With a spate of retirements, defections and defeats, Democratic candidates are falling like flies. It seems a good year to be a Republican. But there's still a big problem: The brand is still damaged goods -- and too many Americans have no notion of what the GOP stand for. Most likely, Republicans can gain seats in 2010 by doing nothing, but many voters still wonder whether a "party of 'No!'" can govern if handed the baton? Can negativism really lead to long-term success?
Perhaps the answer is to take a page from Newt Gingrich and his band of 1994 revolutionaries, who picked up a net gain of 53 House Seats that year after crafting a famous campaign document that Democrats and journalists dismissed as a gimmick, but which many voters saw as a clear mission statement for how they planned to use power if they won.
It was called the Contract with America, and it's time to reprise it with a 21st-century version. This very notion was broached just yesterday with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell by NBC correspondent David Gregory, host of "Meet the Press":
Gregory: Does the Republican Party, in this election year, need what the Republicans had in 1994, which is a Contract with America . . . to get 300 Republicans to sign up for no new taxes and a balanced budget? Do you see that as being a necessity this year?
McConnell: Yeah, I think we will have a plan. We've had a plan, an alternate plan, on everything this year, and I think we'll have an alternate plan for the voters in, in November.
Gregory: So you will have a contract with America for 2010?
McConnell: Well, I don't know what it, what it'll be called . . .
What follows are my suggestions for what a 21st century compact might look like. Call it the GOP Contract with America, version 2.0. -- call it whatever you want. It would not be a "purity test," but instead a promise from the party leadership to the American people that if Republicans are given control of the Congress, the following acts will be brought to a vote in the 112th Congress:
The American Health Care Act: Perhaps Massachusetts voters have already taken care of this, but Republicans should pledge to repeal ObamaCare in full. The Democrats want a victory on this issue, and they will still likely pass something. But Republicans must also pass meaningful health care reform of their own -- reform that adheres to conservative principles: Real health care reform would include the uncoupling of health insurance from employment, the ability to purchase insurance across state lines, the ability to legally purchase a la carte (or "non-Cadillac") health insurance, along with further medical malpractice limits.
The e-Congress Act
: The 1994 Contract with America included a "Citizen Legislature Act" that called for term limits. Federal term limits did not pass, but technological innovations unavailable to Gingrich's guerrillas could now be used to foster an environment conducive to members staying connected to the citizens who send them to Washington. One promising idea (previously discussed here
) would require Congress to hold some of their votes electronically -- the goal being to keep them in their districts more -- and away from the lobbyists, perks, and other temptations of Washington.
The Limited Government and Transparency Act: From Day One, Republicans should end the practice of congressional earmarks -- one of the Republicans' undoing when they last held power -- and they should also pledge to support zero future bailouts, and force the immediate federal divestiture of all auto-industry holdings. They should also pledge to allow C-SPAN cameras to cover any and all votes, including those taking place now in the highly secretive House-Senate conference committees. Republicans should once again call for an amendment that would require a balanced budget, unless sanctioned by a three-fifths vote in both houses of Congress. Lastly, Republicans should commit to reduce the absolute -- not proportional, but absolute -- size of federal spending by 10 percent in their first year.
The Energy Independence Now Act: For decades, politicians have talked about energy independence, but nothing has happened. In 2008, Barack Obama said he was focused on putting resources "into solar, wind, biodiesel, geothermal . . . and [developing] a highly fuel efficient car." John McCain favored all those conservation measures -- and more -- but he also looked at the hard facts and called for the U.S. to authorize the immediate building of 45 new nuclear power plants, which he noted would only be a start toward energy independence. Our guy was right. Nuclear power is a sustainable source of energy that does not create air pollution or generate greenhouse emissions. Republicans should up the ante and call for 100 new nuclear power facilities, promise tax credits for conservation, and pledge to immediately lift bans on offshore drilling for oil and natural gas exploration in all federal lands and coasts.
The Strong National Defense Act: Republicans should take bold steps to reassert American power in the world. This would include passing an explicit resolution that an Iranian nuclear weapon is a casus belli justifying regime change in that nation, by force if necessary. Republicans should also offer the kind of explicit and active support for the Iranian democracy movement that President Obama has refused to give. Republicans should reassert that the goal for the war in Afghanistan is to win, with winning being defined as the death or capture of every al Qaeda leader active on September 11, 2001, starting with Osama bin Laden; and the establishment of an Afghan-government ability to hold off the Taliban. Republicans should also insist on reviving missile defense for our European allies, and pass a statute explicitly allowing enemy combatants to be tried in military tribunals.
Secure Our Borders Act: Republicans candidates would pledge to vote to secure U.S. borders next year, and then follow that measure with common-sense solutions to deal with people already here. Once our borders are secure, Republicans should insist on a complete rewrite of American immigration law to eliminate "chain migrations" that reward lawful applicants who have desired skills, or who come from nations with historic ties to the United States -- ranging from Ireland to Mexico.
The Free Campaign Speech and Workplace Act
: In the wake of the last week's landmark Supreme Court free speech decision, Citizens United v. the Federal Elections Commission
, Republicans should pledge to repeal whatever remnants of the ill-considered McCain/Feingold legislation that limit the free exercise of political speech. Contract with America 2.0 should also distinctly oppose any return of the so-called "Fairness Doctrine," and Republicans should pledge to support the rights of union members to have a secret ballot.
The Science and Final Frontiers Act: Republicans should dare the nation to once again do great things. John F. Kennedy challenged America to go to the moon in a decade, but many of today's Democrats would refuse to follow such a call. Republicans should carry the torch of vigorous endeavor, starting with a goal of putting a man on Mars by 2019. Republicans should also pledge to pass legislation to make eradication of cancer the nation's top national health priority. Some 20 percent of Americans die from this disease. Attacking it head-on would require the United States to foster a once-in-a-generation push in research and development that would make America the envy of the world -- and would benefit the entire world as well.
The Savings for the Future Act : Republicans would champion legislation allowing Americans to redirect up to 15 percent of Social Security contributions into a personal retirement account.
The Educate America Act: Too many inner-city, poor, or otherwise at-risk children are doomed to attend failing schools. Republicans should support vouchers and tax credits for families who wish to send their children to private schools.
Many strategists would say it's a mistake for Republicans to telegraph their goals in this way. Presenting a plan gives the Democrats a target to attack. That truism was also present in 1994, however, when the GOP leaders in Congress had a serious decision to make. With President Clinton's popularity sinking, polls showed the GOP making huge gains in Congress, no matter what they did. Many Republicans urged their party leaders to simply stand pat. When things are going well, why risk it?
Gingrich ignored those who wanted to play it safe, and ordered his lieutenants to produce the now-famous "Contract with America." The upshot was that for the first time in 40 years, Republicans gained control of Congress.
Gingrich himself became speaker of the House. John Boehner: It's your serve.