GOP Drafts House Agenda for This Year

Posted May 24, 2010 at 6:23pm

House Republicans on Tuesday will kick off their effort to craft a new agenda with the launch of a website called AmericaSpeakingOut.com, with the intent of releasing a final document in September.

But the agenda will not map the GOP path to victory through the midterm elections; instead it will serve as a policy guide for the rest of the 111th Congress, Republican leaders insist. The current House calendar anticipates an Oct. 8 adjournment.

Brendan Buck, a spokesman for the project’s chairman, Chief Deputy Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), said the short life span is because of House rules, which bar Members from carrying House funds over to the next Congress.

“There has been a very big effort to make sure that we are doing this within all House rules,” Buck said. “So we will begin fighting for our policies as soon as this document is introduced, using legislative and parliamentary tools that we have available.”

Despite the small window of time the GOP will have to get its message out, Buck said Republicans would take the time necessary to craft a policy agenda based on public opinion.

“There’s going to be a months-long period of engaging with the American people, asking for their ideas and [gauging] what their priorities are, and that’s going to take time,” Buck said. “Most people come up with an agenda in a back room in Washington, put it forward and say here’s what it is, take it.”

Republican leaders will officially begin the process of soliciting ideas for the GOP agenda through AmericaSpeakingOut.com on Tuesday.

Project leaders McCarthy and Rep. Peter Roskam (Ill.) said in a Monday news release that the site will allow citizens to submit their ideas through “social media technologies” and provide an online forum “for policy debate and idea generation, leading to the creation of an agenda based on conservative principles to get America back on track.”

[IMGCAP(1)]The America Speaking Out initiative will also include town hall meetings and other public forums that will allow Republicans to gather ideas for the new GOP agenda from citizens around the country.

Republican leaders have said emphatically there would be no coordination with the campaign arms of the party because to do so would violate House rules, a point House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) reiterated during a meeting with reporters Monday.

Asked whether the final document would have any value if it were not used to assist candidates in the midterm elections, Pence said, “I think it’ll be clearer tomorrow that it is a part of a process that is engaging the American people in developing an agenda for Republicans going forward.”

The House Ethics Manual states that Members are barred from using any official resources — such as staff, office equipment or office space — for any campaign or political purposes.

The ethical minefield through which lawmakers must tiptoe to put together a policy agenda is well-worn territory.

Democrats launched their “Six for 06” agenda months before they took back the House in November 2006.

“‘Six for 06′ was an issue-oriented list of things that we promised to do,” said Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “We would have voted on them in 2006 if Republicans had allowed a vote.”

Daly said even though the “Six for 06” agenda could not be used for campaign purposes at the time, it communicated to the public the issues Democrats stood for and the type of legislation Democrats wanted to pursue.

The House Democratic agenda had legislation that corresponded to each of the issues listed.

Daly said that in the following year each agenda item passed on the House floor.

Buck said Republicans expect to introduce legislation to correspond with their agenda items after the agenda is released.

“At some point there will be legislation,” Buck said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be the day that we roll out the agenda. The point is to change policy and put forth policy solutions. That’s going to require [legislation].”

Congressional scholar Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said it is not credible to say the agenda is not intended for the 2010 campaign cycle.

“Its only purpose is as a campaign document,” Mann said in an e-mail. “They are in no position to shape policy before the election. It is a defensive move, to deal with the criticism that they are the party of ‘no.'”

But Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, said Republicans have to maintain that the document is not meant for the campaign trail, even if it is only a charade. “If they don’t, they are in danger of using taxpayer funds for campaign purposes,” she said.