- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2010

House Republicans on Thursday promised to cancel unspent stimulus funds, stop suspected terrorists from being tried in civilian courts, cut lawmakers’ own budgets and impose a hiring freeze on civilian federal workers if Americans vote for the GOP in November.

Tackling what they see as the excesses of President Obama’s tenure, House GOP lawmakers in their new “Pledge to America” promised to go the other direction on just about every move he’s made, including repealing the new health care law, cutting spending back to levels before he took office and keeping taxes at their Bush-era level.

“You cried ‘stop’ but the Democratic majority in Washington has refused to listen. We are here today to tell you we have been listening, and we heard you. We heard you loud and clear,” said Rep. Kevin McCarthy, California Republican and the man House Republicans tapped months ago to write the plan.

The document quickly drew support from Senate Republican leaders and the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, but it could complicate the election picture for all sides. It sets up the chance for Republicans to earn a mandate from voters in November on taxes and spending, but it also gives Democrats some specific targets to shoot at - and they wasted no time in doing so.

The White House said extending all the Bush tax cuts would cost $700 billion over 10 years, while cutting spending to 2008 levels would mean kicking 200,000 children off the Head Start education program, cutting thousands of FBI agents and federal corrections officers and detaining thousands fewer illegal immigrants.

And congressional Democrats said Republicans have little credibility on these issues after failing to cut spending under President George W. Bush.

“Pledges are easy to make, but the American voter needs to look at performance. Who created jobs? Who brought the deficit down? Who had four years of balanced budgets? Who left a $5.6 trillion surplus for the last administration that was then squandered by two wars, two tax cuts and a drug prescription bill?” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. “Talk is cheap. Performance is what voters ought to assess.”

The pledge hearkened back to the 1994 “Contract With America,” a list of steps House Republicans promised to take that year if voters pushed them to power. Historians debate the role of the contract, but the outcome of the election was the GOP winning both chambers of Congress.

One key focus for Republicans is tax cuts. They vowed to fight to preserve the Bush-era tax cuts for all taxpayers, including those for the wealthier, beyond their year-end expiration date.

Mr. Obama has called for extending middle-class tax cuts, but not those for the wealthier. But that has run into trouble within his own party, and Democratic leaders were uncertain Thursday if they would bring the matter to the floor before the elections.

Holding a vote could give Democrats a chance to score campaign points against the GOP, but many Democrats could also jump ship and join with Republicans in opposing the tax increases, which could be embarrassing for the president and his lieutenants on Capitol Hill.

House Republican leaders traveled 15 miles outside the Washington Beltway to a lumberyard in suburban Virginia to present their pledge at a press conference.

Standing amid stacks of wood, and with the scent of freshly cut lumber permeating, the Republicans said voters can trust them to have learned their lessons after being turned out of control of Congress in the 2006 elections.

“Our pledge to America is that the Republicans stand ready to get it done,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and the man in line to become House speaker if the GOP wins a majority.

The proposal gives Republicans an answer to the charge that they are the “party of no” - content to oppose Mr. Obama’s agenda without offering one of their own.

But there is some danger in laying out the list of promises - not least of which is that it gives Democrats targets to fire back at.

Until Thursday, analysts said most voters had been treating the election as a referendum on Democrats, who for the last 19 months have controlled Congress and the White House, and have pushed through an $814 billion stimulus package, a health care overhaul and new financial regulations on Wall Street.

Some conservatives were looking for a bigger mandate from Republican leaders. The free-market advocacy group Club for Growth called it a “milquetoast” pledge and said the GOP contradicted itself by proposing to limit legislation to things authorized by the Constitution, but also promising to match some of the mandates on health insurance companies included in Democrats’ health law.

The pledge also is silent on earmarks, the special directions lawmakers insert into spending bills to make sure pet projects in their home states or districts get funding.

House Republicans imposed a one-year moratorium on their members requesting earmarks this year, but many of them want to restart the practice, and neither Senate Republicans nor Democrats in either chamber followed the House GOP’s lead.

Republicans acknowledged their pledge does not tackle entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which analysts say are the main drivers of spending increases.

But Mr. Boehner said they are committed to any steps that can be taken now, and said Republicans will have to await an “adult conversation” with voters to reform the programs more broadly.

“I don’t have all of the solutions, but I believe if we work with the American people, the American people will want to work with us,” he said.

Mr. Obama has already called for that sort of conversation and, through executive order, created a deficit commission tasked with trying to come up with agreement on options lawmakers could take.

Among their specific pledges, Republicans said they would enact a 20 percent tax deduction for small businesses, end the Troubled Asset Relief Program, hold weekly votes on spending cuts on the House floor, end government support for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, impose a net hiring freeze on non-security federal workers and require the president to get congressional OK before imposing any regulations that would cost businesses more than $100 million to comply with.

The GOP promised to rein in the legislative process by requiring bill sponsors to cite specific constitutional authority for the measures they are trying to pass, and said they’ll stop using omnibus bills that combine many issues into a single must-pass package.

On security issues, Republicans said they’ll make the federal government a partner with, rather than an adversary of, localities trying to enforce immigration laws. And the leaders said they’ll keep Mr. Obama from transferring suspected terrorists to the U.S. from the detention facility at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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