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The GOP's 'Pledge to America': a closer look at the details

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Want to know what the GOP would do if it wins control of the House? House Republicans rolled out their 21-page policy agenda Thursday at a hardware store in Sterling, Va.

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Blake Gopnik at the Corcoran

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By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 24, 2010; 12:07 AM

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Government reform

Proposals: Republicans have a series of ideas that would change how Congress works. They would require Congress to cite the specific constitutional authority that undergirds each piece of legislation, to post bills online 72 hours before votes, and to make sure that measures are passed "one at time," meaning legislation would not be packed with numerous provisions, as often happens now.

Why they are proposing it: In two words, the tea party. Throughout last year, GOP lawmakers heard activists at town hall meetings asking repeatedly if they had read the entire health-care bill (which ran nearly 2,000 pages) and how Congress had the authority to pass it.

How it would work on paper: These are all fairly simple ideas in theory. The idea is that Congress won't pass bills like the health-care legislation because they won't find permission to do so in the Constitution. Members of the public would have days to read legislation and propose changes.

How it would work in actuality: These things were not done often from 1995 to 2006, when Republicans ran Congress. Why? It's difficult enough to get members of the same party to agree on legislation; the result is that bills often contain unrelated provisions to bring in more votes.

Congress tends to find in the Constitution whatever authority it needs to do as it pleases, no matter which party is in charge. Democrats already post most legislation days before votes, so this proposal would not lead to a meaningful change.

How it is similar to the "Contract With America": As in 1994, Republicans are proposing a variety of ideas to reform how Congress works. Just as they did then, they want to make sure that most committee meetings are open, and they want to reduce how much Congress spends on its own operations.

How it differs: Republicans in 1994 proposed term limits (12 years for members of Congress), an idea they have abandoned. Their ideas to demand that bills be posted online 72 hours before votes and to cite the constitutional authority for them are new.

Health care

Proposals: Republicans call for repealing the health-care law President Obama signed this year. In its place, they would enact a series of ideas that the GOP has long touted, such as health savings accounts, enrolling people with chronic illnesses in state-run high-risk pools and limiting medical malpractice lawsuits against doctors.

Why they are proposing it: The health-care law is highly unpopular among Republicans, and party leaders pledged almost as soon as it was passed to attempt to repeal it.

How it would work on paper: Republicans would pass a repeal through Congress, get it signed by the president (or override his veto), and then start trying to pass their own health-care ideas. Most nonpartisan analyses suggest that the various GOP ideas would insure far fewer people than the Democratic law, which is expected to cover more than 30 million people who now lack insurance.


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