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House Republicans will spend the next three days trying to fill in some of the gaps of a legislative blueprint to guide them through the midterm elections and into the next year if they win control of the chamber.
Lawmakers will hear presentations from the heads of seven task forces on the issues and legislation likely to become a part of their agenda during the annual issue conference at a Florida resort outside of Jacksonville.
They are calling their plan “Commitment to America” – a seeming nod to the “Contract with America” that Republicans campaigned on when they won control of the House in 1994 after being out of power for 40 years. The major architect of that victory, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), is scheduled to address lawmakers tonight at the conference.
The finalized plan is expected to be ready around August, giving Republicans a unified policy message to take back to their constituents and with them on the campaign trail.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who chairs the China Accountability Task Force, said the main goal of the retreat is to “get the entire conference together on these issues so we’re not having these divisions you’re seeing with the Democrats right now.” McCaul said Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), “is trying to be very inclusive, to get everyone’s input.”
Republicans are well positioned to win control of the House in November, given historical trends that favor the party out of the White House, President Joe Biden‘s low approval rating and Democrats’ narrow five-seat margin.
For McCarthy, the retreat is a way to ensure members have buy-in to the plan in an attempt to avoid fissures within his conference from stalling legislation. Stark differences remain in the party on the role of former President Donald Trump, particularly in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol but task force leaders say they are finding areas of consensus around policies.
Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) who heads the American Security Task Force on police, border and cyber security, said the resulting blueprint would be “hugely important.”
“This is something that Democrats didn’t do at the beginning of their term and they squandered a huge opportunity,” said the New York Republican, who is not seeking re-election.
McCarthy and lawmakers have been piecing the blueprint together for nearly a year. The seven task forces were announced last June and McCarthy rolled out a less detailed “Commitment to America” last September.
The task forces are: Jobs and the Economy; Big Tech Censorship and Data; Future of American Freedoms; Energy, Climate, and Conservation; American Security; Healthy Future and China Accountability.
McCaul, who called Gingrich a friend he speaks with from time to time, said the Contract with America was “very effective, because you’re broadcasting in advance what you’re going to do with the majority rather than just having the majority for power’s sake.”
“We can say Biden is this and that, and that will be a part of the campaign rhetoric,” McCaul said. “But this is an opportunity to do something positive, positive messaging, not criticizing or providing wedge issues.”
While Gingrich was successful in leading his party back to power, he also was a polarizing figure who was forced to step down as speaker in 1998 after Republicans sustained losses in that year’s midterm elections.
Katko said the resulting plan wouldn’t only be a guide for a GOP-controlled House, but also “succinct and easily digestible to the American people.”
The policies aim to be a mix of aspirational and practical, bearing in mind that anything the House passes would need to get Biden’s signature before becoming law, said Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), who chairs the Healthy Future Task Force along with Rep. Vern Buchanan(R-Fla.).
“We go in knowing that in ’23, ‘24 President Biden is going to be the President,” Guthrie said. “So the things you want to accomplish, you have to do knowing that’s the situation as well.”
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