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Democrats to Cite GOP ‘Arrogance’

Senate and House Democrats will launch a coordinated campaign this week to paint Republicans as an out-of-control ruling party that’s willing to flaunt its privileged status to appease the GOP base and protect itself from ethical scrutiny.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will kick off this new offensive Wednesday at a joint news conference.

Democrats sense that Republicans are vulnerable given the public dissatisfaction over Congress’ intervention into the Terri Schiavo matter and the ongoing ethical questions surrounding embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

Senate Democrats in particular are seeking to influence public opinion on the eve of what is likely to be a fierce battle over President Bush’s judicial nominations. A disagreement over judges could lead to maneuvers that virtually shut down legislative business in the chamber.

“Some of the leadership on the other side of the aisle is a little full of itself and thinks they can now not only reform or change the judiciary but reach into a lot of personal and family decisions that people would like to protect for themselves,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “I think they are going to have to pay for it.”

The Democratic strategy is to knit several different issues together in an effort to present a pattern of abuses by Congressional Republicans. Republicans immediately dismissed the Democratic plan, charging the minority party of engaging in partisan politics, not legislative solutions.

“It seems like a pretty standard line from a minority that doesn’t have to establish an agenda,” said Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho).

But in an interview last week, Reid described the GOP’s legislative style as “arrogance of power.” The two Democratic leaders foreshadowed their new strategy last week at their respective regularly scheduled news conferences, suggesting the GOP has “overreached” on a number of issues.

The House Minority Leader accused the GOP of going “too far” on changing ethics rules, Social Security and energy policy. And she accused Republicans of believing that they are “above the law” when it comes to running the government.

“Because we are above the law, we may take the law into our own hands when it comes to your personal decisions in your lives, but for us, we are above the law,” Pelosi said of her Republican counterparts.

The use of the term “overreaching” will be a centerpiece of Democratic script when they talk about the GOP’s stewardship of the federal government, several Members and their top aides said.

“I think it is pretty clear they are starting to overreach, and the American people are starting to understand that and be concerned about it,” said Senate Democratic Policy Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.).

Reid and Pelosi will urge their respective colleagues to begin speaking about GOP abuses of power, hoping an echo chamber resonates with voters across country.

Republicans suggested that once the drumbeat begins, it will be imperative for them to counter it with equal vigor.

“We have to be prepared to engage aggressively when it happens,” said Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.).

Still, there is an acknowledgement by House Democrats that they are limited in what they can do beyond filing ethics complaints, speaking about their dissatisfaction from the floor and reaching out to the media to express their concerns.

A heavier burden will be placed on Democratic shoulders in the Senate, because that chamber’s rules give the minority party greater influence over the legislative process. Reid made this point in an e-mail seeking financial assistance last week to Democratic donors.

“Only Senate Democrats stand between President Bush and total power,” Reid wrote in an e-mail titled “Drunk With Power” distributed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Reid’s e-mail focused on the possibility that Republicans will try to change the Senate rules to allow judicial nominations to be approved by a simple majority instead of the 60 votes needed when a filibuster is triggered.

“Drunk with power, Republicans are now ready to go ‘nuclear’ and turn the Senate into a rubber stamp for George Bush and his ultraconservative judicial nominations,” Reid wrote in the e-mail, citing the phrase that was coined to describe the possible rules change. “In the long run, the only way to stop this partisan power grab is to elect more Senate Democrats, and the best way you can help is by making a generous contribution to the DSCC today.”

Greg Crist, spokesman for the House Republican Conference, said Democrats, unwilling to propose solutions or an agenda, are kicking off yet another losing strategy.

“Look at the serious problems facing this country — the national energy crisis, the ongoing war on terror,” Crist said. “And they want to rip a page out of the back of their play book with no agenda and plot a scheme.”

But Democrats said their argument of overreaching has already been validated with the revelation late last week that a senior aide to freshman Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) suggested in a memo that Congress get involved because Schiavo was a good political issue.

Schiavo, a brain-damaged Florida woman, was the center of a battle over whether to disconnect her feeding tube. At one point, Congress passed emergency legislation allowing a federal court to review the case.

News of the memo’s origin came on the heels of DeLay’s comments suggesting that the judges who ruled against reinstating nourishment for Schiavo would be punished. “The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today,” DeLay said.

In the Democratic radio address Saturday, Reid touched on DeLay’s comments about judges as well as the House Republican leadership’s decision to change the ethics rules in order to protect the Texan and other GOP leaders. “We have a Republican leader threatening judges who protect our rights and corrupting our government by running roughshod over the ethics committee to protect himself,” Reid said.

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