Image: House Republican leader Boehner holds a copy of "A Pledge to America" in Sterling
LARRY DOWNING  /  Reuters
House Republican leader John Boehner appears at the Tart Lumber Company in Sterling, Virginia with House Republican Conference Vice Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and House Republican Chief Deputy Whip Kevin McCarthy.
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updated 9/23/2010 2:15:25 PM ET 2010-09-23T18:15:25

Pushing toward big gains on Nov. 2, House Republicans promised to end a slew of Democratic policies and restore Americans' trust in government as they rolled out a campaign manifesto designed to show they're listening to an angry public and are focused on creating jobs.

"The land of opportunity has become the land of shrinking prosperity ... Our government has failed us," Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California declared. "We will take back our country. We will restore for a better future. This is our pledge to you."

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At a hardware store in suburban Washington, senior House Republicans in shirt sleeves showed off the 21-page document they say would guide them should they gain a majority of seats in the midterm balloting five weeks away.

The "Pledge to America" was filled with familiar proposals to slash taxes and spending and cut down on government regulation, as well as repeal President Barack Obama's health care law and end his stimulus program. In a show of unity, Senate Republicans and Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, issued strong statements of support.

Video: Brokaw: GOP wants to capture magic of ’94 (on this page)

The unveiling capped a private debate among Republicans that had pitted those who favored making an agenda public against others who argued it would merely open the party's candidates to criticism in a campaign that has been tilting their way.

Republicans have sought to turn the midterm elections into a referendum on the policies of President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress. Democrats, in turn, want it to become a choice between two alternatives — what they describe as their own efforts to fix the economy, as opposed to what they criticize as Bush-era policies that led to a severe recession.

For their part, Democrats dismissed the GOP plan as recycled ideas that would further exacerbate the nation's problems.

"Republicans want to return to the same failed economic policies that hurt millions of Americans and threatened our economy," said Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

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With polls showing voters disenchanted with Obama, worried about the economy and mad at elected officials, the agenda also vows to change the way Congress works — requiring every bill to cite its constitutional authority, for example, and to be made public for three days before a vote.

"Putting spending, putting the policy of economic growth in place and cleaning up the way Congress works is not only a stark contrast to this president and this Congress," said Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. "It's a contrast to the way we conducted ourselves a decade ago. We spent too much money. We lost our way."

The plan steers clear of specifics on important issues, such as how it will "put government on a path to a balanced budget." It omits altogether the question of how to address looming shortfalls in Social Security and Medicare, which account for a huge portion of the nation's soaring deficit, instead including a vague promise: "We will make the decisions that are necessary to protect our entitlement programs."

Republicans are favored to add substantially to their ranks on Nov. 2, perhaps enough to seize control of the House.

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Their new agenda is rife with the kind of grass-roots rhetoric that could appeal both to tea party activists and to independent voters the GOP is courting in its quest for control.

"Regarding the policies of the current government, the governed do not consent," the pledge says. "An arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites makes decisions, issues mandates and enacts laws without accepting or requesting the input of the many."

Polls show large majorities are fed up with Congress and both parties and show Republicans have a chance to earn the public's trust on key issues.

The latest Associated Press-GfK poll found nearly three-quarters disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job, with 68 percent disapproving of Republicans compared with 60 percent disapproving of Democrats.

Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, the head of Republicans' House campaign committee, said the agenda was drafted to answer the public's skepticism about government and give them a "deliverable."

"A number of people are very cynical about the reliability and the sincerity of either party," Sessions said. "We've put things on a sheet of paper."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Brokaw: GOP wants to capture magic of ’94

  1. Transcript of: Brokaw: GOP wants to capture magic of ’94

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: Let's get more on this from NBC 's Tom Brokaw . Tom , good morning.

    TOM BROKAW reporting: Good morning, Meredith .

    VIEIRA: Let's start with this Pledge to America that the Republicans are going to unveil later today. Unlike the Contract with America that had the full support of House Republicans, there are only 12 Republicans who have signed on to the pledge so far. So what does that tell you about the shape that the party is in right now?

    BROKAW: Well, I think that the party 's trying to catch the tea party wave, and what they're attempting to do is to capture some of the magic of 1994 again. They don't address, in many ways, some of the toughest issues that are still before us -- Medicare, Social Security -- and they fail to point out that a lot of the programs that they're protesting against started in the closing years of the Bush administration when Hank Paulson , the treasury secretary, was trying to keep the economy from going over the cliff. Take health care , for example. It's 17.5 percent of our GDP . No question about it, this health care bill is problematic for a lot of people. But what are the answers? Not just repealing it. So, you know, the games are well under way, and I've been doing this for a long time, Meredith , and I've never seen so many plates moving at the same time without having a key sense of where they're going to end up.

    VIEIRA: Have you ever seen anything quite like the tea party ?

    BROKAW: No, I haven't. You think about it , nine months ago, a year ago...

    VIEIRA: Yeah.

    BROKAW: ...we didn't know about the tea party . But the power of the Internet cannot be overstated here. And the first rule of politics is don't let your opposition define you. Tea party 's using the Internet , their people are motivated, they're passionate, they're turning out.

    VIEIRA: To fight Obama .

    BROKAW: Guess who used the same techniques to get elected president of the United States . Barack Obama. And he finds himself now on the defensive. Just this morning, Bill Clinton is saying he's got to start pushing back harder than he has so far. So this is a -- this is a very ripe time in America .

    VIEIRA: Meanwhile, on the economy, we learned this week that the recession is over, although you could -- a lot of people would say, 'You could fool me with that one. I -- to me my life is still pretty miserable.'

    BROKAW: Yeah.

    VIEIRA: 'I don't have a job. My house might be in trouble, might be in foreclosure.' What do you say to those people?

    BROKAW: Well, I -- that's the real difficulty. This is a jobless recovery. The market is doing well, but that's primarily because companies have piled up a lot of cash, interest rates are very low. Our boss, Jeff Immelt , pointed out to me the other day when we've had recoveries in the past, oil was $17 a barrel, there was no India or China , and baby boomers were at the peak of their spending power. Now they're at the peak of their taking power. So this is going to be a long slog to get out of here . And a lot of states , California particularly, are in deep trouble. More cutbacks to come there. So everyone's going to have to take deep breath. We all got in it together...

    VIEIRA: Yeah.

    BROKAW: ...and we're all going to have to get out of it.

    VIEIRA: But in your travels, Tom , what are you hearing from people?

    BROKAW: I hear a lot from Main Street people who are independents or centered Republicans who voted for Obama and feel like he's turned his back on them. That's the voice that I hear a lot when I'm out across the country, that they don't feel connected to him. They were quite excited about him. They had some questions, but he thought -- they thought he was their best choice for hope, and now they feel like there's a disconnect between what's going on in Washington and the problems that they have every day.

    VIEIRA: Yeah. Now everybody is talking today about Mark Zuckerberg and this donation of $100 million...

    BROKAW: Right.

    VIEIRA: ...to the Newark school system and the timing with this movie coming out that is critical about him. What do you think a gift like that really means?

    BROKAW: Well, I think it really represents a couple of trends. These people are making so much money in IT and the new technology. I spent yesterday afternoon with Bill Gates , who's giving a half a billion dollars to improving teaching techniques in America . Mark Zuckerberg , whatever his motivations, is giving $100 million to Cory Booker in Newark so he can take control of the Newark schools and have a more responsive school system . So whatever his motivation, I think that we probably ought to stand back and say, 'How do we get in on this and how do we improve our education?' because Mark Zuckerberg , Bill Gates , all the people in that technology know that education got them to where they are. And if we're going to compete with India and China and all the emerging countries in the world, we've got to do a lot better on that front. So three cheers for Mark Zuckerberg . And he can probably save money on his wardrobe. He only wears a hoodie and pair of black jeans all the time.

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