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Democrats Shift Focus to the Domestic Front

While House Democrats aim to put a spotlight on the Iraq War this week with a series of votes aimed at winding down military involvement, Democratic leaders intend to send Members home to their districts next week with a message that gives equal footing to domestic issues.

“We learned from watching the previous Congress and the Bush administration [that] their focus on Iraq caused them to lose focus on domestic issues and other issues of importance, like dealing with al-Qaida and hunting down Osama bin Laden,” said a Democratic leadership aide, who asked not to be identified.

According to a “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the leadership to House Democrats on Thursday, that message will be divided into three areas: defense, which will include the Iraq War, among other issues; “American Dream” items, such as college tuition, health care and the minimum wage; and energy policy.

“I think the American people want to see progress made on domestic issues,” the House leadership aide said of the recess plan, adding that Democratic lawmakers would nonetheless continue to focus on the Iraq War. “We’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t focus on that issue, and I think we’ve gone a long way in changing the dialogue on [Iraq].”

According to a draft of documents that rank-and-file lawmakers will receive at their weekly Democratic Caucus meeting today, the Democrats will tout their “first steps,” including House passage of the farm bill and increased funding for veterans’ health care, as well as expected votes on expanding health care coverage to poor children and a lobbying reform package expected to reach the House floor this week.

“We’ve had a lot of accomplishments on the domestic work,” asserted one House Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. In addition to increasing the federal minimum wage, Democrats will tout a measure to implement the reforms of the 9/11 commission, both prominent items in the Democrats’ 2006 campaign platform.

But on many items, such as the fiscal 2008 spending bills still far from enrollment, Democrats also will continue over recess to paint Senate Republicans as obstructionists.

“The Democratic Leadership is urging Members to hold events and do interviews over the August District Work Period, highlighting our bipartisan progress — more than 70 percent of our key bills have passed with significant Republican support — despite obstruction from Senate Republicans and White House veto threats,” states the July 26 “Dear Colleague” letter, signed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.) and Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.).

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