New Contract With America nearly done; candidates won't sign it

Republicans will not sign the new “Contract with America,” and GOP candidates won’t be invited to the document’s unveiling, unlike in 1994.

Sixteen years ago, more than 300 Republican congressional candidates marched up the Capitol steps to sign the original pledge, which called for fiscal responsibility, term limits and a crackdown on crime.

ADVERTISEMENT
But this year, according to several sources, candidates will not be asked to attend — because the new Contract is being pushed as a governing effort rather than an electoral one.

Brendan Buck, a spokesman for the effort, stressed that the new Contract will be a guide for how Republicans would run the House and said signing such a document is not necessary.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is playing a leading role in the formulation of the Contract, said, “This is a government document. We're writing these bills now. Candidates are out campaigning. This is about legislation — doing it right now."

Inevitably, though, the document will be seen through the campaign prism – especially because its release will come just weeks before the midterm elections. Furthermore, because they’re in the minority, Republicans cannot schedule votes on their legislative wish list. In November, campaign analysts say they have at least a 50-50 chance to win back House control.

The decision not to have Republican candidates at the official release of the Contract comes as the GOP is wrestling with how to deal with the Tea Party. The movement has helped Republicans generate turnout in primaries, but it has also defeated establishment candidates in the GOP, most recently Rep. Michael Castle (Del.).

A few Republicans, including Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (Fla.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.) and Ray LaHood (Ill.), opted not to sign the 1994 pledge. As some centrists balked at that Contract, some conservatives – including Jack Kemp – said at that time it was not bold enough.

Whatever Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) releases this year, it is likely that some Tea Party favorites will say the 2010 Contract falls short.

Rutgers political science professor Ross K. Baker said Republican leaders are making a wise choice by keeping candidates: “Tea Party-backed candidates might be reluctant to accede to a document that they don’t endorse or still see as the product of the party establishment.”

He added, “There’s nothing more frustrating than to put all this work into a kind of philosophy of governing and then have a substantial number of people say, ‘That’s not something I can endorse.’”

House Republicans say they will release their Contract in late September, just as soon-to-be Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) did in 1994.

Said McCarthy: “It will come out this month.”

Others say there is a chance that the timetable could slip until next month. A few Republicans said waiting could actually bring an advantage.

“You don't want to do it too soon. If they are still in session, [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid [D-Nev.] and [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] can hold a vote the moment you are holding a press conference. This is one of those moments where if they do it past the session, then the Democrats can have no response," said Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform.

“There isn’t a hard and fast date,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.). “That’s being debated.”

It is unclear what will be in the new Contract, though the new healthcare reform law, taxes, national security and government regulations are likely to be addressed. Congressional term limits are unlikely to be in the 2010 Contract.

Social conservatives, who held more power in the GOP 16 years ago than they do today, are pressing Republican leaders to highlight family values.

In a statement Thursday, president of the Susan B. Anthony List Marjorie Dannenfelser said, “This blueprint must include pro-life priorities spelled out in a broader family values plank. It would be an electorally costly mistake for the GOP to write off one leg of the three-legged stool of Ronald Reagan conservatism.”

For the past several months, GOP leadership aides and lawmakers worked to solicit ideas from the public, their constituents, interest groups, advocacy organizations. Boehner called on McCarthy to coordinate that effort, which included creation of a website platform, AmericaSpeakingOut.com, where registered users can submit ideas and vote on them.

GOP lawmakers have also held hundreds of town hall meetings specifically to gather feedback from constituents and voters on how what bills should be considered on the House floor.

A leadership aide told The Hill that GOP members will take time this week to compare notes before a final product will be ready.

In an interview earlier this year, Boehner indicated that Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is not involved in writing the new Contract. And while some Senate Republicans have expressed interest in the document, the new Contract will mostly be written by House GOP leaders.