US Republicans resurrect spirit of Newt Gingrich

Click to follow
The Independent US

Republicans yesterday launched a broad agenda to cut taxes, slim down government and roll back President Obama's healthcare reform that they hope will propel them to victory in November's Congressional elections.

"A Pledge to America" is deliberately modelled on the "Contract with America" released a few weeks before the midterms of 1994, when the party led by Speaker-to-be Newt Gingrich recaptured both the Senate and House of Representatives. It seeks to harness voter anger and frustration with "big government" and "politics as usual" that, if anything, is greater than 16 years ago.

In keeping with this mood, the programme was presented far from the pomp and fanfare of Capitol Hill, in a small household goods store in Virginia. The party's main spokesmen yesterday were not veteran Republican Congressional leaders, but young, recently elected members untainted by the ways of Washington. The 21-page "Pledge" is also intended to blunt criticism that Republicans are the "party of No", who have spent the last 20 months systematically opposing every proposal from the White House and the majority Democrats, without any ideas of their own.

It sets out two dozen proposals, some specific, some little more than aspirations. They add up to a familiar Republican platform, of cutting both taxes and spending, combined with measures appealing to social conservatives, such as a ban on government funding for abortion. They include:

* The extension of the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 for all Americans;

* A freeze on most domestic spending, except defence and Social Security for the elderly;

* A hiring freeze in all government departments, except those handling security and defence;

* Tax cuts for small business, worth up to 20 per cent of turnover;

* A Congressional vote on every new federal regulation costing more than $100m (£60m);

* Withdrawal of all unspent money from President Obama's $870bn stimulus package of 2009 and 2008 bank rescue package;

* The repeal of the March 2010 healthcare bill.

The "Pledge" quickly came under fire, not only from Democrats arguing that it resurrected George W Bush's policies that had led the economy to disaster – but also from some Republican groups, saying it was more of the bureaucratic, inside-the-beltway manoeuvring of which the country was heartily tired. Critics also said the proposals were conspicuously unspecific, especially over cuts in the entitlement programmes of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that account for the vast bulk of domestic spending. Republican leaders yesterday said only that they would "make the decisions that are necessary".

The chances that Republicans will actually get their way are mixed at best. Though they seem on track to make the net 39-seat gain that would give them control of the House, most analysts say the 10-seat pick-up required in the Senate is a very tall order. Even if they do take charge of both chambers, many of the moves would run into a veto by President Obama. Whatever majorities Republicans achieve will fall far short of the two-thirds needed to override a veto.