By Daniel P. Crandall
In 1994, Newt Gingrich presented the “Contract with America.” It was a “contract” from Republican politicians to voters concerning what legislative action the new majority would take in its first hundred days. In 2010, the People are preparing a “Contract from America,” which establishes what the voters expect from their legislative representatives. The “Contract from America” is what the “Contract with America” should have been but wasn’t.
The “Contract from America” (CFA) is a grassroots, bottom-up document created by hundreds of thousands of people who are part of the Tea Party protests and Glenn Beck’s 912 Project. It began in September 2009 with TheContract.org, where individuals provided and debated thousands of ideas for this new “contract.”
I had the opportunity to speak with Ryan Hecker, a Houston area Tea Party activist, full-time attorney, and father behind the Contract from America.
Hecker stated that the CFA “has been an idea I’ve had since the November 2008 elections.” He felt that our elected representatives, especially among Republicans, “lost their legitimacy” as fiscal conservatives and proponents of limited government. Hecker believes that this document will be a strong step forward in obtaining “real economic conservative and good governance reform in Congress.”
Hecker noted that what drives the people involved in putting the CFA together is “a desire to push and demand accountability” from our elected representatives.
CFA, at this point, is a work in progress. Online activists pared thousands of ideas down to twenty-one. I asked Hecker about the process by which the CFA came to be. “After narrowing the document down to twenty-one items, through a series of tedious surveys filled out by thousands of mostly tea party local coordinators and grassroots activists, the Tea Party Patriots enlisted sixteen scholars to write two-hundred-word statements in support of one of the twenty-one ideas.” Hecker’s fellow activists “are in the process of posting these statements on the website.”
Currently, visitors to the CFA’s website can debate and vote on these twenty-one ideas. Those behind the CFA are hard at work building a list of solid positions that activists can present at upcoming Tax Day Tea Party rallies across America.
Those familiar with Gingrich’s “Contract with America” will note a significant difference between that document and the Tea Party Patriots’ “Contract from America.” Gingrich’s document listed specific reforms intended to pass “on the first day of the 104th Congress.” In addition, it listed several acts that Republicans brought to the House Floor “within the first 100 days.”
The CFA does not list specific legislative acts, which follows from its grassroots nature. Instead, it is more akin to a list from voters telling their representatives and senators, as Hecker noted in our conversation, that “this is what we expect from you.” Hecker added, however, that it would not be difficult to translate the “Contract from America” into specific legislation. Some, in fact, already exists.
Hecker noted that the first item in the CFA is a call to “begin the Constitutional amendment process to require a balanced budget with a two-thirds majority needed for any tax hike.” Senator Jim DeMint and several others issued a statement on February 4, 2010 calling “on their colleagues to support a one-year earmark moratorium and a Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment.”
Hecker also pointed out that Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) has endorsed a Spending Limit Amendment to the Constitution. This corresponds with the CFA’s call for “a statutory cap limiting the annual growth in total federal spending.”
Some of the items listed in the CFA echo elements in Gingrich’s ’94 contract. The “Contract with America,” for example, lists the “Citizen Legislature Act,” which called for term limits, and the “Fiscal Responsibility Act,” which called for a balanced budget amendment and line-item veto. The House of Representatives rejected the former, and the latter got through the Senate only with substantial changes, which were subsequently declared unconstitutional in Clinton v. City of New York. The CFA includes items calling for term limits and a balanced budget amendment. Should these make it through the CFA vetting process, what is gained by asking federal representatives and senators to sign on to these items today?
“This document,” Hecker stated, “will give representatives and senators a legislative agenda and core set of priorities to follow in 2010. As it’s grassroots-generated and bottom-up, I believe that this time around elected officials will be held to their promises. If they don’t follow through, there will be many unhappy grassroots leaders ready to protest.”
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