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Some Supporters Fret as GOP Readies Agenda

Some Supporters Fret as GOP Readies Agenda

By Erin McPike - September 7, 2010


Just weeks before House Republican leaders are set to announce the contents of a proposed governing agenda if they retake the majority, some GOP politicians and grasstops activists are growing nervous about those plans.

House GOP leaders scheduled the rollout for these guiding principles -- similar to former Speaker Newt Gingrich's 1994 "Contract With America" -- late in the campaign cycle, in part to avoid internal struggles and criticism from Democrats just when on the cusp of a potential return to power. But both the substance of what the GOP leaders will unveil later this month and the method for collecting the ideas that will comprise the list has some of their own worried, including candidates and conservative activists.

Earlier this year, a team of leading House Republicans and their staffs devised a program called "America Speaking Out," which allows any visitor to the program's Web site to enter ideas about what issues Congress should be legislating. Next, Republicans in the lower chamber were encouraged at the beginning of this August's congressional recess to discuss ideas laid out in a 22-page packet provided to RealClearPolitics, and then return to Washington this month with feedback from their constituents. The effort is not unlike Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's "listening tour" throughout New York in 1999 that warmed voters to her when she was preparing to make her first successful Senate bid in the Empire State.

So far, House Republicans have shown discipline and stayed on message on jobs and the economy; there are 16 mentions of the word, "jobs," in the packet. But there are two problems with the current effort: One is the wing of activists primarily concerned with social issues, and the other is the possible size of the incoming class of GOP freshmen who collectively would be the reason for the party's return to power.

Many high-level conservative activists agree that the most pressing issue of this cycle is the economy, but some are not willing to let up on matters close to them, either.

In an interview, Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser warned: "To only lead on one issue at a time is a non-sequitur." She added, "That's not real leadership." Dannenfelser's group advocates on behalf of women in politics who are pro-life, and she hopes to see substantial pro-life language in the House Republicans' agenda but is not entirely optimistic.

The 22-page recess packet of trial balloons does include an explicit ban on all federal funding for abortion. That's one item on Dannenfelser's list, but she has two more: requiring parental notification for abortion-seeking minors, and requiring physicians who perform abortions to notify women who are at least 20 weeks into their pregnancies that fetuses can feel pain in the process.

Said Dannenfelser, "The conservative base of the Republican Party is so strong at this moment, the most divisive thing that could happen would be to leave out the family values third of the issue base." Her group has undertaken its own small media blitz, "Life Speaking Out," to lobby the House GOP on abortion issues and prevent the omission. A release announcing the campaign noted, "Missing from the GOP's original Contract in 1994 was any emphasis on policies protecting the unborn. Pro-life legislation was not made a priority in the following Congress."

A source within the House Republicans' official efforts said it was only a matter of time until some dissension began.

The nervousness extends beyond the abortion issue, however. A staffer close to the project advised that the current agenda setting is just that, and will not resemble a petition candidates are asked to sign. House GOP staffers hope that Republican candidates simply will endorse the agenda when it is announced, which they estimate will fall around the third week this month.

Still, there are candidates who are wary of glomming onto something that's cloaked in the Republican label. One such Midwestern GOP House candidate confided to RealClearPolitics recently that he took his fears straight to a congressman who is one of the project leaders and was impressed with the leader's reassurances that it would steer clear of controversy and the kind of Republican branding that could work against him in his uphill battle of a race.

Four-term Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, a conservative whose endorsement carries a lot of sway with the grassroots in the Hawkeye State and its prime role in the presidential primary, has a slightly different concern for those candidates.

An issue, he said, "is the very real possibility that there will be 50 or more new Republicans in the next Congress who have their own franchise to be respected but who will be faced with the implicit obligation to vote for and help pass a promised agenda that they had no part in putting together."

A handful of officials contacted for this story did not have a direct solution to that situation, but one noted that candidates are aware that many of the people of voting for them are the ones who have been engaged enough to have issued suggestions that will comprise the proposals.

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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