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

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.

How it would work in actuality: Congress almost never repeals legislation it has passed, and the GOP would need help from plenty of Democrats to override an Obama veto. The more likely scenario is that Republicans, if they controlled Congress, trying to limit funding of certain parts of the health-care law, thereby slowing its implementation.

How it differs from the "Contract With America": Republicans proposed almost nothing about health-care in 1994 after defeating President Bill Clinton's plan.

Spending and taxes

Proposals: Republicans would freeze the hiring of non-security federal employees, cut Congress's budget, end increases on most domestic spending programs, stop any additional spending under the Troubled Assets Relief Program and last year's economic stimulus package and reduce government waste.

Why they are proposing it: Republicans have spent the past two years attacking Obama as a big spender, so they must show that they can cut spending themselves. And the growing national debt is a problem that both parties acknowledge but haven't fixed.

How it would work on paper: Congress passes yearly appropriations bills; it can limit or cut the spending in them, although the president must sign off on this.

How it would work in actuality: These ideas, even if all implemented, would do little to reduce the budget deficit or national debt. Republicans opted against requiring the budget to be balanced every year or making changes to Medicare or Social Security that would reduce deficits now and in the future.

Obama is unlikely to sign a law stopping the stimulus package, which he championed.

How it's similar to the "Contract With America": As in 1994, Republicans are proposing a variety of tax cuts and spending reductions, reducing tax rates on income and for small businesses. Then, too, they were vague on how they would balance the federal budget.

How it differs: Many of the ideas Republicans proposed in 1994, such as cutting taxes for married couples and providing a child tax credit, were enacted over their 12 years in power. So these proposals are different. For example, Republicans now want to keep in place tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003 under President George W. Bush.

National security

Proposals: Republicans did not offer a lot of detailed new proposals. They would bar trying accused terrorists on U.S. soil, not attach any unrelated measures to defense spending bills (as they accuse Democrats of doing) and "fully fund missile defense."

Why they are proposing it: Republicans have long defined themselves as the party that best understands national security, so they had to include these planks.

How it would work on paper: Congress can, in theory, affect foreign policy by denying funding for certain projects or increasing funding for others.

How it would work in actuality: Joined by some Democrats, Republicans have already effectively blocked Obama's plan to transfer accused terrorists from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States. Most of the other ideas would have to be approved by the president.

How it differs from the "Contract With America": The landscape of security issues was much different in 1994 than it is today, so the GOP's most specific idea, preventing trials of accused terrorists from happening in the United States, was not in the 1994 document.

Job creation

Proposals: Republicans would keep in place tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003, reduce regulations by federal agencies on businesses, and allow small businesses to deduct up to 20 percent of their business income.

Why they are proposing it: Voters of all stripes are concerned about job creation.

How it would work on paper: Republicans say that, by getting rid of regulations and reducing taxes, more businesses would start hiring workers, thereby aiding the economy.

How it would work in actuality: The Bush tax cuts will expire at the end of this year, before the Republicans could take control of Congress, so Democrats still hold a considerable amount of the sway on that issue, and the party wants to increase taxes on household income above $250,000 a year. Also, keeping in place all of the tax cuts would make it difficult to balance the budget in the foreseeable future.

Democrats argue that the GOP has tried many of these ideas in the past and they haven't worked. And it's not clear what role federal policies play in spurring recessions or economic recoveries.

How it's similar to the "Contract With America": Reducing taxes on small businesses and reducing federal regulations were included in both documents.

How it differs: The proposals of 2010, such as allowing small businesses to deduct 20 percent of their income, are new.

Moral issues

How it differs from the "Contract With America": In 1994, Republicans offered proposals to fight child pornography, reduce out-of-wedlock pregnancies and make it easier to impose the death penalty. This year, they said little about these issues beyond emphasizing their opposition to federal funding for abortion.

- Perry Bacon Jr.

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