Reporting from Washington —
To shore up Social Security, Republican Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin proposes that younger workers be allowed to put part of their contribution in personal investment accounts.
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) wants the U.S. to take a harder line on Iran, backing up diplomacy with the threat of force.
And Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield wants to develop a cadre of GOP candidates who would come to Washington to change it — not become part of it.
The lawmakers are battling for the soul of the Republican Party. On Tuesday, they are releasing a 192-page paperback, "Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders," to begin shaping an agenda before a possible GOP takeover of the House this fall.
"America is looking for more than our grandfathers' Republican Party," Cantor writes. "We are a new generation of Republican leaders eager to put our past sins behind us."
The book comes at an awkward time for the GOP — weeks before the party releases its electoral platform, and as the House Republican leader, Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, is becoming the face of the party.
Republicans appear likely to make gains in the midterm election. But exactly what the party would do if it took control of Congress remains a working draft.
The book, a manifesto of fiscal conservatism, attempts to distance the party from the explosive deficit spending that contributed to its electoral defeat in 2006, when voters turned over control of the House and Senate to Democrats. Republicans lost more seats in 2008.
"The party had lost its way," McCarthy writes.
The book avoids the hot-button social issues, including abortion and gay rights, which have been featured in previous GOP campaigns.
Still, some prescriptions for fiscal restraint may be too severe for voters — or even for many of the party's own candidates — despite the conservative "tea party" enthusiasm this electoral season.
The chapters outline longstanding Republican proposals for corporate tax cuts and reductions in government spending.
In pledging to repeal the new healthcare law, the congressmen offer to replace it by transferring the tax break that comes with employer-sponsored healthcare to individuals, who could then buy their own insurance.
Ryan's Social Security ideas are, in particular, being attacked as extreme. The investment funds available to younger workers would be partially backed by the federal government under his plan. But Democrats oppose the proposals, considering them a way to privatize Social Security and weaken its trust fund. A number of GOP lawmakers and candidates also refrain from endorsing the proposals.
"People aren't thrilled with this book," said one GOP strategist, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivities.
Others within the Republican Party view any publicity as good publicity. Cantor, McCarthy and Ryan are telegenic and can speak with a pop-cultural literacy the party needs to attract younger voters, using references to Facebook and iPods.
A year ago, the book, then under development, seemed poised to help fill a vacuum as the Republican Party emerged from its electoral defeats. Today, it is unclear whether it will help or hurt the party's efforts to retake the House.
"We've been down this road once before with arguments about strong fiscal conservatism," said Bruce Oppenheimer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University. "Part of the question is, will the American people buy the most draconian cuts?"