Tea Party activists and libertarians who will be attending the Republican National Convention next week won major victories in the draft platform that will be voted on by the full convention.
The final draft, approved late Tuesday, solidifies the rightward drift of the Republican Party that has occurred during President Barack Obama’s four years in office. With advisors for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney looking on, the 100-plus delegates on a platform-writing committee chaired by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell steered a far more conservative path than delegates to the 2008 convention that nominated Arizona Senator John McCain.
In addition to endorsing moves toward privatizing Medicare, a flatter income tax and giving Congress veto power over next regulations at the Environmental Protection Agency – planks not contained in the 2008 document -- the 60-page draft platform called for a permanent audit of the Federal Reserve and establishment of a national commission to study returning to the gold standard. Those planks were pushed by backers of Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who will have about eight percent of the 2,286 delegates attending the four-day convention.
Even on planks that have been part of Republican Party orthodoxy for years, the more strident tone of Tea Party activists carried the day during two days of deliberations. For instance, the section calling for a balanced budget amendment to the constitution included language that would require a super majority in Congress to raise taxes or raise the debt ceiling except during times of war.
“Throughout the process the Romney people were present . . . their goal was to avoid boxing him in,” said Dean Clancy, legislative counsel for FreedomWorks, the Tea Party think tank started by former Senator Dick Armey. “They fought specifics like on the balanced budget amendment.”
There were at least a few major disputes pitting ultra-conservative delegates against special interests who have traditionally played a major role in Republican Party platform writing. According to a Wall Street Journal report, the plank on housing at first called for repealing the home mortgage interest deduction, which would be one way to make up revenue lost by lowering income tax rates, which is a key part of the tax reform plank. But real estate interests had that language eliminated from the final draft.
“In the tax section, it says all the income tax rates should be reduced by 20 percent in a revenue-neutral manner,” Clancy said. “It’s essentially Romney’s plan – you’d have to eliminate some deductions and credits to pay for it.”
But in a major concession to flat tax advocates, delegates approved an amendment that endorsed a “flatter tax.” That’s more like the two tax brackets included in Rep. Paul Ryan’s tax plan than the current six brackets in the tax code, which Romney’s original tax plan would have preserved, Clancy said.
The draft platform also adopted the deregulatory fervor of House Republicans, which has been embraced by the Romney campaign. It endorsed the so-called REINS act (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) that would require Congress to approve any regulation that cost business more than $100 million. The Environmental Protection Agency under such a law would have to win a vote in Congress any time it wanted to enforce the Clean Water, Clean Air and other environmental laws that are already on the books.
On health care, the platform endorsed changing Medicare to a premium support or voucher program along the lines advocated by Ryan and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon last December. However, unlike Ryan-Wyden (and unlike either Ryan’s first or third plans), it does not specify a level of government support for the vouchers, which leaves the candidate free to make his own interpretation – or none at all.
The same is true for the platform’s energy plank, which endorsed an all-of-the-above approach for energy development and included verbal support for alternative energy, as has previous Republican platforms. It also backed the Keystone pipeline, which has been controversial among Democrats and Republicans in Nebraska because of fears it might poison local water aquifers.
It’s standard in articles about campaign platforms to point out that candidates pay little attention to them as they craft their campaign messages. That’s especially true for convention platform, since Romney, like many presidential candidates before him, has avoided specifics on as many issues as possible.
However, it is probably worth reading when it is eventually released to the public next week. Based on preliminary reports, historians may eventually look back on it as a primary document for assessing the rightward evolution of the early 21st century Republican Party.