On the assumption that a good idea—even one that’s 15 years old—can never be replicated enough, Washington conservatives are hard at work designing knockoffs of Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America. Three of them, in fact.
The options so far:
Republican Study Committee: On Wednesday, I reported that Republican Study Committee members have joined with movement conservative groups on a “solutions agenda,” to be released sometime in the coming year. The RSC declined to elaborate, but they do have a collection of legislation that could be bundled together in a similar fashion to the original Contract’s ten bills that candidates pledged to bring to a vote in 1995. In addition, Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist told me their contract could include popular bumper sticker issues like a prohibition on czars and a waiting period for lawmakers to “read the bill.”
House Republican Leadership: Also on Wednesday, whip Eric Cantor told Politico that he’s planning to roll out a “21st Century Blueprint” sometime in September, the same month the original was released. Unlike Newt’s Contract, however, Cantor’s document will just be a list of “principles” by which the party promises to govern—the commitments will be just nebulous enough that no one will be able to prove he betrayed them. Perhaps Cantor is learning from the aftermath of the Republican Revolution; though most pieces of the Contract did come to the floor for a vote, Gingrich ended up with egg on his face when he had to back off the more controversial elements, like denying welfare benefits to legal immigrants. Or maybe Gingrich’s heirs just don’t have ten ideas worth offering—GOP leadership is reportedly going with an “80-20” strategy in 2010, spending 20 percent of their time on a positive agenda, and the rest attacking Democrats.
Jason Chaffetz:In what could either signify a complete lack of coordination or a brazen defiance of leadership, Utah freshman Jason Chaffetz announced his own “Contract for the American Dream” on Wednesday with a post at the Corner. Its 27 provisions run from vague (“Engage in entitlement reform”) to relatively specific (“repeal all EPA funding related to carbon policy”) to … already in effect (“require that 100% of all campaign donations be filed with the Federal Election Commission”). But this plan hits more than just principles. Chaffetz has also proposed “12 Action Items,” ranging from the usual suspects—a balanced budget amendment and line item veto—to more unorthodox ones: In an aside at the end, he suggests that members of Congress sleep on cots in their office, just like he does.
Chaffetz says he’s aware of the other contracts floating around, but has been working on his own for about four months now. “I think that’s the best one, I think that’s the direction we should go,” he told me on the phone from the airport. It just landed on his fellow members’ desks on Wednesday—“They haven’t had time to digest it yet”—but already, congressional candidates in Colorado and Washington have signed on.
“In this case, you hope it gets a virus, and shares it far and wide,” Chaffetz chirped.
BONUS CONTRACT: Not to be left out, the folks at Tea Party Patriots are crowdsourcing their own “Contract FROM America.” It will probably be crazy.
Lydia DePillis is a reporter-researcher for The New Republic.