Can New GOP Agenda Stage Mid-Term Election Upset?
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Happy Friday.
We'll tell you about the Jewish holiday being celebrated this week, which is to say why you might see your neighbors eating under the stars. It's our Faith Matters conversation, and that is coming up.
But first, our political chat. House Republicans set out their agenda this week. They called it a Pledge to America. It was unveiled at a lumber and hardware store about an hour outside of Washington. The pledge is part campaign platform, part legislative agenda, and it's also supposed to serve as a blueprint for how Republicans intend to govern should they take control of Congress in November.
Among the promises, to repeal the just-passed health care overhaul, permanently extend the Bush-era tax cuts to everybody and to preserve, quote-unquote, "traditional marriage."
We wanted to dig into the pledge. So we've called Cynthia Tucker. She's a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Also with us, Mary Kate Cary. She's a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. She also blogs and writes commentary for U.S. News & World Report. They're both here with us. Welcome, welcome back.
Ms. CYNTHIA TUCKER: (Columnist, Atlanta Journal-Constitution): Glad to be here.
Ms. MARY KATE CARY (Writer, U.S. News & World Report): Thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: Before we jump in, I want to first play you a clip of Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy of California. He's largely credited with developing the plan. I think, what is he, the deputy minority whip.
Ms. CARY: I think that's right.
MARTIN: And here's a short clip of what he had to say yesterday.
Representative KEVIN McCARTHY (Republican, California): As a result of the economic disastrous policies of the current administration, millions of Americans today are out of work. The economy is so dire that one in six Americans has to rely on government assistance for financial support. The land of opportunity has become the land of shrinking prosperity.
I want to say this slowly so there is no room for misinterpretation, our government has failed us.
MARTIN: So Mary Kate, let's start with you. These aren't exactly new ideas, and I do want to mention that some of the commentary from, like, editorial boards like the Washington Post are, like, so outrageous it's kind of funny, like big thumbs down.
Ms. CARY: Right.
MARTIN: The Post said, the Post editorial board says that if the Republicans are serious about cutting the deficit, they have a really funny way of showing it. What's the calculation here?
Ms. CARY: I think what this really is, you're right, it's part campaign platform, part legislative agenda, as you were just saying. But what this really is is a compromise document between traditional establishment Republicans, the Tea Party and independent voters.
And so the stuff that made it, you know, I read it cover to cover. It didn't take long. There's a lot of photos.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Good job.
Ms. CARY: But the highlights that are in there I won't give you the whole laundry list but the highlights are balanced budget amendment, spending freeze, hiring freeze, repeal and replace health care reform, Bush tax cuts, entitlement reform, Freddie and Fannie.
MARTIN: By Freddie and Fannie, you mean ending government control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which is those quasi-government agencies that does support the housing market, but anyway.
Ms. CARY: Correct. That is a list that just about everybody can agree on between Republicans, independents and Tea Partiers. The stuff that people might not agree on is not in there.
For example, there is a brief mention of traditional marriage in the preamble but no legislative proposals or anything like that. There's no mention of banning earmarks, which the Tea Partiers would have wanted but the traditional Republicans wouldn't have. There's no mention of the standard conservative thing they say in all their campaign speeches, abolishing the Department of Education. That's not in there because, you know, the independents might not go for that. And there's no mention of witchcraft.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Well, that's a relief.
Ms. CARY: Which some Tea Partiers would have wanted.
MARTIN: Yeah, so how does all that get paid for? I mean, like, how do you extend the Bush-era tax cuts permanently to everybody and cut the size of the deficit and, you know, repeal health care? How do you do all that and pay for it?
Ms. CARY: Well, that's the meat of it. And I think, you know, I've written a couple of times, you can't be in favor of the Bush tax cuts on either side, Republican or Democrat, extending them to the middle class or to everybody, without saying how you're going to pay for them. And both sides should say how they're going to pay for them. I think it's a no-brainer to most voters but not to most politicians.
MARTIN: Cynthia, you I assume that, in part, this was to show that the Republicans are more than just the party of no. Does it fulfill that objective?
Ms. TUCKER: I think that's all it is. I think that Republicans felt compelled to produce something because there were conservatives saying you ought to have a governing agenda.
If you take the House and/or the Senate, what are you going to do? And, of course, Democrats were calling them the party of no, that all they have is the ability to say no to anything we propose, they don't have ideas themselves.
But if you go through the document, you find it's threadbare in terms of new ideas. In fact, it mentions entitlement reform, but there is no serious effort at reforming entitlement programs at all.
Mary Kate said earlier that this is a document that everybody can agree to. That's probably true.
MARTIN: Well, everybody on the center-right, right?
Ms. TUCKER: Well, no, I think that in general, Americans would agree that the budget needs to be balanced. Even liberals would agree with that as an academic proposition. Most Americans would agree that entitlements need to be reformed.
But where the huge argument gets played out is how exactly do we do that. And Republicans didn't have the courage to say we either have to cut entitlements, or we have to raise taxes, or we have to do both.
In fact, in answer to questions, John Boehner interestingly said we need to have an adult conversation about these things. Well, Republicans have done nothing over the past two years but discourage an adult conversation over these important issues.
MARTIN: Can I ask you to respond to something that Mary Kate said? She said that partly this agenda is to try to bridge the gap between the Tea Partiers, the independents and the kind of, I don't like the word establishment conservatives because what does that really mean? But Mary Kate has this, in her piece, a post today, she says the Tea Party movement is more mainstream than Obama.
You say that people keep talking about the civil war between the, you know, so-called establishment Republicans and the Tea Party. You say that war is over. The Tea Party has, in fact, won. And that but the question I have is does it appeal to those independents who the polls show are shifting away from Obama, who came out for Obama in the election but are now shifting away, at least in the generics are saying we kind of like what the Republicans have to say better than the Democrats, at least we're not happy with what we see so far.
Ms. TUCKER: Well, first of all, I don't think most Tea Partiers are that enthralled with this document. They are a much more radical force than Mary Kate suggests.
In fact, Erick Erickson, a popular blogger on the far right, has denounced the Pledge to America as pabulum, a sugar diet, you know, with perhaps popular appeal, but it really doesn't do anything. So I think hardcore Tea Partiers would be very unhappy with this document.
Does it have a lot of, a little rhetoric to satisfy them, like let's show the constitutional mandate for any bills we pass? But there's really not much in there to satisfy Tea Partiers.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our political chat with Mary Kate Cary of U.S. News & World Report and Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. We're talking about the Pledge to America.
In the couple minutes we have left, we have about four, five minutes left, I want to talk about the midterms and what effect this may have on how the midterm elections proceed or the debates go forward.
I just want to play a short clip from president former President Bill Clinton talking on Sunday, last Sunday, with Bob Schieffer on CBS' "Face the Nation."
(Soundbite of television program, "Face the Nation")
President BILL CLINTON: I think he was shocked at the intensity of the Republican opposition, but they learned from my first two years that if you just say no, even though people hate it, you get rewarded for it because it discourages the Democrats, and it inflames your base. So they're doing just what they did in '93 and '94. And so far, it appears that they're being rewarded for it.
Mr. BOB SCHIEFFER (Host, "Face the Nation"): Would it be good for him, in a way, if he lost the House, and the Republicans came to power and had to share some of the responsibilities here?
Pres. CLINTON: Well, I think it would increase his chances of being re-elected. Whether it would be good for the country or not, I don't know.
MARTIN: First of all, this is such a Washington thing to not have to name the person you're talking about because everybody knows he's talking about President Obama.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: When I was a White House correspondent, this is one of the things that would drive my friends crazy. They'd say who is he, when they're talking about, well, he's going to Camp David this weekend.
He is obviously President Obama, and former President Clinton is talking about the Republicans and congressional Republicans and saying this is, you know, their approach, to just keep saying no. It might not be good for the country, but.
So Mary Kate, what do you think about President Clinton's assessment? What do you think?
Ms. CARY: Well, I think he's right. I think if the Democrats lost the House, and the Republicans won, something similar would play out as it did in '94. Right after the election, Bill Clinton launched a strategy known around town as triangulation, where he sort of put himself between the right and the left. And as a result, working with the Republican Congress, he was able to get welfare reform, a balanced budget for four years and tax cuts.
And those in his autobiography, he says those are his three biggest accomplishments. And I think, you know, it pulled him to the center. He won re-election easily in '96, and it's not crazy that he would say that. I think he's right.
MARTIN: What do you think, Cynthia, because obviously there are differences between Barack Obama and President Clinton, a sense that President Barack Obama is more centrist than many liberals would like, but he didn't campaign as a, you know, out, loud and proud centrist. That was not what a lot of people thought. So what do you think of that assessment? Do you think it's true: Lose the House, save your presidency?
Ms. TUCKER: I think that President Obama's chances of being re-elected in 2012 are good no matter what happens in the House because I think that 2010 is probably the high-water mark for the current iteration of the Republican Party. It has moved so far to the right that it's going to turn off independents, I think, by 2012.
But let me say this about Obama. I think you just nailed it, Michel. I think he has already reached out to Republicans in trying to compromise. He tried to compromise on health care. They said no. He tried to compromise on an energy bill. They said no.
I think this particular group of Republicans is simply not interested in compromising with the Democrats at all. So if they take over the House, I think you are looking at gridlock for the next couple of years rather than any kind of centrist policies to get passed.
MARTIN: But then that would suggest that then Bill Clinton and Mary Kate are right, and then that gridlock would then inflame the other side of the aisle, where they'd say okay, you can't have the rest of the government. We've got to defend this presidency.
Ms. TUCKER: As I said, I think the president's chances for re-election are pretty good no matter what.
MARTIN: All right. We'll see. To be continued. So many more things to talk about. You all have to come back.
Ms. TUCKER: Yeah, that was fast.
MARTIN: All right. Cynthia Tucker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She was here with me in her Washington, D.C., studio along with Mary Kate Cary, former White House speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. She's a blogger and writer for U.S. News & World Report. Thank you both so much.
Ms. CARY: Thank you.
Ms. TUCKER: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.