Sean Bielat, the Republican trying to unseat longtime incumbent Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) in Massachusetts' fourth congressional district, says he won't be campaigning on the new Republican Pledge to America and would like to see party leaders engage in a more serious discussion on entitlement reform.
"There are a lot of ideas there that are similar to things I've been saying for awhile, but this is a document that wasn't vetted or discussed with candidates," he told The Huffington Post in an interview on Friday. "If I'm going to go down to Washington and vote on things, it would be good to have that previous input. I realize that would have been difficult, but I certainly don't feel that bound to support anything in particular in there."
One of the most frequent critiques of the Pledge in the past week has been the fact that it doesn't outline specific steps for cutting spending and reducing the deficit. Bielat said that aspect could end up hurting the document. "What I liked the 1994 Contract with America was -- agree or disagree -- it was very clear what the policy proposals were, when they would be enacted," he said. "It was a very clearly defined document. I think this one is less so, and maybe that's a good thing, maybe that's a bad thing, maybe it's just more philosophical in nature. I think it remains to be determined."
Bielat isn't the only GOP candidate to say he won't campaign on the Pledge. In fact, the reaction from many candidates has been lukewarm. Ryan Frazier, who is running in Colorado's seventh congressional district, also told ABC News this past week that it won't be his platform. FL-22 candidate Allen West said he will try to make sure that Republicans stick to the Pledge because the "failure of the GOP to stick to the 1994 contract, leading to an exorbitant growth of government and spending, resulted in their demise."
Bielat added that he would have liked the Pledge to address entitlement reform more directly. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) repeatedly shied away from giving specifics about how the party planned to take on Social Security and Medicare if they regain power, although he said that private accounts for Social Security are still on the table. One person notably missing from the unveiling last week was Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has written an ambitious -- and controversial -- budget roadmap that includes sharp cuts in just about all government spending -- Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, defense, education, the FBI, etc. While many Republican leaders in Congress have been reluctant to publicly embrace his ideas, they have been catching on with candidates running for office.
"Paul Ryan has a lot of good ideas, and I think that he's exhibited some political courage by putting out some ideas that aren't politically popular with either party, but are probably ultimately for the good of the country, and I really respect that," said Bielat. "That's what we need more of our leadership in Washington to do. Spend less time worrying about how to get re-elected and spend more time focusing on what is ultimately going to be beneficial over the years to come." Bielat said that lawmakers in Washington need to seriously look at entitlement reform, even though it will be a tough conversation. "People have backed away from that aspect of what he's been discussing because it's just not politically popular no matter where you stand, whether it's Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal -- no one likes it," he added.
One area where Bielat is fully supporting the direction of the Republican leadership is in repealing the Affordable Care Act. "I think that the health care bill that passed is very flawed," he said, adding that he is, however, in favor of some sort of health care reform. When asked about possible plans to shut down the government, Bielat was more hesitant. "That's an extreme solution," he stated. "Sitting where I am right now, that doesn't seem to be something I'd be in a hurry to embrace. Maybe there's an argument out there, but this is the first I've heard of it. I can't say immediately yes, I'd be on board."
MA-4 has traditionally been a solidly Democratic district, going for both John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008. Bielat, however, likes to point out that Republican Scott Brown won the district in January's Senate election, and new internal polling from his campaign shows that he trails "by just 10 points." He also noted that former President Bill Clinton will be coming to the district to campaign for Frank, suggesting that Democrats are worried about the race and need to bring in the big guns. Frank campaign spokesman Harry Gural has dismissed the notion that this race is tight, telling CQ, "According to our numbers we are up by more than 20 points no matter what we do. ... Bill Clinton basically said, 'What can I do for you?' Barney said, 'Come to the district because you're really popular here.'"
Bielat said that if he is elected to Congress, he wants to focus less on party affiliation and would be willing to vote with the other side. "If the Democrats have a better idea on spending, on fiscal discipline, on defense -- the issues that I go around and talk about and are important to me and my campaign and my constituents -- then yeah. ... I don't have any intention of just being lock step," he said. But, he added, "the vast majority of the time, I do think the Republicans are in the right place."
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