House Republicans have been relatively successful this week at presenting a united front around their “Pledge to America,” but only through a strategic outreach campaign to lawmakers, media and outside groups, that has managed to keep deep dissatisfaction over several key issues largely under wraps.
Still, interviews with Republican aides reveal that many in the GOP caucus are unhappy that there was no earmark ban and no promise to pass a balanced budget amendment in the proposal, which was unveiled Thursday by House Minority Leader John Boehner. The inclusion of a health insurance provision considered to be mandate angered many conservative lawmakers.
“We’re going to repeal Obamacare and then bring a large chunk of it back. It’s kind of crazy,” said a senior Republican official.
And social conservative leaders said that a commitment to upholding the Defense of Marriage Act was dropped at the last moment.
“They kept talking about realism. They wanted it to be realistic, something we could do, not pipe dreams,” said one House aide who said that while leadership sought extensive input, they threw many of the ideas they received “in the trash heap.”
In addition, a 21-page proposal requiring all legislation to be posted online for 72 hours prior to a vote was not distributed to Republican lawmakers until the night before the rollout. Many Republican offices didn’t even see it until it leaked to the media Wednesday afternoon, leading one aide to write in an e-mail to fellow legislative directors: “We shouldn’t have to get our own agenda from CBS News.”
But skittish rank-and-file members were reassured at a Wednesday night caucus meeting by leadership aides who distributed a National Review editorial praising the “Pledge.” Two high-level Republican sources said that the National Review editorial had been prearranged, however, by Neil Bradley, a top leadership aide* who is close to April Ponnuru, the executive director of the National Review Institute, and Kate O’Beirne, NRI’s president.
“It was a political blowjob,” one Republican aide said of the National Review editorial.
Bradley denied the accusation: “The assertion that I ‘prearranged’ the National Review editorial, or any editorial, is 100 percent false,” he said.
O’Beirne also denied the allegation, calling it “absolutely, categorically false.”
After extensive complaints from GOP leadership aides, the Daily Caller revisited the issue with its Republican sources, and was satisfied that GOP leadership aides knew in advance of National Review’s favorable review before it was published. The sources said they did not have hard evidence of a planned rollout with the magazine, but that foreknowledge among the GOP, and some communication between leadership and the National Review before the piece was published, was much in evidence.
House GOP leadership aides and lawmakers justified the lack of an earmark ban by telling others who pressed for one that they would implement it after the midterm elections on Nov. 2.
“They said, ‘We don’t want to pick a fight with our appropriators now. That’s a fight we can pick after the election,’” said one House Republican aide.
But the aide said that many in the Republican caucus don’t believe Boehner, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, or any other members of the leadership actually want a ban.
“Once we’re in power they’ll say, ‘Let’s find a reasonable way to earmark,’ which of course the Tea Party will see as total capitulation. Most people around here don’t realize the extent to which Joe America sees earmarks as the poster child for out of control Washington spending,” the aide said.
Another aide who was present in meetings to draft the document agreed: “They already have an earmark moratorium, and not to continue that is a pretty huge flag that they want to get back into the earmark business.”
“Leadership doesn’t do anything unless they’re boxed in. So they’ll do small stuff. They’ll repeal stimulus. They’ll do these YouCut votes. But in terms of dealing with entitlement reform, challenging the president to deal with the long term fiscal imbalances, they aren’t willing to at least articulate it in their document. I do not see them willing to legislate and govern in that area,” the aide said.