Thursday, April 19, 2018
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Pledges, priorities, and pleas

John BoehnerBy Camille Elhassani

Republicans in the US House of Representatives have unveiled their party’s manifesto ahead of the November 2 Midterm elections.

Among the action items listed in the document are repealling healthcare reform, cutting spending, and blocking Guantanamo detainees from being tried in the US.

In rolling out the so-called Pledge to America at a lumber company outside Washington DC, House Minority Leader John Boehner said: "The federal government is too big, it spends too much, and it's out of control."

Boehner said it's a "new way forward". Yet it’s short on specifics – cut spending how? Repeal healthcare and replace it with what? 

The document is 48 pages long, but the text is interspersed with pictures of Americana, like the Statue of Liberty and cowboys.

In the introduction, the document blames Democrats for being overly partisan. "The most important decisions are made behind closed doors, where a flurry of backroom deals has supplanted the will of the people," it says.

Democrats have already dismissed it. The White House communications director wrote on the White House blog: "The document was largely fluff obscuring a return to the same old special interest policies that caused this recession."

Publishing a to-do list isn't new to political parties on the outside trying to win the majority – in 1994, the Republicans famously came out with a Contract with America which helped them take control of the House and Senate. Democrats have also played this game successfully. In 2006, they unveiled Six for '06, which highlighted their election promises.

The Pledge to America comes from the leadership of the 178 Republicans in the House of Representatives. Obviously the Republican Party is much larger than those 178 people – the Senate Republicans, the national Republican Party, and the Tea Party movement weren't involved in formulating the document. And some may not be happy with its lack of specifics.

The Tea Party isn't a traditional political party with a platform. The movement has supported conservative candidates on the Republican ticket in many states.

The "Tea" in Tea Party stands for "Taxed Enough Already".  The movement got started as push back against healthcare reform as a new big government plan that would spend too much of Americans' hard earned tax dollars. But since it's a movement not a party, each tea party spinoff group has its own ideas – the Tea Party Express, Tea Party Patriots, Tea Party Nation, etc.

There is no uniting agenda, and the Pledge to America certainly won't be enough for the movement. One tea party supporter, blogger Erick Erickson, said the Pledge is “"ike a diet full of sugar, it will actually do nothing but keep making Washington fatter before we crash from the sugar high".

With so many groups vying for control of the Republican Party and no clear leader uniting the diverse conservative movement, Boehner and his 177 colleagues knew the Pledge to America needed to be short on specifics and long on promises. 

But Republicans may not need to get too specific to win voters. Polls show the economic climate and anger at the Democrats in office are enough to swing a key demographic - independent voters. A new Pew Research Center poll found independent voters support Republicans by around the same margins that they went for Obama in 2008.

While Boehner pledged his party is "ready to get it done," the manifesto/campaign promises leave a lot of room for them to continue to blame the White House or Congressional Democrats if in two more years the government continues to spend money, taxes continue to be levied, and the unemployment rate remains high.

Camille Elhassani is Al Jazeera English's Senior White House Producer.

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