Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Republicans Drafting a New Contract with America

Summary: Will history repeat itself? With the GOP drafting the Ten for '10, we look to 2006 and 1994 for signs of what the midterm 2010 elections will bring.

In an ideas piece today, former Congressman Martin Frost (D-TX) took issue with the growing intrigue over whether the midterm elections in 2010 will resemble the Republican Revolution of 1994.

From the piece:

On the surface, a comparison might seem to make sense. After all, in 1994, newly elected Democratic President Bill Clinton was serving his first two years, and there were Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate. And we all know what happened: Republicans won control of both chambers in a historic rout.

However, that is all that these two very different political years have in common.

First and foremost among the differences was that House Democrats in 1994 were a tired, old majority that had run out of steam after being in control for 40 years. The most recent Republican majority in the House had occurred during the opening two years, 1953 and 1954, of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first term. Democrats in 1994 were complacent, assuming they were a permanent House majority. Also, they were short on new ideas and did not have strong leadership. Democrats today have policy ideas and clearly have energetic leadership.

Also, there were a number of factors at play in 1994 that are not present in 2010. Leading the list was the fact that Democrats had to defend a large number of open seats because of retirements and members running for other offices. A total of 18 such open seats were lost by the Democrats. So far, Democratic retirements have been held to a minimum…

…Some other seats were lost in the South as a delayed result of the 1991 redistricting, in which Republicans made gains but vulnerable incumbents were able to hold on for one more term in 1992. Redistricting also may have played a role in the decision by some of the 18 Democrats mentioned above who retired.

Also, because the Republican tide broke late in the 1994 election cycle, some Democrats never saw it coming. Classic examples were Reps. Dan Glickman in Kansas and David Price in North Carolina. Price won his seat back after a two-year absence, but Glickman never returned to Congress. And some Democrats were swept from power because of a specific scandal (Rep. Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois) and the gun control issue (biggest example being Rep. Jack Brooks of Texas)…

…Also, Democrats fell victim to an easily understood scandal: the continuing controversy over bounced checks at the House bank. The current flap over New York Rep. Charles Rangel’s alleged ethical issues has nowhere near the impact of the House bank scandal.

So why do the media continue to make comparisons between 1994 and 2010? The main reason is that the party of the president almost always loses some congressional seats in the first election following a presidential victory, and the problems that Congress faces right now are monumental in scope. The only recent exceptions to this were 1934 (President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first term) and 2002 (President George W. Bush’s first term).

None of this adds up to a landslide for Republicans. The only thing that could result in a major realignment would be high unemployment in fall 2010. Democrats know that and will do everything in their power to stabilize the economic situation.

There was, however, one paragraph where he might have been wrong:

Another difference between the two election years is that Republicans in 1994 actually stood for something. They weren’t just the “party of no.” Then-Minority Whip Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Texas Rep. Dick Armey put together their Contract With America, which gave Republican House candidates across the country a unified platform.

But the GOP knows they have a “party of no” image, and they are trying to shed it from their candidates.

Before the Democrats retook control of Congress in 2006, they carried their own “party of no” image (although those weren’t exactly the words used). Conservatives often pointed towards the minority leadership of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid along with their party as the “whiney liberals” in Congress.

In 2006, of course, Pelosi, Reid, and other Democratic leaders put together the “Six for ‘06” plan - not too unlike the Contract with America - and came back to power.

Among the platform proposals of that plan: implementing all recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, raising the minimum wage and negotiating lower drug prices for Medicare recipients.

Now, according to CQ Politics, Republicans are putting together another such platform which is informally being called “Ten for ‘10”

From the article:

[Rep. Tom Price (R-GA)], chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, said members of the conference are coming up with recommended policy planks that would provide voters “a commitment to accomplish certain ends.”

Among proposals floated so far by members: a ban on spending unused funds from this year’s economic stimulus law (PL 111-5), tougher earmark disclosure requirements and an “all of the above” climate change plan that would expand offshore oil drilling.

Whether proposals like these resonate with Americans on a values level - like many of the “Six for ‘06” ones did - is a little difficult to imagine. It’s hard to boast a plan for earmark disclosure when Americans are worried about losing their jobs.

As we said in a post after the general election last year:

On the issues, the Republican Party is having difficulty framing winning arguments on trickle-down economics, climate change, and health care reform. The key issues that Lee Atwater used to bolt the Republicans for over twenty years were welfare and crime, but today they have little resonance.

Being the “party of no” is not all the GOP has to worry about - Republican leaders must not let it become the “party of ‘who cares’” too.

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