House Republicans are using the August recess to test a governing agenda that they plan to release this fall, including the key provisions in a district work period packet provided to rank-and-file Members last week.
The packet, distributed by House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.), included bullet points on a range of topics, labeled “solutions for discussion,” that GOP sources said represents the skeleton of the fall agenda.
Since launching the “America Speaking Out” initiative last spring, Republican leaders have been coy about what policies would be included in the agenda, telling reporters repeatedly that they were in “listening mode,” gathering input from citizens.
But several Republican aides said Monday that the agenda will be built from the five basic planks outlined in the recess document: jobs, national security, spending restraint, government reform and health care.
“This summer, House Republicans are going to be talking about specific solutions that address the priorities we’ve heard from the American people through America Speaking Out,” one GOP aide said. “Consistent with this project’s unparalleled transparency and direct citizen engagement, our members will be asking for feedback on these ideas at hundreds of town halls across the country.”
The aide cautioned that the exact details of what is included in the agenda may change by the time the final version is released but confirmed that the basic outline of what Republicans will release is included in the 22-page packet.
“A number of the solutions outlined may well end up as part of our governing agenda, some may not, and others may be added, but it will be that input that our members hear this summer which will ultimately shape the final product,” the aide said.
The section of the document on spending restraint is the lengthiest of the five issue areas and includes proposals such as a cap on discretionary federal spending, the elimination of “unnecessary or duplicative federal programs” and a budget freeze for the legislative branch.
The section also proposes that the House hold weekly votes to cut spending.
But the fiscal restraint portion of the draft has already received criticism from inside the Republican ranks.
Russell Vought, former policy director for the House Republican Conference, on Monday wrote on the conservative website RedState.com that a draft of the new GOP agenda lacks a “bold” approach to spending, and he encouraged conservatives to attend Republican town halls and tell lawmakers to “go big or go home.”
Vought charged that an agenda without a “bold, overarching spending proposal that would define spending restraint’ or fiscal discipline'” would be worthless. Vought suggested limiting federal spending to one-fifth of the economy or passing a balanced-budget amendment.
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Chief Deputy Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), said the agenda project is designed to solicit public opinion and said anyone can take part in the process.
“This is the point of America Speaking Out — anyone with an idea can engage in the process and work to make it part of the new governing agenda,” he said.
In the national security section, Republicans indicate that they plan to address immigration — a topic neither party has rushed to address on the House floor for several years.
The Republican proposals deal mostly with border security issues, such as providing border guards “operational control and prohibiting bureaucracies from interfering with enforcement activities on federal lands,” rather than a more comprehensive approach to immigration reform.
The packet also proposes “reaffirming the Inherent Authority of State and Local Enforcement Powers” — an apparent nod to Arizona’s controversial immigration law that was recently put on hold by a federal judge.
Under the government reform section, proposals include a ban on omnibus spending bills, a mandate for open rules on any bill that spends taxpayer funds and a reform of the legislative agenda so that bills to “name post offices” and “congratulate sports teams” would no longer take up floor time.
Some of the items on the list are familiar GOP themes, such as the health care reform section that reiterates the Republican “repeal and replace” health care mantra. The document lists proposals advocated by Republicans during the health care debate including medical liability reform, allowing people to purchase health care across state lines and allowing small businesses to pool together to lower health care rates.
Republicans will also push the codification of the Hyde amendment to block federal funds from being used to fund abortion.
Democrats have said that Republicans promote the policies of the past and that the GOP health care plan would eliminate care for the Americans who need it the most.