Republicans struggling with 2010 agenda 

Three months away from an election that could give Republicans many more seats in the Senate and a takeover of the House, the party has yet to produce the agenda they would follow if voters give them the chance to run Congress again.

The GOP's missing blueprint was painfully evident when Rep. Pete Sessions and Sen. John Cornyn who run the Republican campaign committees in their respective chambers, each seemed to stumble on NBC's "Meet the Press" as host David Gregory pressed them on how they would lead. Sessions talked of balancing the budget and empowering the free-enterprise system. Cornyn pointed to President Obama's debt commission as a possible source for legislation.

At one point, Gregory cut off the Texas lawmakers and said, "These are not specifics and voters get tired of that. Do you want to deal with entitlement spending? Do you raise the retirement age on Social Security? Will you cut benefits on Social Security, will you repeal health care?"

In the House, Republicans recognize the problem and have promised they will outline their priorities soon, with Conference Chairman Mike Pence, R-Ind., telling The Washington Examiner the party will roll out "a bold agenda" in the near future.

But when asked about the details of that plan, however, Pence said, "stay tuned."

Without an agenda, Republicans must work to attract voters to a campaign platform that lacks specifics and is instead focused largely on attacking the Democrats.

And that may not be such a bad plan, say top GOP strategists, who point out that the Democrats used such a strategy to defeat Republicans in both chambers in 2006.

"Eighty percent of this election is going to be a referendum on Democratic governance," said Whit Ayres, a pollster whose clients have included former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

House and Senate Republicans have had no trouble coalescing around their opposition to the agenda put forward by Obama and the Democrats.

But they also recognize that GOP candidates can't wade into the fall campaign season without being able to talk about how the party would govern.

House Republicans have created a Web site called "America Speaking Out" that offers the public the chance to sound off. And GOP lawmakers have held town hall meetings to get an idea what the voters want.

"This effort will culminate in September when we outline our governing agenda," House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters at a briefing sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. "I know you all would like to see it. The important part is you have to listen before you outline your agenda and we are listening."

Republicans have made no secret of their intent to try to repeal the health care reform law and possibly the financial regulatory overhaul law Obama signed on Wednesday. Republicans say they would replace the health care law with something that would cut health care costs, but have not offered anything specific.

In an interview with The Examiner, Sessions pointed out that Newt Gingrich's Contract With America was not unveiled until two months before the 1994 elections that gave the GOP the majority in the House.

"I feel good we're headed down a pathway that the American public will clearly understand," he said, but provided no details.

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Susan Ferrechio

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