House Republicans’ Economic Agenda Targets Middle Class

U.S. House Republican leaders are preparing an economic agenda that includes energy proposals aimed at lowering utility bills and countering President Barack Obama’s focus on income inequality, according to a document obtained by Bloomberg News.

The agenda includes voting on an alternative measure to Obama’s health-care law and re-authorizing a funding program for career and technical education. The framework is designed to reach middle-class voters whose wages have remained stagnant even as the U.S. economy improves.

The broad outline was distributed to Republicans yesterday at a private meeting in Cambridge, Maryland, where lawmakers are concluding a three-day policy retreat today. Republicans, largely blamed for the 16-day partial government shutdown in October, want their positions to be seen as an alternative to those of Obama and the Democrats.

“The discussion at this retreat is going to be not just about opposing the policies that this president has been about over the last several years and an America that’s not working for people, but it is to craft an alternative,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told reporters yesterday.

The document, titled, “An America That Works: Rebuilding the American Dream,” doesn’t mention immigration legislation. Republicans discussed a set of immigration principles from House Speaker John Boehner that would provide a path to legalization for 12 million undocumented workers in the U.S. and stop short of the citizenship provision in the bipartisan Senate bill passed in June.

Obamacare Alternative

The economic agenda, distributed by Cantor, addresses Obamacare. It includes a Republican alternative centering on several ideas that the party previously discussed: high-risk pools for those with pre-existing conditions, making health plans portable across state lines, health savings accounts, and changes to medical liability laws.

The agenda shows Republicans want to vote on a bill addressing home-heating costs in March, just as many are paying their most expensive utility bills of the year. Republicans are aiming for a mid-year vote related to gasoline prices.

They’ll also push for 40-hour work week rules. Republicans maintain that Obamacare has given businesses an incentive to trim full-time workers. The health law requires companies employing 50 or more people to offer health insurance to those working at least 30 hours a week starting in 2015.

‘Limit’ Regulations

The bills would “limit the negative impact regulations can have on wages,” according to the document.

The focus on wages comes as Obama speaks about income inequality. He said he would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for workers hired under future federal contracts, and backed a Democratic proposal to that would do the same for all workers.

The U.S. economy grew by 3.2 percent in the fourth quarter as Americans’ spending climbed the most in three years.

The recovery hasn’t reached many families. The real median household income of $51,000 is 8 percent lower than in 2007. Almost 4 million people have been out of work for more than six months, three times the pre-recession average.

Cantor’s agenda says that middle-class families devote a larger share of their take-home pay to gas, health care and utilities than they did a decade ago. More than three-fourths of Americans say they’re living paycheck to paycheck.

Half of all Americans say a higher level of education is the most effective way to stay in the middle class, according to the document. About 40 percent don’t think they can afford college tuition for their children.

Charter Schools

Republican solutions would include charter school legislation. Republicans would also reauthorize the Higher Education Act and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which fund programs for secondary and postsecondary students.

“In order to maximize our year, it’s important that we show the American people that we’re not just the opposition party,” Boehner told reporters yesterday. “Republicans have to do more to talk about the better solutions that we think we have that will help the American people grow their wages, have opportunities at a better job, and clearly have a better shot at the American dream.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.