As they head home, Republican Senators are being tasked with rallying support for President Bush’s new Social Security proposal and trying to convince voters that Democrats are obstructing both vital legislation and the confirmation of federal judges.
Not surprisingly, Democrats will be bringing a different theme back to their constituents, claiming that Republicans are distorting the facts by saying Social Security is in “crisis” and going against the Constitution in the fight over judicial confirmations. Democrats are seeking to wrap both issues into a theme hammering the GOP’s “quest for absolute power.”
The competing political messages are being delivered at a time when relations between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill continue to deteriorate and Bush faces a decisive point in his presidency.
Operatives in each party acknowledged this is a critical point in seeking to gain an upper hand on these issues, which will likely come to a head in the coming weeks and months.
“This is probably the last chance for there to be any kind of momentum change, because things are going to happen real quickly when we get back,” said a senior Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
A showdown over weakening the filibuster for judicial nominees might come to pass as early as next week, while Social Security will be a main topic through the summer.
Republicans are being told to echo a theme the majority has been sounding for at least two years — that Democrats are obstructionists who refuse to offer solutions to the nation’s pressing problems.
“Obviously, when you are blocking nominations, and you are blocking Social Security, and you are not providing answers, and you are not willing to compromise, you are pretty much a party that has no solutions,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.) said in an interview last week.
But Democrats said they feel no pressure to weigh in with a plan on Social Security, arguing it is Republicans who claim the system needs an emergency fix.
“We are not going to get into the details here,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said during a Friday conference call with reporters. Schumer reiterated the Democratic leadership’s demand that “privatizing” any part of the program needs to be taken off the table before real discussions on the subject can occur.
Rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats were issued talking points before leaving town last week in an effort to sound a unified theme on key issues. The Republican talking points align with Bush’s Thursday night speech, in which he expressed support for John Bolton, his controversial nominee to be U.N. ambassador, energy legislation and Social Security.
Prior to the speech, GOP Senators were issued talking points that included a memo on progressive indexing, the new wrinkle in Bush’s plan to reform the Social Security system. The Social Security segment also listed possible questions and answers for Senators to work from as well as fact sheets written by the White House and Treasury Department.
“A Social Security system that was designed for the world of 1935 will not work in the world of 2035 and beyond,” a memo produced by the Republican Conference stated. “Changes must be made, and the sooner we act, the more successful they will be.”
Regarding Bolton, GOP Senators are urged to support the embattled nominee and declare there is no evidence to support the claims that he sought to influence intelligence assessments or harassed a former contractor.
On judges, Republicans were given an outline of the most recent offer issued by Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to Democrats in an attempt to resolve the impasse and fact sheets to support their arguments. It is unclear which nominee Republicans would use if they try to change the rule, but a biography of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen was included in the packet.
Democratic leaders, meanwhile, are instructing their colleagues to meet with editorial boards and speak with progressive bloggers to spread their message and shore up support among base voters. Senators were even given a list of suggestions about how to attract media attention by holding events at courthouses and libraries or teaching a class on the Constitution focusing on the need for checks and balances within the government.
In addition to hosting their own events, Democratic leaders also recommended to rank-and-file members that they “plug in and be a guest speaker” at events being held by MoveOn.org, People for the American Way and the Alliance for Justice.
Democratic Senators were also issued detailed fact sheets of Democratic initiatives they expect to push in the coming months.