Republicans Debating 2010 Agenda

House Republicans craft a detailed plan for next year's congressional elections.

October 28, 2009, 2:35 PM

Oct. 28, 2009 -- Stung by the "party of no" label, House Republicans are beginning to prepare a detailed GOP agenda for next year's congressional elections, focusing broadly on efforts to grow the economy, create jobs, and curb the reach of the federal government.

A formal unveiling will most likely wait until next summer or fall, when voters are more engaged in congressional races. Top Republicans caution that major decisions -- including how closely to model efforts on the famous "Contract with America" that Republicans rode to power in 1994 -- are still to come.

But the direction of the effort is beginning to become clearer. GOP leaders are promising to offer a formal alternative to the Democrats' health care bill, rather than let their opposition to a broader government role in health care stand by itself.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., said House Republicans will eventually roll out "something like the contract," as they seek ways to present their case to an electorate that's shown signs of concern about full Democratic control of Washington.

"We are really thinking about what it is we would do if we were in control," Cantor, R-Va., told ABC News. "There will be an opportunity for us to proffer our alternatives. You're going to see us do that."

Republicans are already discussing ways to package those alternatives -- with the lessons of 1994's "Contract With America" in mind. That document was rolled out just six weeks before the election, encapsulating a vision endorsed by Newt Gingrich and his allies en route to a sweeping Election Day victory.

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., the chairman of the Conservative Republican Study Committee, said whether the GOP plans will be called a "contract" is among the major items of debate right now.

"That's the $64,000 question," Price said. "Obviously all of us want the most effective means of communication for that contrast [with Democrats]. Whether that takes the form of a list of specific bills, a list of principles, a list of items we'd accomplish -- all of those things are being discussed right now. I'm not wedded to any of them."

Cantor said the major planks Republicans are coalescing around -- the economy, jobs, and "Washington overreach" -- are areas that are "in [Republicans'] wheelhouse," and that particularly appeal to independent voters.

Asked about the debate inside the Republican Party over the special election in upstate New York next week -- where a series of prominent Republicans have endorsed the Conservative Party candidate because they don't consider the GOP nominee sufficiently conservative -- Cantor said Republicans need to learn Democrats' lesson from 2006 and pick candidates who can win in districts across the country.

"At the end of the day, we have to win control of this place," he said, echoing the argument Gingrich has made in standing by the Republican candidate in New York's 23rd congressional district. Former Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., have joined a former Gingrich lieutenant, Dick Armey, in backing the Conservative Party nominee in that race.

The move to offer concrete proposals, rather than vague principles and outright opposition to President Obama's agenda, is an attempt by Republicans to blunt Democratic efforts to label them as the "party of no."

A series of Democrats took to the House floor as recently as Thursday to ask Republicans the rhetorical question: "Where's your bill?"

Price, a medical doctor, has been pressing his caucus to answer that question in detail. He'll get his wish when debate on health care takes place on the House floor.

"The American people need to know that there are people here in Washington who are fighting for them as hard as they can," Price said.

Cantor said the GOP health care alternative would emphasize items including tort reform, portability of health insurance between jobs, tax breaks for individuals to purchase health coverage, and reforms that would keep consumers from being denied coverage because of preexisting conditions.

As Republicans plot a way forward, the issue of how closely to model efforts on the successful GOP 1994 campaign is an item of hot debate.

Former Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., who came to Congress with the "Contract with America" class in 1995, said it won't be enough to offer another "contract" this time around.

"In 1994, it had been 40 years since the Republicans controlled the House; here, it's four years," Davis said on's "Top Line" Wednesday. "And there's a hesitancy to just go back as the opposition."

The key for Republicans, he said, will be to find a way to broaden the party's reach without sacrificing the grass-roots energy they'll need to win.

"You're going to be a national party, or you're going to be a private club, and that's the conversation this party has to decide," said Davis, who left Congress this year and now heads the centrist Republican Main Street Partnership.

"They've got to keep the energy from the 'tea-baggers' and the 'birthers' and these groups that probably couldn't govern a one-car funeral, but they're the energy for the party at this point. You need those people and you've got to adopt a couple things. And frankly, they're not wrong on every issue. But at the same time you need to appeal to independents and moderates," Davis said.

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