In the midst of a campaign season dominated by talk of the Vietnam era, House Republicans will take time out this week to remind voters of a political upheaval of more recent vintage.
Beginning today, the House GOP Conference begins a series of events and media appearances designed to commemorate the decade since 1994, the year Republicans seized the majority in both chambers of Congress.
Next Monday marks the 10-year anniversary of more than 300 candidates gathering on the Capitol’s West Front to sign the GOP’s “Contract with America.”
GOP leaders believe that an emphasis on the party’s accomplishments over the past 10 years will help make the case for continued Republican stewardship of the House after the November elections.
“When voters see a solid record of accomplishment for a decade, they’re going to have a sense of trust in the body that provided the leadership,” said GOP Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio).
As they celebrate their own accomplishments, Republicans will also try to create a contrast with House Democrats, who are planning to hold a major message event of their own on Wednesday, where they will distribute a document highlighting the party’s principles and values.
Democrats believe that Republicans are deliberately trying to take the spotlight away from their event, and contend that the GOP’s anniversary message is disingenuous.
“Their celebration, in essence, is a 10-year anniversary of the hijacking of America by the Republican Party,” said a Democratic leadership aide, arguing that the GOP has spent the decade trampling the minority party’s rights in the House.
As part of their commemoration, the Republican Conference will distribute a glossy booklet that highlights the party’s actions since taking over the House in 1994.
“Our record of the past 10 years is nothing short of astounding,” Pryce writes in the booklet’s introduction. “We have done more in the last decade to provide real hope and opportunity to more Americans than the Democrats did in the 40 years they were in control.”
The pamphlet features sections on “security,” “families” and “prosperity,” interspersed with statistics, information boxes and a handful of 1994 pop-culture references.
The publication will be handed out to lawmakers at Wednesday’s Conference meeting, after which the entire GOP leadership will hold an event to mark the anniversary.
On the House floor, Conference Vice Chairman Jack Kingston (Ga.) will lead a series of one-minute speeches focused on the anniversary.
To garner media attention, Conference bookers will work to place lawmakers on television and conservative talk-radio programs to discuss the anniversary. Republican leaders will also submit a series of op-eds to major newspapers touting the party’s accomplishments while in power.
But the Democratic leadership aide countered that many of the accomplishments of the 1990s that Republicans are bragging about were made possible by the leadership of President Bill Clinton, rather than the House GOP.
“We had a president in office who had a great economic strategy and an agenda to put people to work as opposed to the current president,” the aide said.
Even in an environment dominated by news of Iraq and the White House race, Republicans believe it is worth the effort to remind voters with short memories about events that occurred a decade ago.
“Politics is, ‘What have you done for me lately?’” said John Feehery, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). “Every two years you have to present yourself and your plan and your experience. What happened then was one of the most significant achievements in Congressional history, and it probably does not get its due.”
Republicans hope that this week’s events will serve not only to remind voters of their accomplishments of the past 10 years but also to make a case for continued GOP control of the House.
A key element of that strategy will be to remind people what the House was like the last time the Democrats had control.
“A big part of the contract was about making Congress work better. We’ve done that,” said Feehery, citing the House Bank scandal and the House’s messy balance sheets as examples of Democratic mismanagement.
The GOP Conference is not the only group looking to highlight the 10-year anniversary of the Republican takeover.
Last week, Gingrich Communications, the firm run by former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), sent out a 4,000-word e-mail touting the “stunning” nature of the 1994 election results and the accomplishments of the House in the 104th Congress.
While the Conference’s booklet examines the House’s cumulative record over the past decade, Gingrich’s missive focuses almost exclusively on the Contract with America itself and the first 100 days of Republican control.