GOP: New Twist on ‘Contract’

Posted April 14, 2010 at 6:54pm

House Republicans are launching a new effort to craft an election-year mission statement that appears to be part “Contract With America” and part “American Idol.”

GOP Members said the ideas that will eventually become the basis for their initiative — the working title is the “Commitment to America” — will come largely from outside Washington and largely online, but they pledged that reforming the legislative process would be a top priority.

“Seven, eight, nine months ago if you talked process you came off like a whiner,” Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) said. “People now understand that bad process yields bad legislation and so my expectation is that process will be part of this.”

Chief Deputy Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who was tapped by Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) to lead the effort to craft the new agenda, said the document will inevitably be compared to 1994’s “Contract With America,” but that it will be distinguished by the grass-roots effort that will create it.

“In ’94 there wasn’t the Internet, there wasn’t phone apps,” McCarthy said. “We are going to make it easy so anybody from across this country from all different walks [can contribute].”

McCarthy said in the next few weeks he plans to launch a Web site, which will aggregate ideas for the Commitment to America and allow citizens to debate those ideas online.

He estimated the document would not be completed until September.

“It’s not something you do overnight,” McCarthy said. “That’s why we are going beyond Washington. We are going across the country and engaging everyone in this.”

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said new technologies make an entirely new process possible, noting that the Contract With America was distributed mainly in TV Guide.

“Everybody got TV Guide,” Upton said. I still have a copy of mine in my desk in the office. It was a little tear sheet.”

“So, just think what we can do with it this time — even though we don’t have TV Guide,” he said.

Upton and several other lawmakers predicted that energy and health care would play large roles in the agenda.

“[Health care] impacts everyone. It impacts your parents, your kids, your spouse, your employer. … This is not just going to go away,” Upton said.

Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) said he hopes the document will focus on “enabling free enterprise to solve the challenges we face in health care, energy. … Those are the big ones as far as I’m concerned.”

Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) said Republicans are currently in “listening mode.” The effort is “a starting point to hear what average Americans think,” Boustany said. He predicted: “There are going to be concerns about the current health care law, how it should be implemented. We are going to need to address those concerns.”

Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.) said he hoped his party would shy away from a lengthy document and instead focus on a few key items.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) said the document should include four essential ingredients: process, competitiveness, accountability and results.

“We are going to provide the American people, under this process, with a complete picture of the direction that the Republican Party is committed to leading our country,” Sessions said.

Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) declined to say what specific issues he wanted to see in the agenda but hinted he would be listening closely to the anti-tax tea party movement.

Republican lawmakers acknowledged that the expectations for the new agenda were high both within the Conference and the electorate.

“I think [there will be] invariable, unavoidable comparisons [to the Contract]. The agenda project is about really listening to the American people,” Pence said.

“It’s not so much a checklist as a commitment to the American people.”

Pence added: “I think it is a different time in the life of a nation. It certainly is a different time in the life of our party.”

Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) said he is frequently asked by constituents about a new Contract With America. “There’s an expectation from millions and millions of Americans that there will be something like that again,” Kline said. “We need to make sure we are meeting that expectation.”

Kline said the document would also provide a strong structure to rally around in November.

“It also helps us to focus, helps us focus message, helps us concentrate on if Republicans retake the majority, how we are going to govern,” he said.