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House GOP campaign platform promises a rebuild from current circumstances

Plan would increase funding for police, among policy choices

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., along with House Republicans, speaks on the House steps to announce the “Commitment to America agenda on Tuesday, September 15, 2020.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., along with House Republicans, speaks on the House steps to announce the “Commitment to America agenda on Tuesday, September 15, 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Less than two months before the November election, House Republicans on Tuesday revealed their agenda, which aims to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, rebuild the economy and increase funding for the police.

The House GOP’s “Commitment to America” outlines their legislative priorities if they win the majority this fall. The announcement comes after the Republican National Committee chose not to craft an updated platform for 2020 and to use the same one adopted at the 2016 Republican National Convention instead.

(One of the results of not updating the 2016 platform is that it leaves in such comments as “For the past 8 years America has been led in the wrong direction,” and “The President has been regulating to death a free market economy that he does not like and does not understand,” creating an incentive to put forward an updated set of goals.)

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said at a rollout event at the Capitol that his conference’s commitment applies to all Americans, regardless of their party affiliation, gender or race.

“We will restore your way of life,” the California Republican said. “We will rebuild the greatest economy and we will renew the American dream. Join us and let’s reunite this nation.”

Since President Donald Trump was elected in 2016, Republicans have controlled the executive branch and legislative branch, with the exception of House Democrats winning the majority in that chamber in 2018. McCarthy, first elected in 2006, was majority leader from 2013 until 2019 and has been minority leader since then.

The plan seeks to quell the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 194,000 Americans this year.

“We’ve worked with this president to make sure there’s funding at the National Institutes of Health and there’s funding at CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services], HHS [Department of Health and Human Services] and other agencies that are working feverishly to find a vaccine and other remedies,” said House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. “And we’re on the doorstep of a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 because of that work.”

Since the May police killing of George Floyd, protests have unleashed a nationwide call to grapple with police brutality and implement changes in law enforcement operations. There have also been calls to tighten spending on police forces, with some calling to “defund the police,” although the phrase means different things to different people, including shifting some responsibilities from police to other social services.

House Republicans are proposing to increase police funding by $1.75 billion for training, community policing and equipment. This includes 500,000 more police body cameras. Rep. Pete Stauber, a former police officer, spoke on that issue. Stauber flipped a Democratic seat in Minnesota in the 2018 elections, a rare bright spot for the chamber’s Republicans in 2018.

“The war on police must end. The terrorizing and elimination of law enforcement must stop,” Stauber said. “Law and order will be restored in our communities. We will not abolish or defund the police.”

The agenda also says it will focus on adding 10 million new jobs, cutting American dependence on China, bolstering economic security and improving the country’s infrastructure.

School choice is also a priority for Republicans.

“Right now, folks, we need to give parents the choice to send their kids to the best schools, to the safest schools and to the right schools for their children,” California Rep. Mike Garcia said. Garcia won an open seat in California previously held by a Democrat, Katie Hill, who resigned last year amid a sex scandal.

The launch of policy platforms before an election has become a common occurrence, particularly since 1994 when Newt Gingrich and then-minority Republicans offered the Contract with America and, subsequently, the Republicans won the House back. Gingrich became speaker after the win that fall.

David A. Hopkins, a political science professor at Boston College, said he has yet to see evidence that voters care about such releases.

“Both parties in the House have become fond of releasing these pre-election plans, apparently based on the belief that the Contract with America was a key factor in the outcome of the 1994 midterm election,” Hopkins said in an email. “But I’ve never seen any evidence that voters have ever taken much notice of them, in 1994 or any other time, and it’s even harder to break through in a presidential election year.”

In 2016, Speaker Paul D. Ryan unveiled his “A Better Way” framework that focused on overhauling the tax code, a priority that became law in 2017.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairwoman Cheri Bustos was critical of the Republicans’ announcement.

“Leader McCarthy’s theatrics can’t paper over the fact that Washington Republicans have consistently put politics before public safety,” the Illinois Democrat said in a statement. “Throughout this crisis, House Republicans have downplayed the severity of COVID-19, tried to rip away Americans’ health coverage, and opposed legislation to guarantee the American people a lifeline as we stabilize our economy and combat the virus.”

Election handicappers are forecasting that the Democrats will hold on to their House majority. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales projects 236 House Democrats in the next Congress and 191 House Republicans. There are eight “Toss-up” races, with six of them held currently by Republicans and two by Democrats.

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