With only days left until the chamber adjourns to hit the campaign trail, House Republicans will race to pass and sell a handful of signature legislative items while Democrats will focus on a message accusing the GOP of presiding over a “do-nothing Congress.”
As part of the Democratic plan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) this week will tell her Caucus it is time to step up criticism of Republicans, according to one Democratic leadership aide.
The aide said Pelosi will reiterate to Members that they should take every opportunity to publicly lambaste the GOP-led Congress for failing to deliver on key legislation.
As Democrats levy such charges, Republicans will focus heavily on their package of intelligence reforms, which party leaders and relevant committee chairmen unveiled Friday along with an ambitious timetable for passage.
“This is a comprehensive bill that reflects the recommendations of the 9/11 commission,” said Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), adding that he had asked committees of jurisdiction to finish marking up their portions of the measure by the end of this week so it can be on the floor next week.
Even if the House is able to complete its work within that timeframe, prospects for an agreement with the Senate and final passage before adjournment remain unclear. Senate Democrats and some Republicans have voiced concerns with the House’s version and have cautioned against rushing to passage, raising the prospect that the issue will not be resolved until a lame-duck session.
Such a stalemate could provide Democrats with additional fodder for the campaign trail, though Republicans say they aren’t too worried about such attacks.
“The case is a little more difficult without a Rose Garden ceremony, but certainly House passage would be a feather in our cap,” said a GOP leadership aide.
The intelligence reform bill will be the centerpiece of the GOP’s message on defense and terrorism in the closing days of the session.
In particular, Republican strategists believe such a focus can help them make further inroads among female voters. Some recent polling has suggested that President Bush is doing better among women than he did in 2000 and the House GOPers hopes they can reap the same gains.
“The ultimate women’s issue is the safety and security of their families,” said Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio).
On the economic front, the GOP will tout the passage last week of a bill extending three popular expiring tax cuts, though the prognosis in another key area of domestic policy — the appropriations process — remains unclear.
Hastert has said that he does not want to put off an omnibus spending measure until a lame-duck session, but leaders in both the House and Senate believe that is the most likely outcome.
Postponing the omnibus could have a hidden advantage for Republicans, since Democrats will undoubtedly use the final debate as a platform to accuse the GOP of hypocrisy for cutting taxes while failing to restrain spending.
A new Congressional Budget Office report prepared at Democrats’ request gives them new ammunition to blame the current regime for growing deficits.
At the same time, putting off the omnibus also carries risks for Republicans, in that Democrats could incorporate such a move into their larger argument that the GOP is failing to lead.
House Democrats say they will attempt to capitalize on the final weeks of the session to try to drown out the Republican majority message, recognizing it is an uphill climb to retake the House on Nov. 2. Democrats are at a 12-seat disadvantage in the House.
“Win, that’s our strategy,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.).
Democrats will wage an end-game strategy based largely on rhetoric, given they have little to no influence in slowing majority Republicans legislatively. That message, they said, will help echo that of Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry, who has spent the past two weeks criticizing the Bush administration for failures in Iraq and national security.
House Democrats too have been ramping up their attacks in recent days of the Bush administration on Iraq, charging the president with leading the country into conflict without a plan and hitting back when Republicans say Democrats would put the country at greater risk for terrorism. Democrats say they must create a drumbeat for Kerry to help his message carry throughout the country.
“Clearly we’re singing from the same hymnal,” Hoyer said. “The words will be in many instances alike.”
Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) said that by following Kerry’s lead, House Democrats will not only help their presidential candidate this fall, but House candidates as well. A message led by Kerry and repeated by House Democrats will give the party a stronger shot at breaking through to the electorate and convincing it to vote Democratic.
“This will not just be limited to Iraq,” Menendez said. “It makes sense we echo the person who has the biggest megaphone, and that is John Kerry. We need to give that echo because we want to win more seats.”
Democrats say they will spend the coming weeks — through one-minute floor speeches, special orders, press conferences and district events — pressing Republicans to enact the 9/11 commission recommendations, criticizing the Bush administration’s Iraq policies and pushing their recently unveiled “New Partnership for America’s Future.”
The latter is the Democrats’ latest attempt to connect with voters by vowing to deliver on themes tied to their domestic agenda of national security, job creation and education.
Menendez said Democrats will also hammer on the GOP for failing to pass legislation to provide jobs, create tax fairness and balance the federal books. He said Democrats will point to specific legislation the Republicans didn’t enact before the election — from a budget resolution and a transportation bill to completing the appropriations bills.
Menendez said Democrats’ focus “will be one of, ‘This is a failed Congress.’”
“You failed in not getting your work done and you failed fiscally, economically and you failed in terms of security,” Menendez said. “They have made all the wrong choices and now it’s time to go in a new direction.”
Hoyer agreed, saying Democrats will “communicate that we ought to have a change because Congress failed to do its job, and the president failed to undertake policies that were positive for the country and we have alternatives. We will undertake policies that have positive results.”