With only about 100 days remaining before the midterm elections, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy seemed awfully optimistic during his appearance this week at the America First Policy Institute’s first annual summit. The California Republican spoke as if it was a foregone conclusion that his GOP would soon take control of the U.S. House and make him Speaker.
What’s more, after criticizing Democrats for making voting rights a legislative priority as 2021 got underway, McCarthy offered a hint about what voters should expect a House Republican majority to prioritize in the next Congress:
“We are going to roll out the Commitment to America and we’re going to let America make a decision about which direction they want: America last or America first.... Our No. 1 bill is going to be about protecting the American people, making us energy independent, lowering the gas price, making your streets safe, securing your border, and holding Washington accountable. That will be a breath of fresh air.”
And we’ll all get puppies. And free ice cream. And there will be rainbows for us to enjoy in every direction.
All joking aside, I don’t blame McCarthy for feeling optimistic, since Republicans are well positioned to take back the House. I don’t even blame him for talking up the idea of presenting an alternative vision for voters to consider before they cast ballots in the fall.
But the idea that the GOP’s top legislative priority will be a bill that protects Americans, and makes us energy independent, and lowers gas prices, and reduces crime, and secures the border is more than a little silly.
Indeed, if McCarthy has solutions to all of these issues, and can package them together in one magical Super Bill, he’s welcome to unveil it right now. Why wait until January? If Republicans can create a domestic utopia through legislation, why not share their wisdom immediately and offer policymakers an opportunity to vote on it?
Is it because McCarthy doesn’t actually have an agenda that can do all of these things?
To be sure, the House minority leader deserves at least some modicum of credit for endorsing the idea that policy agendas have value. As regular readers know, it was at roughly this point two years ago when Republican officials were supposed to be working on their party platform. That didn’t go well: The GOP decided to go without a party platform in 2020 for the first time since 1854.
As far as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is concerned, Republicans would keep that going this year and hide their legislative intentions until after Americans have voted.
But McCarthy, apparently looking at the myth of Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Contract with America as a guide, seems to genuinely believe that his party should present voters with some kind of blueprint ahead of Election Day.
Some skepticism is in order. For one thing, McCarthy appears to have been working on his Commitment to America since at least September 2020. I can appreciate the fact that crafting a governing blueprint can take time, especially for a party that hasn’t exercised its policymaking muscles in many years, but I’d love to hear an explanation from GOP leaders as to why, after nearly two years, the plan still doesn’t appear to exist in any meaningful way.
What’s more, in the event that the Commitment to America ever sees the light of day, it’s unlikely to be impressive. As recent events have reinforced, the Republican Party remains a post-policy party that remains indifferent to the substance of governing.
But perhaps most important is the nagging detail McCarthy doesn’t want to talk about. Circling back to our earlier coverage, McCarthy & Co. may very well unveil something resembling an anodyne plan, but it will almost certainly obscure the GOP’s actual goals.
After all, the Republican Party’s true priorities include tax breaks for the wealthy, abortion bans, weaker social-insurance programs that families depend on, weaker gun laws, and a systemic effort to roll back the clock on voting rights, civil rights, and environmental protections.
And that’s a tough sell for a party that wants to win.