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Democratic Message in Flux

While Democratic aides said House leaders have yet to shape a take-home message for rank-and-file Members returning to their districts this month — citing the uncertain fates of several big-ticket legislative items — sources said the theme will seek to cast Republicans in an obstructionist light, even as Democrats call for more bipartisanship in the second session.

Democrats are trying to finish work before the recess on multiple fronts, including an omnibus appropriations bill likely coupled with war funding, an energy package and alternative minimum tax relief. None of those items is a sure bet to be signed into law before the first session of the 110th Congress ends.

“You have to look at the things we have done in this environment with a Republican in the White House and Republicans in the Senate intent on blocking everything and some Republicans here” in the House intent on the same, said one senior House aide, who asked not to be identified.

“All these things we’re able to do with such a slim margin,” the aide added. “The point is we could do a lot more, and we’ll continue to push. … The job is not done.”

“We hope that Republicans will come back and will be willing to work with us,” the aide said, although he acknowledged no new plans have been formulated to win over GOP Members on issues ranging from health care to an expected economic stimulus package.

Another Democratic aide, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, noted that a major segment of the expected message will be “making sure we talk about who’s responsible for this.”

“One thing is for sure, the American people will know that George Bush and his allies in Congress did everything they possibly could to block important investments in our nation,” the aide added.

Republicans dismissed the expected Democratic message, asserting that the blame lies with the majority rather than the minority.

“Blaming Republicans for their own fecklessness is an absurd message, especially when you consider the advantage of majority status in the House, but it probably polls better than the truth — that they’re incapable of governing,” said Brian Kennedy, spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

“In fact, between preventing a retreat from Iraq and fully funding the troops, to [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] modernization and holding the line on spending, Republicans may have gotten more priorities signed into law this year than the Democrat majority … unless we’re counting post offices.”

In the meantime, as House lawmakers sought to craft a massive omnibus spending bill Tuesday afternoon — expected to include funding for the Iraq War, a proposition unlikely to win approval from the party’s base — House aides acknowledged the secondary portion of the Democrat’s message remains in limbo.

“You can’t do message strategy until you know what your strategy is,” asserted a leadership aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

But Democrats do plan to turn the agenda, and their focus, to the economy in the second-half of the 110th Congress, including an expected stimulus package announced last week by Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

“There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that will be a major focus for next year,” the aide said, adding that the House also will continue its focus on health care and global warming in the next session.

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