House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-CA) on Friday unveiled a conservative populist agenda ahead of the midterm elections, giving voters a sense of what Republicans hope to accomplish if they can win control of one or both houses of Congress in November.
Speaking to a crowd in Monongahela, Pennsylvania, and joined by a number of Republican representatives, including Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and rising far-right star Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), McCarthy said the House GOP agenda addresses key issues facing the country, including inflation, energy costs, crime, education and immigration.
What’s in it: The agenda — dubbed the “Commitment to America,” echoing Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America,” which provided a rallying point for Republicans as they regained control of the House in 1994 — is light on details, offering more sweeping statements than legislative nuts and bolts. “Starting Day One,” it says, “we will work to deliver an economy that’s strong, a nation that’s safe, a future that’s built on freedom, and a government that’s accountable.”
The House Republicans did offer some red meat for conservative voters, touching on populist and nationalist themes that resonate with the Republican base, even if the specific proposals would be difficult if not impossible to accomplish with a Democrat sitting in the White House.
For example, McCarthy promised that GOP lawmakers would reverse the Biden administration’s plan to increase IRS funding by $80 billion over 10 years, with some of that funding going toward hiring new staff. “On our first bill, we're going to repeal 87,000 IRS agents,” McCarthy said.
Claiming that crime is “skyrocketing” as a direct result of “Democrats’ one-party, defund the police policies and rhetoric,” Stefanik said House Republicans would “immediately ensure that we hire 200,000 more police officers across this country to make sure that our communities are safe.” She also said they would “go after the radical leftist prosecutors [and] DAs who are refusing to abide by the rule of law and are prioritizing the criminals rather than the law-abiding citizens.”
Scalise and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) vowed to use the House’s oversight and investigative powers to look into issues including China’s role in the Covid-19 pandemic and the situation at the southern border. “We will give Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas a reserved parking spot, he will be testifying so much about this,” Scalise said, referring to the head of Homeland Security.
Playing it safe: Henry Olsen, a conservative opinion writer at The Washington Post, noted the lack of specifics details on broad policy issues. The plan “doesn’t exactly provide a clear picture as to what a Republican-led House might actually do in power,” he wrote. “Instead, it safely hews to clear GOP staples, such as encouraging private-sector growth and making America safe at home and abroad.”
That vagueness is certainly intentional. A more specific policy platform issued early this year by Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) drew a backlash and ongoing Democratic attacks. The House GOP agenda’s lack of specifics, by contrast, is a safer play as Republicans seek to regain power in Congress and McCarthy maneuvers to be the next speaker.
“Nothing in the document contains anything particularly innovative, and that’s probably both by design and smart,” Olsen wrote. “Genuinely creative ideas can become the lightning rod of a campaign, and the party has no need to put forward potentially controversial proposals. It only needs to gain five seats to retake the House.”
At the same time, the lack of policy details could make it harder to rally supporters. “The flip side is that the Republican leader offered no captivating concept to generate enthusiasm among voters,” Olsen said. “Prior House GOP campaign efforts have included ideas such as embracing the then-revolutionary idea of across-the-board tax cuts (1978) or congressional term limits (1994).”
Still, the plan seems to be going over well with GOP lawmakers, who have been reluctant to provide any details on their agenda since former president Donald Trump took over the reins of the party. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) saluted McCarthy’s effort. “Less inflation. More law and order. Parents' rights. Border security. American energy,” McConnell said in a tweet.
Biden responds: Speaking at an event hosted by the Democratic National Committee in Washington, President Joe Biden pushed back against the criticisms leveled by House Republicans, dismissing their agenda as “a thin series of policy goals with little or no detail.”
Biden offered to fill in the details, giving his interpretation of what Republicans might do if they are victorious in November. “If Republicans win control of the Congress, abortion will be banned,” he said, before noting that he would veto any such effort.
He also took aim at GOP lawmakers who have proposed to fundamentally alter the way Social Security is authorized and funded. “So, in 46 days, America is going to face a choice,” Biden said. “If Republicans control the Congress, Social Security will be on the chopping block.”
The bottom line: With Republicans expected to gain control of the House in the midterms, McCarthy clearly has his eyes set on the speakership. With his “Commitment to America,” McCarthy is attempting to give his fellow conservatives a positive agenda to run on that moves beyond criticism of Biden and the Democratic Party — though Republicans still prefer to have the election be a referendum on the president and his policies.