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Being simply the “party of no” against President Barack Obama has worked well for Republicans all year, and they’re poised for big election gains.
But now, after internal GOP debate and relentless White House goading, Republicans eager to show voters that they’re ready to govern and that they stand for something have rolled out a policy agenda of their own. And, perhaps, played right into the Democrats’ hands.
House GOP leader John Boehner cast the “Pledge to America” as “a new governing agenda, built by listening to the American people, that offers a new way forward.” But he also acknowledged that it lacked specifics on important subjects like Social Security and Medicaid.
Much of it also adhered generally to age-old GOP principles.
“They want the next two years to look like the eight years before I took office,” Obama asserted in New York. He derided the GOP plan as “the exact same agenda” even before the GOP officially rolled it out.
And his Democratic Party piled on.
“All House Republicans did was recycle the failed economic policies of President Bush that put special interests and multinational CEOs above American families,” said Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who leads the House Democrats’ campaign effort.
Facing a stiff political headwind, Democrats are grasping for any strategy they can find to minimize an expected shellacking on Nov. 2. And the GOP’s campaign manifesto gives the president’s party a potentially valuable tool as it tries cast the midterm elections as a choice that voters must make between two economic visions rather than a referendum on Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress as Republicans want.
With the 21-page GOP document, Democrats now have something to point to as they seek to bolster their claim that Republicans offer nothing more than the same policies of the past. The plan also is filled with material for Democrats to use to draw sharp contrasts with GOP candidates in a campaign that has been tilting the Republicans’ way.
Also, just when Republican primary season divisions were starting to heal, the GOP agenda is highlighting fissures within the party. Republicans in the Senate, GOP governors and several of the party’s potential 2012 presidential candidates signed on, but conservatives complained about what was included and what was left out.
None of that is ideal for Republicans with just over five weeks until the election.
Out of power in the White House and Congress, the GOP is favored to gain large numbers of House, Senate and gubernatorial seats. Republicans are the likely beneficiary of an electorate that again is craving change just two years after Democrats rose to power in the White House and four years after they won control of Congress.
When voters are as bitter as polls say they are now, Republicans have been happy to offer themselves as an alternative to the status quo.
But they’ve also concluded that that alone is not enough.
Their private internal debate has pitted those who favored rolling out a governing plan against others worried it would open GOP candidates to criticism.
Strategists advising House Republicans told them that voters want the GOP to do more than just say Democratic policies have failed. These strategists stressed the need for Republicans to show voters — and specifically independents who had swung away from Democrats since helping elect Obama in 2008 — that they have a plan for action. There also were concerns that Democrats were making inroads by painting Republicans as obstructionists.
“Our government has failed us,” said Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “We have been listening and we heard you.”
Blending longtime GOP orthodoxy with a call for more responsible government, the GOP document provides a general roadmap for how out-of-power Republicans would govern. It says they’d focus on job creation and spending control while changing the way Congress does business. They’d cut taxes. Federal spending, too. Replace Obama’s health care plan. And, in a nod to the party’s conservative wing, ban federal funding of abortion.
It’s all political ammunition for Democrats.
Obama and his party long have castigated Republicans as “the party of no” as the GOP stood mostly in lockstep against the president’s sweeping agenda.
Recently, the White House has pushed the GOP to offer detailed proposals, particularly on the economy.
“In a political campaign, the easiest thing for the other side to do is not to put forward any specifics, not to put forward any plans, but just try to ride that anger and fear all the way to Election Day. And that’s what’s happening right now,” Obama said earlier this week.
Republicans answered the call Thursday.
Whether GOP candidates up and down the ballot — they span the ideological spectrum from moderate to conservative to tea party — embrace the document is an open question.
Certainly, Democrats will put Republicans on the spot, forcing them to answer queries about the agenda that includes this vague statement: “We pledge to honor families, traditional marriage, life, and the private and faith-based organizations that form the core of our American values.”
Pressed about that sentence specifically, Boehner assured people: “We are not going to be any different than what we’ve been.”
It was a line that White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was happy to echo, in different context: “Most of the American people will see it’s very much in line with what the Republican Party has proposed for the past many years.”
Liz Sidoti has covered national politics for The Associated Press since 2003.
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