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Tax, spending cuts top GOP 'Pledge to America'

House Republican leaders are vowing to cut taxes and federal spending, repeal President Barack Obama's health care law and ban federal funding of abortion.
/ Source: NBC News and news services

Six weeks before midterm elections, House Republicans vowed to cut taxes and federal spending, repeal President Barack Obama's health care law and ban federal funding of abortion as part of a campaign manifesto designed to propel them to victory in November and a majority in the next Congress.

The "Pledge to America," circulated to GOP lawmakers Wednesday, emphasizes job creation and spending control, as well as changing the way Congress does business. It steered clear of controversial issues such as Social Security and Medicare, big drivers of deficit spending.

It pairs some familiar Republican ideas — such as deep spending cuts, medical liability reform and stricter border enforcement — with an anti-government call to action that draws on tea party themes and echoes voters' disgruntlement with the economy and Obama's leadership.

"Regarding the policies of the current government, the governed do not consent," reads a preamble to the agenda. "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."

Republicans are favored to add substantially to their ranks, perhaps enough to seize control of the House. Details of their plan emerged as President Barack Obama tried to reintroduce voters to his health care overhaul law, a signature issue of his first two years that Americans don't much like or understand. Democrats, who pursued overhaul for decades, have been surprised by its unpopularity.

GOP leaders are set to go public with the plan Thursday at a hardware store in suburban Virginia, choosing a location outside the nation's capital that's in keeping with the plan's grassroots emphasis.

The event takes place in Sterling, Va. — which is in Republican Rep. Frank Wolf's congressional district. Obama won the district with 53 percent in 2008 (by comparison, Bush got 55 percent there in '04).

It calls for every bill to cite its specific constitutional authority, a vote on any government regulation that costs more than $100 million annually and a freeze on hiring federal workers except security personnel. It also has a "read the bill" provision mandating that legislation be publicly available for three days before a vote.

Officials have described the agenda as the culmination of an Internet- and social networking-powered project they launched earlier this year to give voters the chance to say what Congress should do. The "America Speaking Out" project collected 160,000 ideas and received 1 million votes and comments on the proposals, they said.

Much internal debate ensued among party leaders, rank-and-file lawmakers and GOP activists about the contents of the agenda, including whether it should include a reference to "family values" — which some strategists argued could alienate the independent voters Republicans are courting.

They agreed to include the abortion provision and a vaguely worded statement on social issues: "We pledge to honor families, traditional marriage, life, and the private and faith-based organizations that form the core of our American values."

The plan recalled Republicans' 1994 "Contract With America," a list of heavily poll-tested proposals they unveiled about six weeks before the GOP gained 54 House seats and seized control of the House for the first time in 40 years.

But the rollout reflects a national mood far different from the one 16 years ago, and an electorate that national surveys show is fed up with its representatives and disillusioned about government.

Unlike 1994, there will be no signing ceremony for members. "This is about the American people, not House Republicans," a House GOP aide told NBC News.

"The Contract was done at a time when it was acceptable for a relatively small number of elected officials and trusted aides to go behind closed doors, come up with some ideas, test them in polls and then announce them on the steps of the Capitol," said Michael Franc of the conservative Heritage Foundation, who was a House aide during those days.

"If you did that now, you'd see yourself being hung in effigy most places. ... (Republicans) can't afford to come across as another case of 'government knows best,'" Franc said.

Republican strategists advising House leaders have told them that presenting their own ideas for governing — laser-focused on jobs and recharging the economy — is crucial to their electoral chances.

"It is not enough for the Republican Party just simply to point out that President Obama and the Democrats have failed," said pollster David Winston. "What Americans are looking for is a plan that they have confidence in that will work."

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

"Congressional Republicans are pledging to ship jobs overseas; blow a $700 billion hole in the deficit to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires; turn Social Security from a guaranteed benefit into a guaranteed gamble; once again, subject American families to the recklessness of Wall Street; and take away patients' rights," said Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "Republicans want to return to the same failed economic policies that hurt millions of Americans and threatened our economy."

The plan proposes creating jobs through tax cuts, including permanently extending George W. Bush's reductions for people at every income level, now slated to expire in January, and a 20 percent deduction for small businesses. It also calls for repeal of an unpopular new provision enacted to help pay for the health care law that requires nearly 40 million businesses to file tax forms for every vendor that sells them more than $600 in goods.

It offers an array of proposals to limit spending, including cutting back to 2008 levels and placing a hard cap on future government expenditures.

Republicans are calling for replacing the health care law by letting people buy health care coverage outside their states, expanding state programs that cover high-risk patients who can't otherwise get insurance and expanding the use of tax-advantaged savings accounts to cover medical costs.

And the plan also focuses on security, including calling for denying terrorists so-called "Miranda rights," opposing the release of Guantanamo Bay detainees into the United States and full funding for missile defense programs.