POSTED: 06:39 a.m. HST, Sep 23, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 08:04 a.m. HST, Sep 23, 2010
STERLING, Va. — Pushing toward big gains on Nov. 2, House Republicans promised to end a slew of Democratic policies and restore Americans' trust in government as they rolled out a campaign manifesto designed to show they're listening to an angry public and are focused on creating jobs.
"The land of opportunity has become the land of shrinking prosperity ... Our government has failed us," Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California declared. "We will take back our country. We will restore for a better future. This is our pledge to you."
At a hardware store in suburban Washington, senior House Republicans in shirt sleeves showed off the 21-page document they say would guide them should they gain a majority of seats in the midterm balloting five weeks away.
The "Pledge to America" was filled with familiar proposals to slash taxes and spending and cut down on government regulation, as well as repeal President Barack Obama's health care law and end his stimulus program. In a show of unity, Senate Republicans and Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, issued strong statements of support.
The unveiling capped a private debate among Republicans that had pitted those who favored making an agenda public against others who argued it would merely open the party's candidates to criticism in a campaign that has been tilting their way.
Republicans have sought to turn the midterm elections into a referendum on the policies of President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress. Democrats, in turn, want it to become a choice between two alternatives — what they describe as their own efforts to fix the economy, as opposed to what they criticize as Bush-era policies that led to a severe recession.
For their part, Democrats dismissed the GOP plan as recycled ideas that would further exacerbate the nation's problems.
"Republicans want to return to the same failed economic policies that hurt millions of Americans and threatened our economy," said Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
With polls showing voters disenchanted with Obama, worried about the economy and mad at elected officials, the agenda also vows to change the way Congress works — requiring every bill to cite its constitutional authority, for example, and to be made public for three days before a vote.
"Putting spending, putting the policy of economic growth in place and cleaning up the way Congress works is not only a stark contrast to this president and this Congress," said Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. "It's a contrast to the way we conducted ourselves a decade ago. We spent too much money. We lost our way."
The plan steers clear of specifics on important issues, such as how it will "put government on a path to a balanced budget." It omits altogether the question of how to address looming shortfalls in Social Security and Medicare, which account for a huge portion of the nation's soaring deficit, instead including a vague promise: "We will make the decisions that are necessary to protect our entitlement programs."
Republicans are favored to add substantially to their ranks on Nov. 2, perhaps enough to seize control of the House.
Their new agenda is rife with the kind of grass-roots rhetoric that could appeal both to tea party activists and to independent voters the GOP is courting in its quest for control.
"Regarding the policies of the current government, the governed do not consent," the pledge says. "An arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites makes decisions, issues mandates and enacts laws without accepting or requesting the input of the many."
Polls show large majorities are fed up with Congress and both parties and show Republicans have a chance to earn the public's trust on key issues.
The latest Associated Press-GfK poll found nearly three-quarters disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job, with 68 percent disapproving of Republicans compared with 60 percent disapproving of Democrats.
Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, the head of Republicans' House campaign committee, said the agenda was drafted to answer the public's skepticism about government and give them a "deliverable."
"A number of people are very cynical about the reliability and the sincerity of either party," Sessions said. "We've put things on a sheet of paper."
AP Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.