Special Offer: Get Newsmax's Exclusive Report by Newt Gingrich with a Free Radio — Click Here
Dear Fellow Americans:
During the past few months, a number of people have asked me about the possibility of a new Contract with America for the 2010 elections. They remember the clarity, the positive focus, and the election results of the 1994 contract.
It is clear that the country is increasingly angry with the Obama-Pelosi-Reid team. But it is equally clear that Americans still distrust Republicans almost as much as they fear liberal Democrats . . . there has to be a lucid set of reforms both on the legislative process and on spending for the Republicans to be seen as truly reformed from the party that was defeated in 2006 and 2008.
So the question is whether a new Contract with America would provide the extra focus and extra energy needed to change the results of the 2010 elections from the expected Republican gains to a Republican majority that will deliver.
I believe there would be a lot of advantages in October to having a contract-centered campaign if the House Republicans can work their way to a serious, collective, positive commitment.
A contract in September would be a powerful unifier for all those who are tired of the corruption and waste of Washington and the alien views of the secular socialist coalition seeking to change America radically.
However, House Republicans should consider several issues cautiously before undertaking a contract-centered campaign. On the following pages, please read my modest proposal for how a new Contract with America could change the nation in 2010 and beyond.
Newt Gingrich is more than just the architect of the Contract with America. Under his leadership as House speaker, Congress passed welfare reform, the first balanced budget in a generation, and the first tax cut in 16 years. Gingrich has also published 19 books including 11 New York Times best-sellers. He and wife Callista host and produce historical and public-policy documentaries, including their latest Nine Days That Changed the World.
A contract is NOT a platform:
• A platform says we are for something and we may or may not get it done.
• A contract is an explicit commitment to act. (The original Contract with America was eight reforms of Congress we promised to pass our first day and 10 pieces of legislation we promised to vote on in the first 100 days.)
Thus, contracts are much harder to develop than platforms, most notably because a contract requires legislative language.
Every House Republican should get a copy of the book Contract with America: The Bold Plan by Rep. Newt Gingrich, Rep. Dick Armey, and the House Republicans to Change the Nation. Ed Gillespie and Bob Schellhas edited the surprise 11-week best-seller.
House Republicans should note first that the contract takes up only five pages of the book, but the actual legislation takes up 140 pages.
With Armey’s dedicated leadership (and the extraordinary support of his team, including Kerry Knott, Ed Gillespie, Ginni Thomas, and others), the key leaders of the House Republican Conference had drafted the actual legislative language and introduced it in Congress so it was available to the public.
We had an enormous advantage in 1993-1994 because no one believed we could be a majority. Therefore members were not as protective and territorial about writing the bills as they would have been if they thought the bills actually were going to be voted on.
If Leader John Boehner and Whip Eric Cantor decide to put forth a Contract with America for the 2010 elections, they will have a much bigger challenge than Armey and I had. Because of the memory of the 1994 success, members and their staffs will take the possibility of becoming a majority much more seriously, and they will argue over the details much more intensely.
After all, when we were designing the original Contract with America, the only Republican in Congress who had served in a Republican majority was Bill Emerson of Missouri. And he had served as a congressional page.
Part of the power of a contract strategy is that it forces Republicans to quit being an opposition party and enables them to become an alternative party. This was the key part of our calculus in developing the original contract.
We knew that the Ross Perot voters (the tea party independents of their day) would not turn out for a negative campaign. They were angry at all politicians, and they would have stayed home if Republicans had merely been the anti-Clinton party. This is, in fact, what happened in 1998 when we could not get the leadership in the House and the Senate to develop a reform agenda. Our vote fell off because we were seen as negative and obstructionist.
To attract the Perot voter, we wanted to be relentlessly positive.
With then-Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour’s financial support, we bought a two-page ad in TV Guide (then the most widely read publication in America).
The contract had no pictures, did not mention Clinton or the Democrats, and was almost boring in its typeface. It was designed to look and feel different. The original is now in the Smithsonian.
Because it was so positive, we reassured the Perot voters that we were different from traditional politicians. They concluded we were worth turning out and voting for.
As a matter of fact, it is worth noting that the 1994 Republican vote was the largest off-year increase in American history. We gained 9 million new votes over 1990, while the Democrats lost 1 million votes. That 10-million vote swing enabled us to pick up 53 seats and become the first Republican majority in more than 40 years (since the 1952 election). Because we followed through on our promise to vote on the entire contract during the first 100 days (we did it in 93), we set a tone of being different. This enabled us to keep our majority in 1996 despite losing the presidency. Remember — we were the first re-elected House Republican majority in 68 years (since 1928). In many ways, this was a greater achievement than the 1994 campaign.
Although some people complained that we passed too much, too fast, that goal gave a brand new majority a disciplined focus for the first three months, which enabled us to implement without a lot of intraparty bickering.
Whether a new contract should contain a similar 100-day promise or ought to extend that time period to six months is a good question, especially in light of the rush to pass the stimulus without legislators reading it. The Pelosi-Reid rush to action without thought, without hearings, and without an open legislative process may have created a need for a more thoughtful and slower process to allow the public to be involved.
(story continues below)
Swept into office by a tide of anti-Bush sentiment, a charismatic young Democratic president yanks the nation’s politics to the left while pushing a big-government, universal healthcare agenda.
President Barack Obama in 2010?
Actually, it was William Jefferson Clinton in 1994, the year Republican House leaders introduced the first Contract with America.
The Clinton administration led the Democrats through a spate of unchecked legislative action, passing items such as the Brady Bill, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Budget Reconciliation Act with scarcely a Republican vote.
Ironically, about the only thing slowing the liberal agenda at the time was an unpopular healthcare reform effort championed by first lady Hillary Clinton.
Just six weeks before the midterm elections that year, about 335 GOP candidates gathered on the steps of the Capitol to sign a document pledging 10 key reforms within the first 100 days of the 104th Congress.
The strategy, masterminded by Reps. Newt Gingrich and Richard Armey, helped the GOP gain 54 House seats — a stunning victory giving them control of the lower chamber for the first time in 40 years.
Gingrich was named speaker of the House, the first Republican to hold the position since Massachusetts Rep. Joseph W. Martin wielded the gavel in 1955.
In the wake of the contract, the GOP won the next three House and Senate elections, kicking off a decade of Republican congressional leadership.
In retrospect, the contract reflected widespread voter backlash to the Clinton administration’s early leftward tilt. The GOP sweep forced Clinton to revise his tactics and begin governing from the center.
The House passed nine out of the 10 promised reforms. But several agenda items became tangled up in the Senate. Clinton, who called it “the contract on America,” threatened to wield a presidential veto.
Ultimately, the contract’s success in controlling the growth of federal government was mixed. But it did help rein in a Democratic president and contribute to a balanced budget — a turnabout that Republicans would love to reprise this year.
— David A. Patten
The gubernatorial elections of Republicans Chris Christie in New Jersey and Bob McDonnell in Virginia were further proof that an alternative campaign can be more powerful than an opposition campaign.
Christie used taxes and education reform to build a broad coalition that enabled him to carry counties no Republican gubernatorial candidate had carried in two decades.
McDonnell developed a jobs and economic growth plan with strong infrastructure, education, and energy components. Even when The Washington Post attacked him for two weeks for his social conservatism, he stuck to the plan to be positive, solutions oriented, and committed to jobs for Virginia. The result was a stunning 59 percent landslide (in a state Obama had carried with 53 percent) and other Republicans elected with surprising margins.
Very few people realize it, but the Capitol steps event of Sept. 27, 1994, during which we unveiled the Contract with America, was the second of its kind.
The first Capitol steps pledge by federal candidates to take specific actions was in September 1980. Republican National Committee Chairman Bill Brock had studied methodically the Thatcher victory of May 1979. He knew that Ronald Reagan probably was going to beat Jimmy Carter but that the rest of the ticket was much weaker than Reagan. One of Brock’s driving passions was to rebuild the entire party, from the local offices up.
When the idea was presented to Brock, he enlisted me to try to organize the congressional side of such an event. The Reagan team originally liked the idea but then, as so often happens with Republican consultants, the staff got nervous about actually having ideas and actually having the Senate and House candidates have a role.
Fortunately for us, Bill Casey, the Reagan campaign manager, intervened decisively in favor of a more daring strategy.
There is inherent risk in doing anything positive. It is much harder to be an alternative party than an opposition party.
To show you how controversial this seemingly simple idea can be, here is what David Broder wrote back in 1980 (“Capitol Steps Theatrical,” The Washington Post, Sept. 10, 1980): “From Eisenhower on, Republican presidential candidates have known that they have to run well ahead of their party to have a chance of winning. Most often, that has meant running far away from their party . . .
“The implicit message of Monday’s ceremony is that there can be only one government in Washington at a time and that if voters want Reagan to lead it effectively, they have to go all the way with the GOP.
“That is an honest statement, and it is as commendable for the Republicans to dramatize it as it is risky.”
Broder understood what we were doing and understood the reluctance amongst “normal” politicos to the idea.
Reagan won by a big margin in 1980. That was not a huge surprise, because Carter had been such a disaster as president.
The big surprises were a 33-seat gain in the House and a stunning Republican takeover of the Senate. The Senate went Republican by a total of less than 75,000 votes in six states.
Boosting the underfunded, and largely unknown, Republican underdogs to upset wins was their day in Washington articulating solid ideas, talking with the media from back home, being seen as part of a nationwide team, and associating with Reagan.
People know the country is in trouble (as they did in 1980 and 1994).
Americans want to know what Republicans will do for our country, not what Republicans will do to the Democrats.
The tone of a contract event and of the contract itself should be serious, patriotic, and focused on creating a better American future.
Three simple, straightforward principles outline the key concepts of a potential contract:
• It has to be something your members and candidates believe is right.
• It has to be popular with 70 percent or more of the American people.
• It cannot split or confuse your own coalition or give the news media an excuse to isolate you and define you negatively.
We were very careful both in 1980, when we were limited to key things Reagan had said, and in 1994 to avoid issues that would split us or allow the news media to attack us as radicals.
Both documents were strategically bold but tactically very cautious and careful.
Republican senatorial candidates participated in 1980 because the Republican National Committee and the Reagan campaign invited them. They accepted our document because it was acceptable to the Reagan team.
Republican senatorial candidates did not participate in 1994 (and I suspect their advisers told them the whole concept was absurd and dangerous) because it was impossible for House Republicans to achieve unanimity on an internal document and get Senate Republicans to accept it at the same time. The House is inherently a team institution. Whichever team wins 218 votes has enormous advantages.
The Senate is inherently a personalistic institution in which each individual senator has enormous power.
House Republicans should cooperate with Senate Republicans, but they should make it clear that a contract will go forward with or without senatorial involvement. The alternative might be an endless series of discussions leading nowhere and achieving nothing.
Although it takes months to develop the proposals for a contract, the unveiling should come in late September.
It is impossible to have an accurate sense of the tone and mood of the fall campaign before Labor Day. The final touches and modifications have to occur within the rhythm and pattern of the fall campaign.
The news media, the American people, and the candidates will get bored if you try to sustain a contract campaign for much more than six weeks. If you unveil a contract in the spring or in mid-summer, you virtually guarantee that people will be bored with it in mid-September and will start looking for new topics to focus on. However, if you develop a strong, solid, straightforward contract with compelling, popular ideas, then you can sustain a focus on that from the last two weeks of September through the election. Enthusiasm will peak for you, your supporters, and voters exactly when you want it during the last month of the campaign.
RNC Chairman Michael Steele is doing the right thing in trying to develop a “statement of first principles” for the spring as a discussion document to build interest and momentum. But any contract-type document should wait until the fall. In addition, such a pact, by definition, must come from elected officials and candidates, and not party officials.
The following is a list of 10 key topics that are worthy of being in a contract. You can develop your own — and obviously the House Republicans will have to develop one that fits their beliefs and their concerns.
This is not a detailed statement or list of legislation. It is designed to provide a flavor, not a recipe. The potential popular support for these issues can be found at AmericanSolutions.com/polling where national polls have been gathered on these topics.
This is the key issue for 2010, and the GOP should focus intensely on job creation.
A combination of the American Solutions set of five tax cuts (50 percent reduction in payroll taxes for both the employee and employer for two years, 100 percent annual write-off for small business investment in tools and technology, zero capital gains tax to match China, lowering the corporate tax rate to the Irish rate of 12.5 percent, eliminate the death tax permanently), and the House Republican “No Cost Stimulus Act of 2009” proposal (H.R. 1431) would be very powerful.
CBS News reported that the American people believe — by a huge 59 percent to 21 percent gap — that business tax cuts are more effective than government spending in creating jobs. Let’s side with a 3-to-1 majority of Americans and make this the No. 1 issue of 2010 (www.americansolutions.com/jobsfirst).
Americans are very worried about the Chinese holding $2 trillion in U.S. debt. And rightly so. Republicans should commit to balancing the budget by boosting economic growth while cutting spending, and selling government ownership of private business.
Furthermore, Republicans should emphasize localism and the 10th Amendment as keys to eliminating waste and corruption and replacing bad government with new, more effective 21st-century solutions. It is clear that Washington has too much power exercised by too many bureaucrats and defined by too many politicians who are influenced by too many lobbyists.
The answer, in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson, is to return power, responsibility, and money (fewer programs, lower taxes, and more freedom) to the states and municipalities. Start by abolishing all the unconstitutional “czars” in the Obama White House.
During the four years I was speaker, the Republican Congress kept spending increases down to an average of 2.9 percent a year, including entitlements. This was the lowest rate of growth since Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s. The result was four years of a balanced budget with the first tax cut in 16 years and $405 billion in federal debt paid off.
Getting back to a balanced budget by controlling spending and reform will be very popular. It will also highlight how badly and corruptly the left is running government at all levels (see Jim Frogue’s Stop Paying the Crooks: Solutions to End the Fraud That Threatens Your Healthcare, which shows the $70 billion to $120 billion in fraud and abuse every year, www.healthtransformation.net/cs/stop_paying_the_crooks).
For both more jobs and America’s national security, Republicans should propose in a new contract an “American Energy Plan” akin to Leader Boehner’s “All of the Above” model from 2008.
We must return to producing American energy to keep the money and jobs at home and to eliminate the threat of foreign energy blackmail by dictators and terrorists (www.americansolutions.com/energy).
Furthermore, incentives, not punishing taxes and bureaucracy, are the way to rapidly develop new energy technologies. Finally, let there be no doubt: Republicans must oppose the administration’s efforts to use the Environmental Protection Agency to establish a bureaucratic dictatorship on energy production.
This will be one of the most challenging questions for incumbents. Yet it is clear that Americans distrust Republicans almost as much as they fear liberal Democrats. There has to be a clear set of reforms both on the legislative process and on spending for the Republicans to be seen as truly “reformed” from the party that was defeated in 2006 and 2008.
It also would be historically right for the country to have the people’s interest in openness and accountability reinforced. These reforms should include that bills be posted in their final form at least 72 hours before they are voted on.
Litigation reform would reduce healthcare costs dramatically and create a better environment for job creation in America. The Congressional Budget Office already acknowledges that the House Republican malpractice reform bill saves billions of dollars. A broader litigation reform bill would get very widespread support and would highlight the Democrats’ role as the protectors of trial lawyers (for more, go to www.healthtransformation.net/cs/cht_projects/health_justice).
Health reform that focuses on reducing costs while preserving individual rights and responsibilities would be very popular. And it would be very necessary. The country wants to defeat Obamacare, but it also wants an improved health system.
The Center for Health Transformation is filled with positive ideas on wellness, prevention, chronic disease management, payment reform, the elimination of fraud, best practices, and a new, better, and more effective health system that do not require higher taxes, bigger government and more bureaucracy (www.healthtransformation.net).
Education failure is one of the greatest threats to American economic and national security. We must have profound change if all Americans of all ages are to learn what they need to be productive in the world economy and to sustain the science and technological innovation required to be the safest and most powerful country in the world.
School success comes when tuition money does not park itself in central offices but follows students directly into schools that parents choose. This competitive model brought us the greatest schools and innovative centers in the country.
School monopolies that steal resources meant for students cannot be “improved.” This is a failed model.
Every state should ensure that the public’s investment in learning follows students directly into schools, and that those schools are free to hire or fire their own staff, and do what it takes to meet the needs of their students.
Parents whose children are trapped in these schools must be given immediate options.
Learn about the American Solutions Learning Project by visiting their Web site (www.americansolutions.com/education).
Today, an anti-religious, secular, socialist left is on the offense in the legislatures, the courts and the bureaucracies. From the ACLU crusade against the cross to the Ninth Circuit Court’s ruling against “One Nation under God,” our religious liberty is under attack.
For those who know the Judeo-Christian heritage of America, this is an overwhelmingly religious nation with a shockingly and increasingly anti-religious elite. My wife, Callista, and I show in our new movie, Nine Days That Changed the World, how Pope John Paul II visited Poland at a time when the dictatorship kept knocking down crosses and would not allow people to pray in school. American audiences think about that for a second and immediately recognize the relevance.
We need a religious liberty and right of conscience bill that blocks every effort to drive God out of public life and every effort to coerce religious people on abortion, marriage or other issues of faith and conscience.
American lives are more important than terrorist rights, and the Justice Department should be forced to protect and defend Americans rather than protect and defend the rights of terrorists. A bill to cut off all funding for pro-terrorist actions by the Justice Department would be a good step in the right direction.
National Security will require far more resources than the left is prepared to invest. A pro-national security budgeting process would ensure that we rebuild our capital investment in the most powerful defensive force in the world. When I was speaker, we increased the funding for our defense and intelligence agencies while balancing the budget, an action the 9/11 Commission lauded later.
These 10 items are designed to begin the discussion.
A contract in September 2010 would be a powerful unifier for all those who are tired of the corruption and waste of Washington and the alien views of the secular-socialist coalition seeking to radically change America.
The conservative revolution the Contract with America ushered in was a bolt of lightning across the American political landscape, and one of those periodic reminders that even the most tone deaf politician better listen up when voters speak out with a common voice.
Newsmax asked a number of keen observers to share what the contract meant to them — and to ponder whether another political revolution could electrify the body politic anytime soon.
“The combined budgets of the 95 major programs that the Contract with America promised to eliminate have increased by 13 percent. For all of his talent in generating the “revolution,” Newt was never the conservative ideologue the media painted him to be.”
— Edward H. Crane, president, Cato Institute
“The GOP’s brand has been seriously damaged, and many Republican politicians are still struggling with a heavy credibility challenge. If we fight Obamacare and other pressing matters in a principled manner, maybe we can regain enough Main Street credibility to advance a CWA II. Otherwise, more grass-roots Republicans will jump on the tea party train.”
— Ken Blackwell, former Ohio secretary of state
“I don’t think after the last four or five years in office, the Republican Party has the credibility with which to offer a new Contract with America, frankly. But I do believe if we offer a Contract from America, that they could credibly accept that contract . . . let small government conservatives in the grass roots write a Contract for America, and throw it out there and invite both parties to embrace it.”
— Dick Armey, former House majority leader and current chairman of FreedomWorks
“The Contract with America was a seminal moment in American politics when Republican candidates defined themselves not only by what they were against, but what they were for. At the time, it was head-snapping for an opposition party to choose not to capitalize on the majority party’s unpopularity, but rather to put forward a bold reform agenda that cut taxes, balanced the budget, reformed welfare, strengthened families, and promised to act on each legislative plank in the first 100 days. Its historical significance is evident by the fact that it has been emulated all over the world. In whatever form and by whatever name, a similar contract or agenda should be offered by Republicans in 2010.”
— Ralph Reed, chairman and CEO, Century Strategies
“Newt’s leadership was brilliant. He made the American people realize there was an alternative to continuing with ineffective and tired liberal leadership. We can thank Newt’s vision and effective communications for reforming an immoral and corrosive welfare system.”
— Ron Robinson, president, Young America’s Foundation
“In 1994, things were a lot like they are today. A young, exciting president. Big majorities in Congress. We figured we’d have plenty of time to build the America we wanted. You know what happened next. Fifty-four new Republicans elected in the House. Eight new Republicans elected in the Senate. Our moment of opportunity had passed. Republicans are hoping 2010 is the new 1994. But heck, they don’t need eight new senators.”
— James Carville, Democratic political strategist
“The Contract with America gave the Gingrich majority a road map and the moral authority to pass their agenda. Without the contract, the 1994 vote would have been a vote against Clinton and not a vote for something. It is important to remember that the Contract with America in 1994 was a collection of actual written pieces of legislation. They were before the American people for months to be examined. No one could argue that the Republicans were unclear about what they planned to enact. Obama’s win in 2008 happened without — perhaps it could only happen without — any clear sense of exactly what he would do. ‘Yes we can’ is not a plan.”
— Grover Norquist, founder and president, Americans for Tax Reform
“The Contract with America was one of a number of important tools that new, mostly younger, Republican leaders used to win a congressional majority. What’s primarily missing today is not the lack of a new contract for America, but principled conservative Republican leaders with a vision, a plan, and the commitment to follow through on their promises once they obtain political power.”
— Richard Viguerie, chairman, ConservativeHQ.com,
and founder, American Target Advertising
“When the elections were over in ’94, voter surveys showed that independent voters who voted for me in ’92 and ’94, remembered only two things: one is that [the GOP] had a plan and the Democrats didn’t; and two, that the balanced budget was part of it.”
— Bill Clinton, former president
Special Offer: Get Newsmax's Exclusive Report by Newt Gingrich with a Free Radio — Click Here
As originally published in Newsmax magazine.