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GOP Puts Jobs on Agenda

Seeking to mute Democratic criticism of the GOP’s stewardship of the economy, House Republicans plan to repackage and repass legislation they say will help make U.S. businesses more competitive.

Already far ahead of the Senate in having passed the bulk of the Republican Congressional agenda, the planned eight-week House floor strategy — to begin shortly before Memorial Day and run up to the Democrats’ presidential nominating convention at the end of July — will focus more on public relations than on new ideas for how to address the problems of jobs moving overseas and the general unease in the country over unemployment.

“Bills that we already passed, that have been languishing, we need to make the American public aware of them again,” said Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), the architect of the eight-week strategy.

Jonathan Grella, spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), added: “We won’t just be blunting the [Democratic] criticism on outsourcing. We’ll be establishing our command of these topics. … It’s about reminding people we’re on top of this.”

It’s all part of an ongoing GOP message movement emphasizing that all of the GOP’s agenda — from reducing the costs of lawsuits and regulations to general tax cuts — is intended to make it more profitable for companies to keep their operations and jobs in the United States.

Indeed, Republicans seized upon the Labor Department’s report Friday that nearly half a million jobs were created in the first quarter of 2004, and they credited the billions of dollars in tax cuts and other policies of the Republican Congress and White House for stimulating the economy.

But Democrats shot back that the continuing stagnation in manufacturing job growth as well as the 0.1 percent uptick in the unemployment rate still spell bad news for American workers.

As for the GOP’s weekly focus on economic measures, Democrats were no more impressed.

“Eight weeks of fakery isn’t going to make up for two years of inaction and an administration of inaction,” said one Senate Democratic leadership aide.

Todd Webster, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), echoed that sentiment.

“The reason they’re losing the debate over jobs is because they’re the most anti-worker regime in a long time,” Webster said. “They support shipping jobs overseas. They support tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, and they’re in the process of eliminating overtime for 8 million American workers.”

The GOP economic message in the planned eight-week campaign is designed specifically to focus on and rebut that criticism, said Tiahrt.

The Kansas Republican said he was tired of being accused by political opponents in his district of supporting an environment that encourages jobs to move overseas, and he lamented the loss of nearly 13,000 jobs from a Boeing facility in his Wichita district.

“It has nothing to do with wages,” said Tiahrt of the notion that companies move jobs overseas to pay workers less. “It has everything to do with the environment the government created.”

So the focus will be on the familiar Republican themes of curbing lawsuits, reducing taxes, decreasing government regulation, providing energy production incentives, encouraging free trade, increasing job training, promoting more research and development through tax incentives, and providing health care companies with incentives to cut costs.

Though GOP leaders have agreed to those eight general themes, they have not yet mapped out all of the details and say they will still have to interrupt those weeks with other business, such as the 13 annual spending bills.

But the overall strategy will likely include repassing the original $31 billion energy conference report, which passed the House last fall but was filibustered in the Senate by a coalition of Democrats and Northeastern Republicans.

Senate Republicans, however, have been trying to build support in the House for a slimmed-down, $14 billion energy package that eliminates some controversial elements that caused the filibuster.

The House GOP’s plan also entails bringing back other issues that have passed the House but have been filibustered in the Senate during the past year and a half, such as a bill to curb class action and medical malpractice lawsuits.

In addition to pushing legislation to make all of President Bush’s tax cuts permanent, Tiahrt noted that he would like to revive efforts to sunset the current tax code and transition to a national sales tax.

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) said the House may not want to repass everything and, therefore, may simply pass resolutions calling on the Senate to take up those measures House Republicans believe will stimulate the economy.

House Republicans also may attach their priority bills to other pieces of legislation, such as appropriations or important federal program reauthorizations, as a way of trying to force the Senate to act on them, Kingston said.

“We’re not going to let the Senate sit on these important measures,” Grella said.

Of course, Senate Republicans say they don’t plan to let their top legislative and economic priorities languish, but they acknowledged that they will not be able to present a united front with the House during its eight-week barrage.

“We’d love to be able to do it,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (Va.). “A lot of problems with the scheduling or sequencing of bills is with the Democrats’ obstructionism.”

Indeed, Senate Republicans have become increasingly frustrated with Democrats strategy of preventing legislation from moving to House-Senate conference committees as well as their recent practice of using any and all bills that come to the floor as a way of bringing up amendments to increase the minimum wage or overturn proposed Bush administration overtime regulations.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.) said he meets weekly with his House counterparts to try to coordinate strategy, and he noted that the Senate has been pushing curbs on lawsuits and tax breaks for the past few months to no avail.

“We would be doing that but for the Democrats’ insistence on themed amendments,” he complained.

But Democrats say the Republicans have actually been more successful in their economic agenda than they think and contend that it might be better to actually try out the Democrats’ proposals on wages and the economy for a change.

“They’re hollering that their economic plan is being stymied, because it’s too dangerous to admit that their economic program is already in place,” the Senate Democratic leadership aide said.

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