WASHINGTON-Standing in a Virginia lumber store, top House Republicans in their shirtsleeves announced their party's plan if it takes control of the House. The 21-page "Pledge to America" focuses on reining in government regulation and spending as well as repealing portions of healthcare reform, like the mandate that small businesses file 1099 forms for any purchase over $600.
An echo of the GOP's 1994 "Contract with America," most of the proposals were broad-giving Democrats few launching pads for attacks. The pledge reflected Tea Party concerns, too, describing the government as "arrogant and out-of-touch" and mentioning the need for fidelity to the Constitution and "founding principles" numerous times.
Initial reports indicated that the Republican Party would bypass social issues in the proposal, but it included, for example, a promise to codify a ban on federal funding for abortion. The issues appear in the pledge's introduction: "We pledge to honor families, traditional marriage, life, and the private and faith based organizations that form the core of our American values."
Robert George, a Catholic legal scholar at Princeton University who was one of the authors of the Manhattan Declaration, a manifesto on life and marriage issues that garnered about half a million signatures, pushed the Republican leadership to include those issues in their pledge.
"We recognize that the country's attention is focused on the economic crisis," George told me. "We know that that has to be dealt with and that has to be given a high priority." But he was pleased with the pledge: "We got a clear reaffirmation from the party's leadership of the party's commitment to these principles."
House Republican Leader John Boehner, in remarks at Tart Lumber Company Thursday, said the GOP's commitment to marriage and life issues isn't anything new: "We're not going to be any different than we've been. We're going to stand up for what we believe in." Boehner, in his second term in Congress, helped draft the "Contract with America" in 1994.
George contends that the economy hasn't entirely sidelined traditional values issues, but that they are still determining winners and losers in campaigns across the country: "If you look at successful insurgent candidates, in case after case after case, they are pro-life and pro-marriage people."
Notably absent from the plan's rollout was Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who two years ago authored the "Roadmap for America's Future," a detailed policy proposal that included touchy subjects like entitlement reform. Ryan told Roll Call that the pledge was "good" and by way of explaining why his "Roadmap" wasn't included he said, "We have to recognize that if we get the majority, we will be dealing with a divided government situation. We don't want to over-promise."
Republicans did promise to push for permanent tax cuts, to cut Congress' own budget, and to post legislation online 72 hours before a vote. The party is also pushing for tort reform, a measure to reduce litigation in the medical industry. Internationally, the GOP is pushing for enforcement of sanctions against Iran and restoring missile defense funding.
To download and read the "Pledge to America," click here.