To Avoid Further Losses, Republicans Need ‘Re-Branding’

Posted January 23, 2008 at 4:42pm

As Congressional Republicans try to “re-brand” themselves for the 2008 elections, the House Suburban Caucus is back with proposals designed to protect some of the most vulnerable GOP Members.

[IMGCAP(1)]The agenda includes establishment of federal “401 Kids” tax-deferred accounts for children, a requirement that school and library computers filter out Internet predators and permission for teachers to search school lockers and backpacks for guns.

Other proposals include a federal requirement that importers disclose potential contaminants in food brought into the United States and federal deadlines for doctors and hospitals to establish electronic medical records and prescribe medicines online.

The co-chairmen of the 70-member Suburban Caucus, Reps. Mark Kirk (Ill.), a moderate, and Pete Sessions (Texas), a conservative, are scheduled to present the agenda — and polling data backing it up — at the House GOP retreat beginning today in West Virginia.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been talking for more than a year about the need for Republicans to “re-brand” themselves or remain in the minority.

The main item on his agenda appears to be reform of the earmark system whose abuse led to scandals that helped hand control of Congress to the Democrats in 2006.

At the moment, polls indicate that the GOP is far from any hope of regaining control of the House. The Real Clear Politics average of generic Congressional polls indicates that voters prefer Democrats by a 7.6-point margin.

Exit polls in 2006 showed that Democrats outpolled Republicans by just four points, 50 percent to 46 percent, and picked up 30 seats.

And it’s almost universally accepted that Democrats will gain seats in the Senate this year inasmuch as five or six GOP-held seats are vulnerable, but only one or two Democratic seats.

Both House and Senate Republicans — and President Bush, too — plan to make “health insurance for every American” a major item on their policy agenda in an effort to catch up to Democratic presidential candidates.

However, Republicans will emphasize tax credits to enable families to buy private insurance, rather than “government-run” insurance programs or mandates of the type called for by Democrats.

It’s a disputed issue among Republicans whether to make the credits refundable and available to lower-income people who don’t pay income taxes. The White House was prepared to accept that idea last year, but it was torpedoed in Congress by conservative anti-tax groups.

Senate Republicans held a one-day policy retreat on Wednesday and unveiled proposals that leaders said would attract bipartisan support, including a task force recommended by Sens. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) to address entitlement reform.

Another proposal, backed by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Conrad, would permit employers to require that their workers speak English on the job — a measure designed to reverse a decision by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Before the retreat, Alexander, the No. 3 Senate GOP leader, said in an interview that “our message is that we’re ready to go to work and not take a year off because there’s an election. People want results. And that necessitates bipartisanship because it takes 60 votes to pass anything in the Senate.”

Alexander stipulated, though, that “we’ll stand up for our principles” and refuse, for example, to accept Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) request for a delay in voting on renewal of authority for the president to tap overseas terrorist communications routed through the United States.

With the economy emerging as the No. 1 issue on the minds of voters, both House and Senate Republicans will back a stimulus package that emphasizes accelerated depreciation for U.S. businesses and tax rebates, although the White House has indicated it will compromise with Democrats to include making payments to persons who pay no income taxes.

At a panel discussion held by House GOP moderates on Wednesday, Rep. Phil English (Pa.), a member of the Ways and Means Committee, said the stimulus should be even larger than the $150 billion proposed by Bush — at least $200 billion, he said.

At the gathering, Kirk also proposed temporarily re-creating the Depression-era Home Owners’ Loan Corp. to refinance subprime mortgages.

A poll commissioned by Kirk and Sessions’ Suburban Caucus indicated that Republicans and independents overwhelmingly approve of cutting corporate tax rates and extending Bush’s 2001 tax cuts. Democratic polls dispute those findings, however.

The poll, conducted by McLaughlin & Associates, showed whopping support across party lines for all the items on the suburban agenda — which Kirk said would help convince fellow Republicans to embrace it.

The poll was conducted in 10 suburban districts, from San Diego to Connecticut, where Republicans have targets on their backs. They need new ideas and for their party to be re-branded.