductions for small businesses, hard spending caps on some parts of the federal budget, and increased spending on defense. Republicans say they would freeze government hiring and revoke stimulus money that hasn't been used.
Those are among the most specific proposals in the document. Much of it is more atmospheric — like this, from Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn: "We pledge to honor the Constitution and the original intent of the framers."
And this, from Jeb Hensarling of Texas: "This president and this Congress has put this nation on the road to bankruptcy, and they're pressing down on the accelerator. It is time to press on the brake, and get us back on the road to recovery and opportunity."
It's these statements that have drawn the most scathing criticism — and it comes from conservatives within the Republican coalition.
Eric Erickson of the blog Redstate.com called the Pledge To America "dreck" and "mom-tested, kid-approved pablum." Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council called it "satisfactory" — then said it was disappointing because it didn't stake out clear opposition to gay marriage and abortion.
The Conservative magazine The American Spectator covered it under the headline "GOP Pledges to Be Timid in the Face of Crisis."
There was, of course, plenty of criticism from Democrats.
"If it sounds familiar, it's because it's the same litany or catalog of failed policies that got us into this mess," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
But Democrats' jabs felt mild compared with those of the conservatives — perhaps a preview of the ideological divisions there could be if the Republican Party wins the House majority.
As blogger Erickson put it, "I will vote Republican in 2010. But I will not carry their stagnant water."