Tomorrow, House Republicans are threatening to reveal their senses-shattering agenda for life after the midterms when, there but for the grace of a Mark Foley-style scandal, they will control at least the House of Representatives and maybe the Senate. And quite possibly a couple of public-access cable stations and used-car lots and a couple of Dunkin' Donuts franchises.
Some things to keep in mind before the policy Ambien kicks in during the presser about the New, Improved Contract With America:
1. For much of, oh, the past decade, the GOP has been staggeringly incompetent in defining themselves as the party of small government. Their standard-bearer, George W. Bush, managed to jack up total federal outlays 104 percent over his predecessor in eight short years, and he either signed off on or strong-armed all sorts of big-government projects through both Republican and Democratic majorities (No Child Left Behind, Medicare Prescription Drugs, McCain-Feingold, Sarbanes-Oxley, endless war supplemental spending bills, TARP, auto bailouts, etc.).
2. The GOP leadership, with incredibly few exceptions, has never offered up a serious alternative to Obama's spend-spend-spend agenda. Earlier this year, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virg.), one of the self-styled "Young Guns," debuted a YouCut website, where bored prisoners and shut-ins with Internet access could vote on various ways to cut the federal budget. The average annual price tag of each possible reduction came to a whopping $638 million, or about 0.02 of a $3.7 trillion budget. If that's what these Young Guns are slinging, I'm sticking with Lou Diamond Phillips and Casey Siezmasko. Paul Ryan's much-ballyhooed "Roadmap to America's Future" is a serious stab at bringing revenue and outlays into some vague approximation of one another. Yet it only balances the budget in 2063, which might as well be a Zager and Evans song. Dr. Newt Gingrich, who is to the Republicans what Dr. X is to Queensryche's Operation: Mindcrime, is on the recent record as holding Medicare and Social Security spending even holier than the Ground Zero Burlington Coat Factory (It's not just coats!).
3. The original Contract With America had about zero impact on the election of 1994. Somewhere around 70 percent of voters told exit pollsters that they had never heard of the CWA before casting their ballots. Of those who had heard of it, equal tiny amounts (around 7 percent) said that it was as likely to tip them toward the Republicans or the Democrats. The GOP scored huge wins because everybody hated Clinton at that point (libs as well as cons) and political grotesques such as Dan Rostenkowski personified a Congress gone mad. Let's be bold and say that given Obama's growing lack of popularity, even the GOP can't fuck this midterm up. But it will be fun to watch them try.
4. Most of the Contract With America had nothing to do with limiting government or spending. Sure, there was the sure-to-fail balanced budget language and the glimmering of what became welfare reform. And there was not-taken-seriously term-limit talk too. But there was also a bunch of junk about jacking military spending (then in decline due to the end of the Cold War) and building more prisons and putting more people in jail for longer terms (mission accomplished!). And while Tim Cavanaugh is right to rhapsodize about the good old days when pols were willing to put their names to something/anything, the major programs ostensibly covered by the contract grew and grew and grew.
What will tomorrow bring? A realization that you can beat something with nothing, I suspect. The smart money is on a When All the Laughter Turned to Sorrow scenario, this time without the soulful stylings of triple threat Joey Heatherton. The only thing we know for sure is that John Boehner, the man who would be Speaker and the last living Republican leadership holdover from 1994, will be tanned, rested, and ready to admit that "smoking is probably not good for my health."
Update: ABC News' Jonathan Karl has an anonymously sourced preview of "The Pledge to America" (ain't no contract!), which reportedly includes extending the Bush tax rates permanently, capping discretionary spending, ending the stimulus, keeping Gitmo open (?), bashing Iran and spending more money on missile defense. Vague details here.