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The Need For Speed and Detail On the Pledge of Repeal

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Do you trust the Congressional GOP to do everything they can to repeal Obamacare if Mitt Romney wins the presidency and if at least 51 GOP senators are elected and the House GOP majority maintained?

Do you trust them to move as quickly as possible to do so?

I do, because the political consequences of failing to do so would be so immense as to cost the GOP their newly won majorities in 2014. If empowered by the voters, the failure to repeal Obamacare will result a massive repudiation of the GOP by its own base.

But large numbers of voters don't see it the way I do. (I hear from them Monday through Friday, on air and off, in person and via the new media.) These activists point to a disappointing 2011 as their reason for skepticism. They point to a series of House votes in 2011 that did not cut spending as deep as they had expected and to the negotiations over the supplemental appropriation in the spring and then the debt ceiling in the summer which did not bring home even one major symbolic victory like an end to NPR funding.

Millions of voters worry that the old line "party of appropriators" will take their time in the spring of 2013 and cut deals just like the Democrats did in the run-up to the passage of Obamacare. They believe that the Beltway culture is one of elitism and privilege and that whatever excuse can be offered for inaction will be offered while the fundraising and lobbying goes on and on.

There is a credibility gap, and that gap could cost crucial votes in the handful of states which Mitt Romney needs to win to get the White House back in responsible hands.

Governor Romney needs to huddle with Speaker John Boehner and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and come up with a strategy that combats this suspicion, which is deeply held and far wider than most GOP insiders want to admit. That suspicion is going to hobble turnout and it is already a dead weight on enthusiasm and contributions.

They need a very well publicized joint appearance at which they put out a firm pledge of repeal that is accompanied by a detailed plan and a timeline, one that gets into the "tall weeds." They all need to resist the temptation to argue that the public isn't interested in the "tall weeds." The public is very interested in just that set of weeds, and reacts extremely negatively to vagueness and obfuscation because it smacks of condescension. "Reconciliation," which is the process by which repeal of Obamacare will be accomplished, is a lot less complicated than the average business of running a business, and it is aggravating in the extreme to be treated like children and told that the details are too obscure to be trotted out. Social media has empowered the public, allowing very smart people to translate Congress-speak into plain language, and the lack of detail gets translated into charges of deceit even when those charges aren't deserved.

One example from Tuesday, July 3.

South Dakota Senator John Thune is one of the GOP's very brightest young lights and extremely popular with the grassroots because he took down Tom Daschle and is always ready, willing and able to engage in the battle of ideas in the media. Thune is on the short list of possible Veeps, and a probable Number 2 or 3 in the GOP's new Senate leadership in 2013 if he isn't replacing Joe Biden as Vice President.

But after his appearance on my radio show Tuesday --the transcript of our conversation is here-- the email and tweet traffic was very negative, and for a very simple reason: He didn't have a clear and concise answer to the most important question on the minds of center-right voters.

Specifically, Senator Thune didn't have a date by which a GOP Congressional majority will have sent a repeal of Obamacare to the White House. He and I tried to explain why the process is complicated by the budget process, and Senator Thune offered up an assurance as to how it might turn out to be quicker than the usual D.C. timetable would ordinarily permit, but the total effect was to telegraph the truth that the GOP hasn't laid out a plan of repeal, only the vaguest of commitments to try and get it done.

That didn't fly with my audience, and it won't fly with any audience that favors repeal. The GOP needs an answer. The GOP needs a date and an explanation of the date.

Here is what the senator said when I pressed him on a timetable:


I mean, you have to have a budget first, which is something the Democrats haven’t done for three years now. But if we come in, the Budget Act, there are certain timelines that we have to hit if you’re following the law. And you know, you’re looking at April 15th, May 1, May 15th, when all this has to be done by. So I guess my thing is if we have leadership in the White House, which I believe we will, and leadership that I think will lead us to fairly quick action on the budget process, then Congress, and if we hit our deadlines, pass, and we could actually have something done early next year. Now I say early. It may be we’re talking in the spring time frame, but I think given the way that Washington works, that would be a pretty significant accomplishment.


When I replied that such an apparently slow timetable would be a disaster, the senator replied that perhaps it could be done sooner, but the audience didn't hear the commitment to move as quickly as possible, but the lack of a commitment to speed in the sense they think of speed.

In the real world the typical pace of Congress and the slowness of the legislative process is driving frustration higher and higher. People pressed to the wall by a lousy economy don't see any sense of urgency among the people who are asking for their votes and often their money.

And they have reason to be suspicious of vague pledges.

The GOP won big in 2010, but not much changed as to process much less as to result, and the mantra that "we only control one half of one third of the government" left people angry not with Democrats but with Republicans who often sounded weak when they didn't sound eager to deal. The GOP leadership would vanish into backrooms for months at a time and then emerge with explanations for failure, and the result was predictable --a loss of confidence in the convictions of the Congressional GOP. The GOP generally has those convictions but some key players don't, and the communications effort was awful even among the true-believers.

All of that can be blamed on the complexity of the process and the MSM's willingness to provide cover to the president and Harry Reid --no budget from the Senate in three years!-- but the explanations sound more like excuses when the opportunity now presents itself now to lay out a plan, one with big, bold promises and full of "date-certains."

We don't need another "Contract with America" and certainly not another "Pledge to America" which turned out to have been written in words that proved very elastic, but it would be extremely useful if the GOP's big three plus two --House Budget Chair Paul Ryan and the GOP senator on the Finance Committee who would be the chair in 2013 (I think it is Orrin Hatch)-- came out with a jointly authored plan on repeal, one that promised to move repeal by specific dates and which laid out the steps of the elaborate Congressional dance so the public knows what has to happen and sees that the GOP's nominee and his Congressional allies are planning on getting it done if they are given the votes to do so.

This is an easy thing to do, unless someone doesn't really want to get repeal done. Governor Romney has everything to gain from such a move, as do the four leaders mentioned, even if some GOP committee chairs and staff would prefer to fudge for a variety of reasons. Majority Leader Eric Cantor is certain to back repeal on a schedule as will the freshmen of 2010 and any Republican senator hoping to replace retiring Whip Jon Kyl can also be counted on to back such a plan.

So just do it. Let the voters see that the commitment to repeal isn't just campaign rhetoric. Let them see the kind of commitment that can be easily repeated and easily remembered.

Make them an offer they can't refuse.

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