kind of agenda - different from the president's State of the Union
address and the anticipated Democratic election year document
- is scheduled to be unveiled early next month to House Republicans:
"The Suburban Agenda."
work of a group of 22 GOP Members from across the party's ideological
spectrum and led by moderate Rep. Mark Kirk (Ill.), who's also
tried to sell it to President Bush's top political adviser, Karl
a laundry-list policy agenda, Kirk told me in an interview, this
agenda is designed to answer the problems faced by a suburban
family as it moves through its day.
Chicago's northern suburbs, and other members of the "suburban
strategy caucus" represent the suburbs of such cities as
New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, Cleveland, Atlanta and Denver.
strategic political intent behind trying to build the 2006 GOP
legislative strategy around the suburbs: More than half of U.S.
voters live in the 'burbs, and these places, formerly Republican
strongholds, have been trending Democratic in recent years.
As Fred Barnes
pointed out in the Weekly Standard earlier this month,
what Kirk calls the "inburbs" of major cities - as opposed
to the more-distant exurbs - are increasingly Democratic.
was represented in the 1960s by current Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld and for two decades by GOP Rep. John Porter. Kirk carried
it with 64 percent of the vote in 2004 - far better than the 47
percent President Bush won in the district.
In the 2005
Virginia gubernatorial race, Democrat Tim Kaine won the close-in
Washington, D.C., suburbs of Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax
by huge margins. Of the 14 districts held by GOP representatives
but carried by Democratic nominee John Kerry (Mass.) in 2004,
virtually all are suburban. At the same time, there are 12 suburban
districts held by Democrats that Bush carried. So it's not a stretch
to say that suburban voters will decide who controls the House
after this year's elections.
others in the suburban caucus are scheduled to make the case for
their agenda at the House GOP Members' retreat Feb. 9, which follows
leadership elections Feb. 1.
20 issues of concern to suburbanites tested in his district and
rated by GOP pollster John McLaughlin. McLaughlin is currently
in the field with a more sophisticated poll of other suburbs to
determine, for example, whether voters are willing to pay for
proposals in the package.
At the end
of the day, there is a "laundry list" of proposals -
"20 defining issues to win the suburbs and keep our Republican
majority," Kirk calls it. But he insists that he got there
simply by tracing a day in suburbia.
wake up in the morning and you might turn on the radio and hear
about Iraq and the war on terror and you want it solved, but then
you think, 'OK, I've got to get to work,'" Kirk said.
long does it take to get there? Am I going to drive by strip malls
the whole way? Can't we have more open space?'" McLaughlin
found that 83 percent of Kirk's constituents support limits on
the lawsuits that delay Superfund environmental cleanups. Rep.
Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) is the caucus' open spaces presenter.
to work," Kirk continued. "The average American has
five jobs in a working life. If I switch, I don't want to be left
high and dry without health insurance. Current COBRA regs allow
me to pay for only 18 months of coverage? Why not indefinite?"
of health insurance and expansion of health savings accounts got
overwhelming support in McLaughlin's poll. Rep. Nancy Johnson
(R-Conn.) is the caucus expert in that area.
my kids went to school. My wife has probably looked up to see
whether there's a pedophile in our neighborhood, but why shouldn't
our school district be able to pay the federal government $50
to background check on new teachers and coaches?"
suburbs have an increased presence of youth gangs. In my district,
Lake County, the 16th wealthiest in the country, has identified
3,000 members of international gangs. Why shouldn't the federal
Bureau of Alchohol, Tobacco and Firearms not also be the Bureau
of Gangs to help localities?
also need to clarify the 4th Amendment, so that privacy rights
do not extend to school lockers, to make sure there are no weapons
or drugs in school." Rep. Dave Reichert (Wash.), former sheriff
of King County (Seattle), is the caucus' lead advocate on youth
crime, which is also a theme of first lady Laura Bush.
on the suburban agenda include a federal requirement that all
medical records be made electronic by a certain date and a "401-Kids"
tax-benefited savings plan allowing parents to set up accounts
that children could use for purposes other than college tuition,
which is now covered by 529 plans.
found strong support for several kinds of tax credits - for first-time
homebuyers, for computers and tutors for children and for new-career
training for adults. Respondents also favored eliminating the
estate tax. Significantly, the entire suburban agenda has not
been costed-out and matched against the Republicans' stated goal
of closing the federal budget deficit.
is designed to keep Republicans in power, but many of the items
- electronic health records and anti-gang measures, for sure -
ought to be bipartisan. It wouldn't be surprising if there's a
bidding war for the support of the suburbs.
Kondracke is the Executive Editor of Roll Call.