Jonathan Chait

Contract With America Redux

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Politico reports that Republicans can't agree on their new Contract With America:

Republicans are salivating over the prospect of winning back the House in November, and they’re planning to produce a new “Contract With America” in the hopes of sealing the deal. 

The catch: They don’t agree yet on what should be in it. 

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor wants a document, akin to Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Contract With America, that identifies specific pieces of legislation Republicans could pass if they win back the House. He thinks Republicans should “put up or shut up,” an aide close to the process said. 

So does Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, the House Republican Conference chairman. The party doesn’t need “sloganeering,” someone familiar with his thinking said, and he favors an approach that “tells people what [the party] want[s] and how you’re going to do it.” 

But Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who is leading the effort to craft the document, says that including specific legislation in the contract would smack of the backroom deals the GOP accuses Democrats of making, so “you won’t see it written out.” 

I love McCarthy's explanation: they're not going to tell the voters what they plan to do because coming up with a plan would require a "backroom deal." It would be pretty funny if Republicans actually started taking their health care reform rhetoric seriously. There will be no GOP platform in 2012 -- that's a backroom deal! And the party will immediately abandon any policy proposal that falls below 50% in the polls.

Anyway, the GOP's trouble crafting a specific alternative is a bit of kabuki theater -- obviously, the party can't pass anything during 2011 or 2012. But the inability or unwillingness to present a detailed plan is still fairly telling. On health care, they've inhabited the sweet spot between favoring the status quo, which is unacceptable, and drafting a specific plan, which would be unpopular, by championing some vague alternative which would contain all the popular elements of the Democratic approach but none of the (necessary) unpopular components. On fiscal policy, it's the eternal Republican plan: specific tax cuts, unspecified spending cuts, and fantastical promises of deficit reduction.

It drives home the degree to which the GOP's success since the start of 2009 is 0% the result of its positions and 100% the result of being the out-party during an economic crisis.

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