Republicans Tussle Over What ‘Pledge’ Doesn’t Say

Posted September 29, 2010 at 7:11pm

House Republicans anticipating a GOP takeover in November are wrestling behind the scenes with how far to push their ‘Pledge to America’ next year, with some wanting to push a bolder, broader and more controversial agenda.

The pledge’s focus on fiscal issues and repealing the health care law has strong support across the Republican Conference, given the state of the economy.

But some Members are already starting to push a host of other bills that have been stymied in recent years ‘ from free-trade agreements to a new crackdown on illegal immigration to a parental notification bill for teen abortions ‘ that were ignored in the pledge or given relatively short shrift.

Conservative Rep. Steve King said a series of items like immigration policy should be ripe for floor consideration next year and garner bipartisan support. The Iowa Republican is pushing legislation requiring employers to use E-Verify systems to ensure they do not hire illegal immigrants, a bill that would tax employers on every dollar paid to an illegal immigrant, and an end to birthright citizenship.

King said he intends to raise the profile of such issues. ‘We need to raise the expectations,’ he said. ‘I want to move fast.’

But bringing up a host of controversial items right off the bat is the wrong way to go, other Republicans suggested, saying leadership rightly has focused on fiscal issues.

‘Getting jobs back on track and cutting spending has to be 99 percent of our focus,’ Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said. ‘Those are tough enough. I don’t think we’ll make the same mistake as the Democrats, where they tried to shove this whole agenda and go from issue to issue to issue.’

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland said leadership needs to be smart in picking their battles on what they want to do next year, given that they face a Democrat in the White House.

‘I think that Republicans understand that right now we’ve got to be focused on jobs and the economy,’ the Georgia Republican said.

Brady, meanwhile, said the pledge doesn’t cover everything he or Republicans would like to do, nor was that intended. For instance, he said, he thinks it’s critical to get free-trade agreements with other countries back on track.

And Brady and some other conservative Republicans also want to extend this year’s GOP moratorium on earmarks, an issue the pledge avoided but that is sure to be a contentious one for Republicans next year.

‘The moratorium needs to continue until we have reformed that process and blocked the abuses unequivocally,’ he said.

Even on broader fiscal issues, a debate is emerging within the party over whether to propose a budget that would balance the budget ‘ or simply cut the deficit. The pledge is vague on that point; it promises $100 billion annually in unspecified spending cuts and a ‘path’ to a balanced budget, but it offers nothing concrete that would come close to aligning spending and revenue.

Conservative Rep. Jim Jordan said there will be a push for Republicans to adopt a budget that eliminates the deficit within a decade, like the Republican Study Committee’s austere budget blueprint last year.

The Ohio Republican said traditional values also have to be part of the governing agenda, such as cutting funding for Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide abortions and codifying the Hyde amendment banning abortion funding ‘ something mentioned in the pledge.

‘The key is we’ve got to come out of the gate doing exactly what we said we were going to do,’ he said.

Conservative Rep. Jeb Hensarling said he’s also pushing a constitutional amendment limiting federal spending to one-fifth the size of the economy ‘ a far bolder proposal than anything included in the pledge.

‘I got plenty of priorities,’ the Texas Republican said. ‘The main [one] is to obviously save America from bankruptcy.’

Others simply wanted to avoid talking about what specifically they plan to do until the voters have spoken. ‘Let me wait until Nov. 2,’ Judiciary ranking member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said.

‘Right now the to-do list is to convince the American people to elect Republicans,’ Energy and Commerce ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas) said.

Energy policy was almost completely ignored by the pledge, although Barton said he plans on moving bipartisan energy bills in the event he is granted a term-limits waiver and becomes chairman again.

‘The [2005] Energy Policy Act would be the model. It was bipartisan, universal and included incentives for alternative energy but also an emphasis on conventional,’ he said.

Upgrading electric grids and natural gas pipelines, developing clean coal technology and ending the Obama administration’s ban on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico are among the items Barton said could be a focus next year.

But while Barton said he also planned to have aggressive oversight of the Obama administration, his goal would be to produce policy.

‘I want bill signing ceremonies, and to do that, you’ve got to be bipartisan,’ he said. ‘You can be pro-energy-development and environmentally acceptable.’

Education and Labor ranking member John Kline (R-Minn.) said his panel has a host of issues that have to be dealt with, from a bipartisan rewrite of the No Child Left Behind law to pension legislation.

And then the question is what happens on entitlement spending, the elephant in the room that the pledge mentions only in passing.

‘As leader Boehner said, we’re going to have to have an adult and hopefully bipartisan discussion on entitlement spending, and that’s a major discussion and a major debate and I don’t know if anybody right now can forecast what the answer will be, but we’re going to have to do something,’ Kline said.

Anna Palmer and Kathleen Hunter contributed to this report.