J. Scott Applewhite/AP
House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio holds up a copy of the GOP agenda, "A Pledge to America," last month in Virginia. Republicans are using the 21-page document as a road map to fix the economy. But if they regain control of the House next month, will they be able to keep those promises?
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio held up a copy of the GOP agenda, "A Pledge to America," last month in Virginia. From left are: House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, Boehner and Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
A recent Gallup Poll found that 52 percent of Americans believe Republicans will win control of the U.S. House of Representatives after this fall's midterm elections.
If their predictions are right and Republicans do win the House, how will they lead? Will they be able to keep the promises made in their "Pledge to America"?
Lessons From 1874
If the Republicans win the House this fall, it would mark an important shift in power. But these kinds of shifts are nothing new.
Take 1874, for example, when Republican President Ulysses S. Grant found himself in a situation President Obama might appreciate.
Republicans went into the year controlling the White House and both houses of Congress. But the party was under siege because of legislation unpopular in many parts of the country, especially action that gave blacks the right to vote. There were even loud warnings about encroaching socialism.
Democrats argued that Republicans wanted to spread the vote to people without property, education or any interest in working, says Heather Cox Richardson, a political historian who specializes in Civil War history.
She tells NPR's Guy Raz that Democrats warned against "electing people to office who will redistribute wealth, who will take in tax money and hand it back to these same poor people in the form of all sorts of benefits that they didn't have access to before the Civil War."
Grant was a war hero, loved by nearly everyone, but the midterm elections still awarded Democrats control of the House.
How Might Republicans Lead Today?
In 1874, the Democrats campaigned on the idea that the Republicans were misusing taxpayers' money. In 2010, Republicans are using a similar argument, holding up their "Pledge to America" as a road map to fix the economy.
Balancing the budget is a major part of that pledge, though exactly how Republicans will do that isn't clear from the 21-page document.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) says if the Republicans win one or both houses of Congress, Job 1 will be to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for both middle- and upper-income Americans.
"We have to provide the certainty to our small-business folks, our job creators, where their taxes are going to be in the next at least year, and on and on, so they can plan," she tells Raz.
She also says that Republicans will have to take a "serious look at Medicare and Medicaid and see what can be changed." But Capito warns that it can't just be the Republicans formulating this plan.
"When you talk about something as deeply personal to the American family as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, " she says, "this is where I think hopefully we can take down the hammers and try to find a bipartisan solution."
Even so, Capito sees balancing the budget in the first year as a "lofty goal."
"I think you'll see a movement toward that, but I don't believe that achieving a balanced budget in one year is realistically achievable," she says.
So What Is Realistic?
That's a sentiment shared by Maya MacGuineas, once described as "an anti-deficit warrior" by The Wall Street Journal.
"The Pledge to America, that's a campaign document — and it's not filled at all with the real policies that are going to address the debt problems that we have in this country," she says.
MacGuineas is president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, an advocacy group that promotes fiscal restraint. She points out that entitlement reform is only mentioned twice in the document.
Realistically, however, neither cuts in discretionary spending nor tax cuts will make a big enough dent in the deficit, MacGuineas says. Current discussion on the campaign trail isn't where it needs to be, she says.
"It's the two parties battling over whether to add $4 trillion to the debt or $3 trillion to the debt. So when the first step of every discussion is, 'Do you want to make the tax cuts permanent? Or just most of the tax cuts permanent?' — you know that we really haven't woken up to the challenges ahead of us."