JEFFREY BROWN: Congressional Republicans went public with their Pledge to America today. It’s their policy goals if they win control of the House in the November elections.
NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman begins our coverage.
KWAME HOLMAN: It was a far cry from 1994’s Contract With America and the grand signing ceremony on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
Today, House Republican leaders appeared in shirtsleeves at a hardware and lumber store in suburban Virginia 30 miles from Capitol Hill with this year’s policy prescriptions.
Minority Leader John Boehner and his top lieutenants spelled out their central point.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), House Minority Leader: Government is out of control in Washington, and we need to rein it in, and begin a new drive for a smaller, less costly, and more accountable government in our nation’s capital. These are the things that the American people are demanding.
KWAME HOLMAN: While the backdrop has changed, Republicans hope their plan, called a Pledge to America, will produce results similar to 1994. That year’s plan helped the party gain 54 seats and claim the House majority for the first time in 40 years.
One of the main architects of the 2010 version is California’s Kevin McCarthy. He accused Democrats of ignoring the country’s wishes.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-Calif.: From the billion-dollar bailouts, to the stimulus package that failed to stimulate, to the government takeover of health care, you cried, stop. But the Democratic majority in Washington has refused to listen.
We are here today to tell you that we have been listening.
KWAME HOLMAN: In response, the House Republicans said they will permanently extend all the income tax cuts passed under President Bush, not just those for the middle class, as President Obama wants.
They also would give small businesses a tax deduction equal to 20 percent of their income and seek to repeal and replace the health care reform law enacted by Democrats this year. And they vowed to reduce government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels.
Indiana’s Mike Pence, the number-three House Republican, said that list shows his side is tuned to the nation’s mood.
REP. MIKE PENCE (R-Ind.): Well, our hope, as people look at the Pledge to America, is that they come to the conclusion that House Republicans get it, that, after a year of listening to the American people at town hall meetings, online, through the mail, through e-mail, that the ideas that we have presented here are ideas that this Congress should take up right now.
KWAME HOLMAN: The pledge offered few details of how to cut spending. And, on Social Security and Medicare, it called simply for making the necessary decisions to protect entitlement programs.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: I don’t have all of the solutions, but I believe that, if we work with the American people, the American people will want to work with us to come to grips with these challenges that face our country.
KWAME HOLMAN: Back at the Capitol, reaction from Democrats was swift and critical.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer:
REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), House Majority Leader: Pledges are easy to make, but the American voter needs to — needs to look at performance. Who left a $5.6 trillion surplus for this — for the last administration that was then squandered by two wars, two tax cuts, and a drug prescription bill, which we liked, but all of which was unpaid for, all of which was unpaid for?
So, I say to my friends on the other side, talk is cheap.
KWAME HOLMAN: Hoyer’s fellow Marylander Chris Van Hollen is in charge of the midterm campaign for House Democrats. He called the Republican plan just more of the same.
REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-Md): What they have done is taken eight years of Bush administration policies and recycled them, and repackaged them. And they’re trying to sell it as something different, when, if you look very carefully at the key provisions, it’s those failed policies all over again.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republican leaders dismissed the Democratic darts. They said the pledge is aimed at discontented voters of all stripes, especially independents.
And a Pew poll released today found independents who favor smaller government support Republican candidates by more than 2-1. Other polls have found the public disapproves of both parties, something Republican Leader Boehner acknowledged.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Listen, when Republicans were in charge of Congress, we made our fair share of mistakes. I think we have demonstrated over the last 20 months that Republicans have heard the American people.
KWAME HOLMAN: The party leaders now hope that taking the pledge will give voters something concrete. As one said today, “We have put things on a sheet of paper.”