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House GOP plots policy agenda for 2022 midterm elections — with help from architect of 1994 plan

Newt Gingrich, who wrote the ‘Contract with America,' is working with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on a similar effort

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in December on Capitol Hill. McCarthy is hoping to engineer a GOP takeover of the House in this fall's midterms. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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Senior House Republicans are putting together a list of policy pledges to run on in the 2022 elections, and they are consulting with the architect of one of their biggest historical midterm victories.

Newt Gingrich, whose “Contract with America” in 1994 is linked with the GOP takeover of Congress in that midterm cycle, said he has been advising House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) on a set of policy items for Republicans to take to voters ahead of the November elections. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) and other members of House Republican leadership are also involved in the project, which is not expected to launch until the spring or summer.

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Republicans are expected to focus their new platform on education policies aimed at tapping into parental discontent; countering the rise of China with new economic measures; and “oversight” of the Biden administration. They are also looking at invoking other traditional GOP goals such as cutting taxes, restricting immigration, criticizing Silicon Valley and repealing environmental rules.

It was unclear what the party would have to say about one of the biggest issues in recent years: the long-standing GOP effort to unravel or repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The talks between McCarthy and Gingrich offer a sharp contrast to the strategy that Senate Republicans are using, which largely amounts to sitting on the sidelines and allowing Democrats to continue warring with each other as public sentiment turns against the party in power. Democrats hold a razor-thin majority in the Senate and a narrow majority in the House of Representatives.

Asked to explain the GOP agenda if the party takes back Congress, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Wednesday: “That’s a very good question. And I’ll let you know when we take it back.”

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, one of the GOP’s top recruits to run for Senate in 2022, told the Washington Examiner this week that he decided against doing so in part because his conversations with Republican senators led him to believe they only plan to “be a roadblock” to President Biden’s agenda. Biden cited Sununu’s remarks at his news conference Wednesday.

“Think about this: What are Republicans for? What are they for? Name me one thing they’re for,” the president said.

By contrast, McCarthy told Breitbart last week that his caucus is working on producing policy positions — some of which have already been released — that will then be rolled into a broader pledge outlining the House GOP’s key policy priorities. But questions abound about the seriousness of that effort and whether the Republican policy platforms will amount to much more than a messaging effort. Democrats say they are eager for the GOP to release a policy vision they can run against, believing it is far easier for Republicans to point out problems in the economy than offer material solutions.

The nature of the House GOP pledges could define the 2022 midterms and the balance of power in Congress, while also reflecting the party’s top priorities should it win the election. The Trump administration ended amid a failure to contain the pandemic and disastrous national economic circumstances, and the GOP has been immersed in an internal feud over Donald Trump’s repeated falsehoods about the results of the 2020 presidential election. The federal deficit also exploded under Trump, in part as a result of the coronavirus pandemic but also because of the 2017 GOP tax cuts.

“Basically other than tax cuts for rich people, it’s very hard to see what the GOP has by way of economic policy,” said Dean Baker, a liberal economist. “Republicans have over years deliberately gutted government in all sorts of areas where it was intended to benefit working people and the poor, and there’s no reason to think they’ve changed.”

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Gingrich said he is hopeful the GOP will incorporate a “balanced budget amendment,” a long-sought conservative policy goal that would require enormous cuts to federal spending programs. He argued that Republicans will provide a robust agenda that is not merely about opposing Biden.

“[McCarthy] really does want to drive home that we can’t just have a negative anti-Biden campaign — we need a positive message, too,” Gingrich told The Washington Post. “I think that’s clearly what McCarthy wants to do and I’ve offered to look at stuff and offer advice. There’s lots of people in the House working on it. It will be a widespread commitment.”

McCarthy’s office said in a statement that Republicans will also focus on challenging “Big Tech” with antitrust and other measures, as well as changing congressional rules, such as by repealing mask mandates, removing magnetic scanners from the floor of the House and abolishing voting by proxy. Republicans will also resist Biden’s tax measures, including the global minimum corporate tax negotiated by Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and the 15 percent minimum tax the White House has pushed on large corporations. Politico recently reported that he privately remains more supportive of Big Tech than his public comments suggest.

“Anytime you have an election that has contrast, clear contrast — like, if Republicans were trusted with the majority, what would you do?” McCarthy told Breitbart. “We’ll come out with a Commitment to America. … We’ve been working on policy.”

The blueprint is expected to emerge from meetings with House GOP task forces led by Republican lawmakers gathering input over months. But it is also likely to expose tensions within the GOP coalition on economic and other policy issues.

Business elites close to the party, for instance, remain opposed to the tariffs and other trade restrictions imposed by Trump during his presidency, although many GOP lawmakers also want to increase economic pressure on China. The party also largely abandoned its pledge to cut spending under Trump, despite long-standing GOP promises to balance the federal budget.

“I don’t think they’ll call it the ‘Contract for America,’ but there is going to be some kind of very robust Republican promise list for what they will do if or when they take control of the House,” said Stephen Moore, who served as an outside economic adviser to Trump.

Inflation emerges as defining economic challenge of Biden presidency, with no obvious solution at hand

Among the biggest questions facing the GOP is what it will put forward on inflation, which has quickly emerged as a defining economic challenge for the White House. Republicans have blamed Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic relief plan for fueling rising prices. But beyond putting the brakes on spending, it is unclear exactly what the GOP wants to do to combat the price pressures. Republican officials have talked about reducing energy costs by repealing limits on fossil fuel production, despite the threat caused by climate change.

“There is nothing that messages well, significantly reduces inflation and is painless,” said Brian Riedl, who served as an aide to Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). “It’s easier to criticize inflation than to map out an actual solution going forward, and that’s the box Republicans are currently in.”

The idea of “parents’ rights” as a political strategy emerged from last year’s gubernatorial race in Virginia, where Republican Glenn Youngkin won election in part by promising that parents would have more say in their children’s education.

McCarthy has released a “Parents Bill of Rights” that would not make big changes in education but would send some new mandates to school districts, some of which duplicate actions that are already routine or covered by existing rules and laws.

For instance, they would require that districts post curriculum and school budgets, which are typically available through public records requests, as well as lists of books in school libraries, which are less likely to be available. Parents are also to be informed that they have the right to meet with their child’s teacher twice a year, already a common practice.

The document also asserts that parents have a “right to be heard.” School boards almost uniformly allow for public comment, though some have shut meetings down because of disruptions including screaming and threats of violence.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) discussed the attack on the Capitol on Jan 13, 2021. He was asked about it again exactly a year later. (Video: The Washington Post)