Why is this Congress so, er, dysfunctional? It's a question that has become old and tired.
Yet House Democrats and Republicans are set to once again bring home their predictable answer — blaming each other — in messaging strategies for the August and early-September congressional recess.
Then again, who else would they blame — voters? Not likely.
"Obstructionists" is just one unsurprising way Democrats plan to depict House Republicans as they prepare to leave Washington on Thursday for what will be a key campaign stretch before the Nov. 4 elections.
A "Dear Colleague" letter from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, accompanied by Democratic talking points for her members, also casts the GOP as a bunch whose internal turmoil distracts from efforts in this divided Congress to deal with the economy and other priorities of the American people.
But Republicans are ready to continue emphasizing they are merely a "minority party in Democrat-run Washington."
The opening page of their own messaging packet argues that, in fact, the GOP is the party of solutions to creating jobs, promoting greater opportunity, and even freedom.
"Unfortunately, dozens of these bills are stuck on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's desk as he chooses day after day to put personal politics above helping people," is a standard line that is offered.
In these all-too-familiar ways — perhaps reflecting the level of imagination that also has been unable to forge more bipartisan action — House Democrats and Republicans head into the recess equipped by their party leaders with prefab ideas for holding events, writing press releases and anticipated press inquiries, and holding local-issue roundtables.
The rank-and-file members don't have to use any of the materials in the communications packets distributed this week, and many will choose to wing it. But for members wobbly-kneed in trying to explain Washington to their constituents, almost none of their campaigning back home has to be left to their imaginations.
According to national polling, these messaging efforts will come as this Congress continues to garner low approval ratings. One recent poll conducted July 7-10 by Gallup showed that only 15 percent of those surveyed approve of how Congress is doing its job — almost unchanged from a finding in June.
Republicans and Democrats approve of Congress at similarly (low) levels — 17 percent and 16 percent, respectively, according to Gallup. In a news release, Gallup Senior Editor Jeff Jones says that their findings suggest Congress is a "political orphan" that neither Republicans nor Democrats will adopt as their own.
But on Thursday, members of Congress will begin their recess. And so, the leaders have armed them with some offensive and defensive rhetoric.
On the Democratic side, Pelosi and other party leaders suggest that each week of August be given a certain theme, "to coordinate our events and amplify our message." For instance, the week of Aug. 3 to Aug. 9 would be devoted to unveiling the party's "Middle Class Jumpstart, and emphasizing raising the minimum wage."
The next week could be devoted to events tied to the party's jobs agenda, the Democrats' so-called "Make it in America" initiative. The week of Aug. 17-23 could be dedicated to "Affordable Education to Keep America #1." And the packet says the final week in August could emphasize the Democrats' economic agenda for women, "When Women Succeed, American Succeeds."
The Democrats' materials do not delve much into the Affordable Care Act — or repeated Republican attempts to undo or alter it. But the talking points do suggest that members could hold a press conference and events tied to other health issues, such as their Healthy Families Act allowing paid sick leave for mothers with sick children at home, or the Healthy Families Act, which would set a national paid sick days standard — allowing workers to earn up to seven job-protected paid sick days each year.
Writes Pelosi in her "Dear Colleague" letter, "Democrats must present solutions to create opportunity for our constituents and draw stark contrasts with House Republicans' dysfunction and distraction."
But the word "solutions" is also a main theme of the messaging road map given this week to House Republicans by GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers. In fact, the packet itself is titled, "American Solutions: The House Republican Plan for Jobs Opportunity and Freedom."
The messaging materials include lists of Republican legislation geared toward the environment, consumers, taxes, defense, national security, and other issues.
Republican accomplishments named to brag about touch on a number of Obamacare issues, including a repeal of the small-business "1099" paperwork mandate of the health care law and enacting savings from other aspects of the law.
And in an era where Republicans have been bashed as obstructionists, another big talking point is that Republicans "have protected 99 percent of Americans from permanent tax hikes," and enacted "the most significant spending reductions in modern history — more significant than under President Reagan and Speaker [Thomas "Tip"] O'Neill and President Clinton and Speaker [Newt] Gingrich."
So, too, do the talking points credit House Republicans for having taken "[a]ggressive oversight of the Obama Administration, including [on] Benghazi and the Taliban prisoner exchange."
Some of the GOP recess-event suggestions are quite basic. For instance, one idea: "Head to a city in your district and stop by a number of small businesses along 'Main Street.' "