House Dems, GOP Will Head Home With the Usual Talking Points

House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi speaks during a news conference June 12, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
July 30, 2014, 12:46 p.m.

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.’ “

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