Originally, the derisive “Party of No” label the Republican Party earned for itself referred to the spectacularly determined display of no-fucking-way obstructionism they have put on since Obama was elected President.
But it’s looking more and more like by the time the midterm elections are over — and the Republicans have gained much fewer seats than most people are predicting — that label will come to mean “The Party of No Agenda”.
Ten days ago, I flagged a story by Dan Balz in The Washington Post, which I described as people starting to laugh out loud at how, with midterm elections rapidly approaching, the Republican Party is still floundering for a real agenda.
Balz’s piece was only about House Minority Leader John Boehner, but it’s just one example of the wider phenomenon that not a single Congressional Republican leader is able or willing to come close to articulating what Republicans are actually for, what agenda they will pursue if they regain the majority in the House and/or Senate in November.
(Boehner) offered few concrete thoughts about the GOP agenda but promised that the party will make that clearer before November. “I’m not Barack Obama and I’m not Nancy Pelosi,” he said. “I say what I mean and I mean what I say, and we’re not going to put anything in a document that we don’t have every intention of accomplishing.”
He was explicit about health care. “We believe that the health-care bill needs to be repealed and replaced,” he said. Beyond saying Republicans would scrub the budget for wasteful spending, a pledge regularly made and ignored by politicians of both parties, he offered no examples of what programs Republicans would actually cut.
Nor did he seem eager to tip his hand on the terms of entitlement reform. In his interview with the Tribune-Review, Boehner volunteered that the Social Security retirement age might need to be raised to 70 for younger workers but he would go no further.
Asked whether partial privatization of Social Security, which Republicans pushed unsuccessfully in 2005, would be part of a GOP agenda, he twice replied, “I have no idea.”
Later, he called back to clarify, saying that what he meant to say was that, until Republicans complete their process of soliciting ideas from the American people, there will be no answer to that question. “We’re not going to prejudge what’s going to come out of this listening project.”
That hardly sounded like a politician eager to provoke an adult conversion with the American people.
Yesterday, NRCC chairman Pete Sessions and NRSC chairman Jeff Cornyn appeared on Meet the Press, and invited snickers and guffaws by displaying the exact same syndrome: a total inability to offer any specifics at all about the Republican agenda.
Here’s the annotated, unexpurgated version:
MR. GREGORY: And, Congressman Sessions, I want to go back to you. This has been a debate so far this morning about, you know, the relative merits of Republican rule during the Bush years and what this president has or has not accomplished so far. I think what a lot of people want to know is if Republicans do get back into power, what are they going to do?
REP. SESSIONS: It’s quite simple that the American people do understand the agendas that are before us. They understand what the president and the speaker stand for, and they understand what Republicans stand for. Republicans, and especially our candidates who are all over this country, very strong standing with the American people back home, we need to live within our own means. And certainly the projections that are ahead including health care and the projections for unemployment for a long time and debt for as far as we can see is staggering. We need to live within our own means. Secondly, we need to make sure that we read the bills. These bills are so bad, which is why we don’t have a budget that is being looked at now. The 2011 budget is staggering in terms of taxes, and the, the discipline that is lacking from this House Democratic leadership to even debate and bring the bill for the budget and appropriations to the floor is a lack of leadership. And lastly…
(Reduced to its elements, first the total dodge: I’m not going to say what Republicans stand for, because Americans understand what Republicans stand for. Then what passes for specifics in the GOP these days: “We need to live within our own means” and “we need to make sure that we read the bills.” To be fair, there was that “lastly” that David Gregory cut off. Mercifully.
MR. GREGORY: But, Congressman, that’s a, that’s a pretty gauzy agenda so far. I mean, what specific–what painful choices are Republicans prepared to make? Are they going to campaign on repealing health care, for instance, repealing financial regulation? Would you like to see those two things done?
REP. SESSIONS: Well, first of all, let’s go right to it. We’re going to balance the budget. We should live within our own means, and we should read the bills and work with the American people.
(You can cut off Sessions, but you can’t shut off Sessions. Once he had gone to the trouble of making a three-point list in advance, he was determined to get that “lastly” out. “Work with the American people”, for laughing out loud while crying.)
MR. GREGORY: How do you do it? Tell me how you do it. Name a painful choice that Republicans are prepared to say we ought to make.
REP. SESSIONS: Well, first of all, we need to make sure that as we look at all that we are spending in Washington, D.C., with, not only the, the entitlement spending but also the bigger government, we cannot afford anymore. We have to empower the free enterprise system. See, this is where…
MR. GREGORY: Congressman, these are not specifics.
REP. SESSIONS: Oh, they…
MR. GREGORY: And voters get, get tired of that.
REP. SESSIONS: That, that…
MR. GREGORY: You want to deal with entitlement spending…
REP. SESSIONS: They are…
MR. GREGORY: …will you raise the retirement age on Social Security, will you cut benefits in Social Security?
REP. SESSIONS: Let, let–let’s go…
MR. GREGORY: Will you repeal health care?
REP. SESSIONS: Let’s go right to it.
MR. GREGORY: Do it.
REP. SESSIONS: And Chris talked right about it. He wants to diminish employers’ abilities to be able to be competitive across this world. We need to make sure that we allow employers, which was in that 52-page report that was presented to the president of the United States by CEOs in this country, we need to go back to the exact same agenda that is empowering the free enterprise system rather than diminish it.
MR. GREGORY: Senator, I’m sorry, I’m not hearing an answer here on specific–what painful choices to really deal with the deficit. Is Social Security on the table? What will Republicans do that, that, that would give them–like ‘94, there was a Contract With America. What are voters going to say, “Hey, this is what Republicans will say yes to”?
SEN. CORNYN: Well, the president has a debt commission that reports December the 1st, and I think we’d all like to see what they come back with. We’ve got three of our most outstanding members on that commission–Mike Crapo, Tom Coburn and Judd Gregg–and I–my hope is they’ll come back with a bipartisan solution to the debt and particularly entitlement reform, as you, as you mentioned. But I…
MR. GREGORY: But wait a minute, conservatives need a, a Democratic president’s debt commission to figure out what it is they want to cut?
SEN. CORNYN: I said we need to do this on a bipartisan basis. We’ve, we’ve had a, we’ve had a…
MR. GREGORY: But what is the Republican Party stand for with regard…
SEN. CORNYN: …we’ve had a partisan juggernaut.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
SEN. CORNYN: Well, I mean, in, in part, what I alluded to earlier is what people are tired of is the runaway spending and the debt, and I think that is a positive agenda–smaller government, living with their means.
Even by contemporary Republican standards, that’s a pretty pathetic display.
And being caught red-handed like that, trying to hide behind the skirts of Obama’s debt commission, and being called out for it on national TV, that has to hurt.
But at least we are now aware why Republicans are loath to formulate an agenda of their own. It’s because, really, they are for bipartisan solutions.