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York: GOP still searches for agenda

Published: Friday, June 6, 2014 9:09 p.m. CST • Updated: Friday, June 6, 2014 9:20 p.m. CST

The midterm elections are less than six months away, and Republicans still can’t agree among themselves on what it will take to win.

The latest debate among party insiders is whether GOP House and Senate candidates should produce a document like the Contract With America that tells voters what to expect if Republicans win full control of Congress. But the fact that there is a debate at all indicates the race is not shaping up as Republicans envisioned months ago.

Much of the anxiety concerns Obamacare. The six months between October and March saw the disastrous rollout of the exchanges, steep increases in premiums and deductibles for millions of Americans, the imposition of the individual mandate, higher taxes and other troublesome features of the Democrats’ national health care scheme. Republicans saw public unhappiness as political opportunity.

But now that seems to have hit a plateau. Yes, more jarring changes are coming – the employer mandate, the full imposition of minimum coverage requirements and others. But President Obama has delayed several of those changes until after this November’s elections. That has thrown a wrench into earlier Republican plans to exploit public discontent all the way until the election.

“There are no big implementation events to occur that could change the current equilibrium before November,” says a well-connected Republican strategist. “So there is this sense that Obamacare has moved everybody that it’s going to move, and that’s not enough.”

Health care remains a big question mark. Republicans have famously not been able to unite behind a single Obamacare alternative, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be able to do so anytime soon. Beyond supporting repeal – nearly all Republicans still do – it’s hard to see what the GOP positive agenda will be.

Not all Republicans are on board for some sort of party pledge. While some think a contract-style agenda could put them over the top in close races, others “think the existence of such an agenda is just a recipe for further divisions down the road – you don’t want to over-promise and create backlash,” says one Senate Republican source.

Most GOP lawmakers do agree on one thing: They hate “Republicans are divided” stories in the press. But the fact is, November is not that far away, and the GOP hasn’t fully settled on how to run.

• Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.

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