Election Won’t Impact Hill Agenda

Posted February 6, 2008 at 6:41pm

Despite uncertainty over who their presidential nominee will be, House and Senate Democrats said Wednesday that they will put neither their legislative agendas nor their message activities in a holding pattern until the contest is worked out, and they predicted few major changes to their work even after a nominee has been picked.

“While presidential candidates will certainly focus the attention of the American people, the House has laid out our priorities, including the economy, health care, national security and global warming,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said. “In many cases, these are the same issues being discussed on the national campaign trail.”

Senior Senate Democratic leadership aides noted that while Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has indicated he would wait to unveil his agenda until a White House nominee was picked, there were never plans to allow the nominee to control the agenda on Capitol Hill. They added that the party’s broad message themes are well-suited to both presidential candidates, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill).

“I think Reid has some things he wants to do regardless of who the nominee is,” one leadership aide said, adding that “I’m not sure that [agenda] would have bent to whoever the nominee is” even if a frontrunner had been identified following Tuesday’s primaries.

A second leadership aide said Reid has a host of priorities already in the pipeline — many of which, such as patent reform, are not the “sexy” type of issues presidential campaigns emphasize to begin with — and that those bills would be addressed regardless of developments in the campaign.

“To say we’re sitting around twiddling our thumbs waiting for direction would be just plain wrong. … There is a lot of work that can and should be done,” the aide said.

This aide also downplayed the notion that Reid would make any serious changes to the Senate Democratic agenda and said that even if modifications are needed, he will wait to address them when the time comes.

“If adjustments need to be made when we have a nominee, of course we’ll look at that,” the aide said. “But until then, we’re not going to be scrambling for something to do.”

Similarly, Senate Democrats said they expect few changes to the Caucus’ overall messaging work. Sen. Ken Salazar (Colo.) noted that both Obama and Clinton have very similar positions on most issues already, and said that they and the caucus have embraced similar themes.

“On the proactive, substantive message, there isn’t much difference between them. … I don’t think there’s a hair’s difference,” he said.

However, Salazar did warn that Democrats could face some difficulty with their messaging if the two candidates crank up their attacks on each other, and said he hopes they will maintain a positive tone during the remainder of the campaign.

“I think if they can keep the debate between them civil and on the optimistic side of the ledger, then there won’t be a problem,” Salazar said.

A senior Democratic leadership aide said that both Obama and Clinton have embraced Reid’s “agents of change” message and that while some minor tweaks may be needed, few drastic changes are likely.

“The message of change remains. … The Caucus and the party have bought into this message regardless of who the nominee is,” the aide said.

In the House, Democrats suggested that the would-be nominee’s influence is unlikely to prompt a radical change in course, although it could instigate some finessing of the existing agenda.

During Democrats’ annual retreat in Williamsburg, Va., last week, Hoyer outlined a schedule largely composed of legislative leftovers from the first half of the 110th Congress.

“The agenda is to some degree a completion of the agenda we started last year, as is usually the case in the second year of a Congress,” Hoyer said. Among the significant measures he expects Democrats to pursue are the budget, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, additional economic stimuli, legislation addressing global warming and the Iraq War.

“There are things clearly spelled out that the Democrats in Congress will move forward on. … But there will be ample opportunity to work with the Democratic nominee,” said Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Another Democratic aide said that while the agenda is set in the House, the eventual nominee could potentially influence the timing or content of the measures the chamber addresses.

“To the extent possible, we’re going to work with the nominee,” the aide said.