Are House Republicans keeping their campaign promises?
On Nov. 2, 2010, the night Republicans took back control of the U.S. House of Representatives, John Boehner promised a fed-up electorate that things were going to be different.
The new majority would distinguish itself by "standing on principle, checking Washington’s power and leading the drive to a smaller, less costly and more accountable government here in Washington, D.C.," said Boehner, who became speaker.
Two years in, the Republican-run House has held fast to its ideals. Members voted 33 times to repeal Obamacare, pushed to make the Bush tax cuts permanent and passed bills cutting federal spending.
Their proposals then went to the Democratic-controlled Senate — and died.
There are, of course, different ways to read the situation.
"They’ve done a great job of keeping their promises," said Brian Darling of the conservative Heritage Foundation. "The House should be judged on what they’ve passed. It’s very hard to govern when you only have control of one chamber of Congress."
Then there’s the more results-oriented take.
"The Republicans made very ambitious plans to basically transform the political world. I don’t see much progress at all, frankly," said Norman Ornstein, a scholar with the conservative American Enterprise Institute. "It’s a pretty dismal record."
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In their 2010 campaign manifesto, the "Pledge to America," Republicans detailed a litany of promises addressing health care, taxes, the economy and other policy areas. PolitiFact has been tracking many of these promises, as well as others, on our GOP Pledge-O-Meter.
We rate promises based on outcomes, not intentions. Of the 57 GOP promises we’re following, we’ve rated 11 Promise Kept and rated four Compromise. Three are Stalled, seven are In the Works, and another 11 are rated Promise Broken. On the spending front, Republicans succeeded in cutting their own budget, and they set a hard cap on discretionary spending in last year’s debt ceiling deal.
Another area where Republicans have had notable success: stopping things.
They pledged to keep terrorism suspects in Guantanamo Bay, just as President Barack Obama vowed to close the detention center. Obama lost.
They successfully stood in the way of another Obama priority, climate legislation known as cap and trade, which Boehner branded a "full-blown fleecing of the middle class."
And a bill favored by Democrats to ease rules for union votes never got a hearing in the House.
But to enact anything new, the parties must work together. These days that’s a rare occurrence, on matters both large and small.
House Republicans have made next to no progress on health care policy. Their votes to repeal Obamacare repeatedly passed the House, but the president’s health legislation remains the law of the land.
On abortion, they pledged to permanently ban federal funding for abortions and enact conscience protections into the health care law. Not surprisingly, those two pledges received no attention from the opposing party.
"The Senate is being obstructionist," said Darling. "They’re not allowing a full and fair debate."
Health savings accounts, which allow people to set aside money before taxes to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses, are popular with Republicans because they’re essentially a tax break. Several Republican-sponsored bills would expand the use of those accounts.
Democrats don’t necessarily oppose them, but because Obamacare sets a cap on certain types of health savings accounts, Democrats are loath to consider legislation that could be seen as weakening the health care law.
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It’s clear that the partisan divisions in Washington are keeping both sides from accomplishing their goals. And voters are noticing: Congress has an all-time-low approval rating of around 9 percent. But Ornstein argues that divided government doesn’t have to automatically lead to gridlock.
"Often we’ve had more policy success with divided government than we’ve had with united government," he said, citing bipartisan support in Congress for President George W. Bush’s tax cuts and the education reform No Child Left Behind. "What it depends on as much as anything is the mind-set of the parties, especially the minority party," he said.
In the GOP-led House, he said, "it’s the 'my way or the highway’ mind-set."
As the party works to put Mitt Romney in the White House and send more Republicans to the Senate, a question remains over how to satisfy voters who supported the Republican wave of 2010 out of opposition to the status quo.
One central Florida primary shows some Republican voters are still embracing outsider candidates. Ted Yoho, a political neophyte, upset 12-term U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns with an ad depicting career politicians as pigs at a trough. Yoho, who won support of Florida tea party groups and Sarah Palin, said that while principles are important, he knows voters still want to see results.
"The American people, or the people in my district that I’ve talked to, they don’t care who broke it. They just want it fixed," Yoho said.