WASHINGTON — Republican leaders, ever more confident of their chances of winning control of the House and possibly even the Senate, have begun plotting a 2011 agenda topped by a push for more than $100 billion in spending cuts, tax reductions and attempts to undo key parts of President Barack Obama's health care and financial regulation laws.
The question is how much of the GOP's government-shrinking, tax-cutting agenda to advance, and how fast.
It's certain that Republicans want to capitalize quickly on tea party-fueled anger and the anti-establishment fervor that they believe will provide momentum to accomplish an activist to-do list. It's equally clear, however, that the outsized expectations of a fed-up electorate and a crop of unruly newcomers could complicate the plans. So could Obama and fellow Democrats who will still be around after Tuesday's elections.
GOP lawmakers are publicly mum about much of what they intend to do if they prevail in midterm congressional contests. Many say privately they want to avoid appearing to "measure the drapes" for new leadership offices before winning any majority.
But especially in the House — where Republicans have a clear shot at scoring the 40-seat gain they would need for control — they are in intense internal talks about how a GOP-driven agenda would work.
Most agree a marquee item on a new GOP majority's agenda would be an aggressive package of spending cuts, on the order of $100 billion or more, that could also be paired with steps to block implementation of key parts of Obama's health care law and new financial regulations.
What's less clear is how Obama would respond, and whether a turbocharged Republican majority could muster a bipartisan compromise, especially when its freshman class will probably have little appetite for following any established party position or leader.
"The Republican Party is still a tattered brand. It's not as if people are enthusiastically embracing the Republican brand — they're rejecting what has been done the last two years," said Michael Franc of the conservative Heritage Foundation, a House aide following the 1994 Republican takeover. "They're going to have to do something that is dramatic enough to say to people, 'We heard you.'"
GOP leaders are working to calibrate expectations, Franc said, so they don't end up being accused of "being a fiscal squish" if they compromise on cuts.
Republicans laid out some of their wish-list last month in the "Pledge to America," which called for tax and spending cuts, health care law repeal and congressional reform, among other things. Some GOP leaders argue a victory on Election Day would give them a strong mandate to carry out such changes, although many of them are likely to run into strong Democratic opposition.
"If the public puts us in the majority, they're saying that they want this to go forward," said Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., one of the pledge's architects.
Obama, he added, "would be in a hard position not to support this."
That's not necessarily a view shared by the Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who'll have a vital role leading a strengthened GOP team in that chamber, regardless of whether the party reaches the long-shot goal of gaining the 10 seats necessary to get control.
"I think humility and gratitude is the appropriate response to the midcourse correction that I think is coming — not, you know, sort of chest-beating or spiking the ball in the end zone or acting like we have been entrusted with the entire federal government," McConnell said in a recent interview. A win on Nov. 2, he added, would be "a good first step toward turning the government back in the direction that I and virtually everybody in the country aligned with our particular point of view think is ... necessary."