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Session Ends With Dueling Verdicts

The House broke for recess at the end of last week with Republicans and Democrats emphasizing starkly different themes, providing a preview of the two parties’ message strategies for the run-up to Election Day.

In dueling press conferences Thursday afternoon, leaders from both parties attempted to play to their strengths, with Republicans focusing on progress in the war on terror and Democrats highlighting the GOP’s alleged failures on the domestic front.

“Republicans are jetting out of town after failing to lead on virtually every critical issue facing the nation,” said Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), pointing out that the House and Senate GOP have been unable to agree on a budget, a highway bill, an FSC-ETI international-tax measure or an energy plan.

Hoyer argued that Republican stewardship of Congress had created “palpable dissatisfaction among voters,” while Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Jim Clyburn (S.C.) cited his party’s recent leads in generic ballot-test polling.

On an institutional level, Hoyer said the House was on track to work the fewest days of any Congress in the past 48 years. And Democrats continued to paint a broad picture of the GOP as unfair and corrupt.

“The Republican majority’s arrogance is second to none,” said Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.), alleging that the GOP rules “by force, intimidation and coercion.”

While Democrats suggested that voters would support a change in leadership, none at Thursday’s gathering discussed the party’s own policy agenda or what Democrats would do differently if they were in charge.

Republicans, meanwhile, titled their gathering “Terror on the Run,” repeatedly stressing the House’s accomplishments on that front. Keying off the freshly released 9/11 report, they made no mention of domestic issues other than homeland security.

“We have made great progress, thanks to the leadership of President Bush and some of these people who are gathered right here behind me,” said Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), referring to the assembled leaders and relevant committee chairmen.

GOP lawmakers emphasized the military victory in Afghanistan, progress in Iraq, the passage of the Patriot Act and other legislative accomplishments that bolstered America’s security and intelligence infrastructure.

While Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) made no specific reference to the Democrats, he did seek to contrast the Bush administration’s record on terrorism with that of President Bill Clinton.

“For eight years in the 1990s, international terrorism was at war with us … and we treated it like jaywalking,” DeLay said. He added that Republicans would “keep national security at the top of the national agenda where it belongs.”

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