'Contract' 2.0: House Republicans Roll Out 'A Pledge to America'

The GOP, which critics call "the party of no," offers specifics on its agenda.

September 22, 2010, 5:47 PM

Sept. 23, 2010 -- House Republicans today unveiled "A Pledge to America", the "governing agenda" they plan to pursue if they regain control of the House of Representatives. And it calls for some changes that won't win them friends at the White House:

"We call on the leadership of the 111th Congress to bring these reforms and policies to an immediate vote," they write in the plan unveiled today in Sterling, Va., "and ask all citizens of our nation -- men and women of good will and good heart -- who share in our beliefs, to join with us today."

The pledge is an effort to do what the Republicans did when they won the House in 1994 with the "Contract With America," offer a specific plan of action for a GOP Congress.

Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, opened the event with an admission: "Listen, when Republicans were in charge of Congress, we made our fair share of mistakes."

The pledge includes five broad categories, including jobs, government reform, spending, national security and health care. Under each category, there are four or five specific proposals and actual bills, many of which already have been introduced.

The forty-five page document includes more photographs than specifics on spending cuts. The minority leader was less than specific when asked where the cuts needed to balance the budget and reduce the deficit would be made.

"We've got to cut spending and we need more economic growth in America that puts more Americans back to work, caring for themselves and caring for their families and you can't have real economic growth in America if you insist on raising taxes on the American people," Rep. Boehner said.

In regards to an extension of Bush tax cuts, Boehner made clear he and the republicans wanted the extension to be permanent. He would not say if the republicans were open to a one or two year extension. There was also no mention of controlling social security or Medicare, eleminating any federal departments. There was not even a promise to eliminate the "earmarks" or pork barrel spending.

The Minority Leader made clear the agenda set forth today is not a party platform designed to "include everything under the sun," but rather, a first step.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., acknowledged the plan is light on specifics when it comes to spending cuts: "We have a long way to go to restore our fiscal solvency to our national government. We have to put everything on the table, from defense to domestic spending to even entitlements, and Republicans if given the opportunity to lead the Congress again and will be prepared to take on those challenges."

In addition to the policy agendas set forward, the pledge is an attempt at some image rehabilitation. A top House Republican told ABC News that the pledge is "an important milestone showing the American people we have learned our lesson and we are ready to govern."

Republicans are seeking to make clear they have no intention of returning to the big spending and high deficits of the previous Republican Congress.

"We spent too much. We lost our way," Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., told ABC News earlier today. "We are here trying to reclaim our country."

When former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., unveiled the Contract With America on the Capitol steps in 1994, he called it "the boldest, most decisive, clearest contract in the history of the United States."

Like that "contract," the pledge includes specific pieces of legislation, many of which Republicans already have tried -- and failed -- to get through the Democratic Congress.

The pledge also is an effort to respond to the allegation that the GOP is the "party of no."

"It's important to show what Republicans are for," another House Republican involved in creating the pledge told ABC News.

Democrats Attack Pledge to America as Return to Bush Policies

Even though rank-and-file Republicans only got their first look at the document late Wednesday afternoon, Boehner and the other Republican architects of the plan let the backbenchers do most of the talking.

House members Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Peter Roskam, R-Ill., Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, Bill Cassidy, R-La., Matt Thornberry, R-Texas, and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., each fleshed out a specific component of the pledge. That may be a nod to the fact that Republicans establishment is no more popular these days than the Democrats.

Even before the document was released, Democrats were already attacking the pledge as a return to the policies of the Bush administration.

"Republicans want to return to the same failed economic policies that hurt millions of American and threatened our economy," Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote in a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon.

The House majority leader's office issued a statement, saying it imagined a true Republican pledge would read like this:

"I pledge allegiance to the hedge fund managers of Wall Street, and the consumer protections I want to take away ...

"I pledge allegiance to the wealthiest of the wealthy, who we will protect before the middle class ...

"I pledge allegiance to the oil companies, whom we apologized to ...

"... with a recession and huge deficits for all."

When ABC News asked Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., about Democrats' accusations that the pledge is merely a return to failed policies of the past, he conceded that his party had made mistakes they needed to own and move past.

"We walked away from the principles of fiscal responsibly and the American people walked away from us," he said. "This shows the American people we are listening now."

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