'America Speaking Out': House Republicans Begin Crafting New 'Contract With America'

The effort is modeled on Newt Gingrich's 1994 agenda.

May 24, 2010, 12:08 PM

May 25, 2010 -- House Republican leaders are beginning the process of crafting a 2010 version of the "Contract with America" that proved so successful for the party in the 1990s. GOP leaders hope that the election-year agenda will help the party shed the "party of no" moniker that Democrats have sought to pin on them during President Obama's administration. They kick off the effort at a Tuesday press conference in Washington, D.C.

"There are a number of seats that you get just by being 'no,'" Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican spearheading the effort, told ABC News. "But you don't get a majority by just being 'no.' You've got to say what you're for."

The GOP's effort to craft an election-year agenda, which has been dubbed "America Speaking Out," was inspired by the way in which former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Georgia, used a 10-point "Contract with America" to fuel the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress. Although polls indicated that the 1994 vote was motivated more by animus towards President Clinton than by familiarity with the Contract's provisions, Republican leaders found the document to be a useful governing tool as they led the first GOP House majority in 40 years.

Tuesday's event, which is scheduled to take place at Washington's Newseum, will not unveil a GOP platform. Instead, the press conference is being used to outline the process by which Republicans are hoping to engage Americans in developing a new governing agenda. Republicans are asking supporters to submit policy ideas through a web-based platform. The GOP will also offer an iPhone application to solicit input. GOP activists can then discuss the proposals, some of which will eventually be included in the party's election-year agenda.

The debut of "America Speaking Out" comes at an ambiguous time for House Republicans. Over the weekend, the GOP captured a staunchly Democratic district in Hawaii which had been held by 10-term Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who resigned to run for governor.

On the other hand, the GOP failed to capture the Pennsylvania congressional district which had previously been held by the late Democratic Rep. Jack Murtha, even though the culturally conservative district was the only House seat in the country which had gone from backing John Kerry for president in 2004 to backing John McCain for president in 2008.

House Republican leaders are not the only ones crafting an election-year agenda.

A tea party activist from Texas named Ryan Hecker has already used an online voting system to develop his own "Contract from America," which was unveiled at events around the country on April 15th. So far, the "Contract From America" has been endorsed by more than 50 congressional candidates in total, including two sitting Republican senators: Oklahoma's Tom Coburn and South Carolina's Jim DeMint.

The tea party's "Contract from America" says it is based on the principles of "individual liberty, limited government, and economic freedom." It enumerates 10 agenda items that it wants congressional candidates to follow. Those items include: "(1) protect the constitution; (2) reject cap and trade; (3) demand a balanced budget; (4) enact fundamental tax reform; (5) restore fiscal responsibility and constitutionally limited government in Washington; (6) end runaway government spending; (7) defund, repeal and replace government-run health care; (8) pass an "all-of-the-above" energy policy; (9) stop the pork; and (10) stop the tax hikes."

When Hecker, a 29-year old Houston lawyer and former Rudy Giuliani opposition researcher, spoke with ABC News in February, he said members of Congress of both parties lacked the "credibility" to offer their own contract.

He is now, however, coming around to the GOP's efforts to craft an election-year agenda with voter input.

"I think (House Republican leaders) are definitely more credible now than they were in October 2008" when many Republicans joined with many Democrats to support the Wall Street bailout, said Hecker.

"They gain more credibility the more they listen. I think (House Republican leaders) are going to end up in a very similar position to us because the same people who end up submitting ideas on their site submitted ideas on ours."

ABC News' Alexander Pepper and Matt Loffman contributed to this report.

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