With Republicans on the ropes, House Minority Leader John Boehner is preparing to unveil a major economic initiative in a last-ditch effort to offer voters an Election Day alternative and to warn of the consequences of large Democratic pickups.
Boehner's proposal -- which he calls an attempt to "change the economic debate in America and to define a clear choice for the election" -- features tax cuts for the middle class and small business, renewed emphasis on energy reform, and elimination of government pork. It also is designed to highlight Democrats' big-spending economic "stimulus" plans, which they could press as soon as a post-election lame-duck session.
In a weekend memo sent to House Republican members and candidates, Boehner wrote, "We must seize this opportunity during the final days of the campaign and define the clear choice before the American people on Election Day. Earlier this year, when [Nancy] Pelosi, [Harry] Reid and [Barack] Obama were on the wrong side of the American people on energy, Republicans called them on it -- and we won. The same dynamics are in play now with respect to our economy -- if we, as Republicans, will engage."
The memo's plaintive tone dramatizes the worries among House Republicans as they head into the final days of the campaign, including the fear of steep election losses that could deepen their long-term minority status. Boehner's memo and the outlines of his initiative are posted on the Web site of the Freedom Project, his campaign arm.
Boehner's "rapid recovery" initiative was warmly embraced by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, with whom Boehner was a close ally as House Republican Conference chairman from 1995 to 1998. In a companion weekend e-mail that he sent to more than 30 House Republicans and dozens of party operatives, Gingrich called Boehner's memo "the beginning of an economic choice campaign focused on the upcoming special session of Congress, which could change the entire last week of the campaign."
He urged that every Republican "take a deep breath, bring in your campaign manager and consultant, and change all of your messaging -- radio, tv, telephone, direct mail, speeches, debates -- to this core choice. If enough Republicans hammer home this message, the results will be very different in ten days than people expect."
Both Boehner and Gingrich cited recent poll results from veteran GOP campaign strategist David Winston, whose monthly New Models survey found last week that 71 percent of respondents believed that small-business tax cuts would create jobs, and 25 percent disagreed. On another question, 86 percent said that economic growth and jobs should be the focus of government economic policy, and only 9 percent favored "redistribution of wealth."
Since Gingrich stepped down as Speaker and resigned from the House following GOP setbacks 10 years ago, he has had few dealings on Capitol Hill. But he reportedly carries weight with many Republicans, especially less senior figures. And he has become an occasional critic of President Bush and GOP presidential nominee John McCain as he appears to be positioning himself for a possible presidential bid in 2012.
Boehner cast the initiative as his own and promised to provide updates soon. He reportedly has discussed his plans with other House GOP leaders and has kept McCain informed. Depending on the election outcome, Boehner could face second-guessing and a possible leadership challenge among House Republicans when the new Congress is scheduled to organize later next month. His economic plan -- like the energy initiative that he pushed this summer, which was widely embraced by GOP members -- could show that he has been responsive to the difficult political environment.
Although Boehner's memo cited possible lame-duck action on an economic plan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- and listed recent "tax and spend" comments by presidential nominee Barack Obama and House Financial Services Committee chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass. -- it's by no means clear that Democrats would have the time and disposition to craft a plan and reach agreement with Bush in what is expected to be only a few days of legislative session. If Obama wins and Democrats score significant gains in the House and Senate, they may prefer to prepare for quick action in January when they have more leverage.
In that sense, Boehner's effort to draw the lines more sharply with Democrats may offer a hint of what lies down the road as Republicans seek to refocus themselves following possibly debilitating election losses. "America remains a center-right country -- and on the critical issue of the economy, a majority of the American people and the Republican Party are on the same page," he wrote in his weekend memo. Gingrich added that the legislative focus "gives an immediacy and a reality that staying within a campaign focus undermines."