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Home for Two Weeks, Both Sides to Talk Economy

With a two-week recess coming up and only a scant three weeks of work to draw on since their last break, Congressional Democrats are hoping their thin record of accomplishments this year will be overcome in the public’s consciousness by the promise of better things to come.

[IMGCAP(1)]“As we’ve been saying, we’ve made progress, but it’s not good enough,” said one Senate Democratic

leadership aide. The focus of the recess, the aide said, will be “a general discussion on the state of the economy, our ideas on how to strengthen the economy, and Republican inaction.”

Democrats will blame their GOP foes for blocking passage of economic stimulus measures.

“It’s the Republicans’ wait-and-see, hands-off posture toward the economy that got us into this mess in the first place,” said the Senate Democratic leadership aide. A case in point for Democrats from the past three weeks will be the Senate Republicans’ refusal to allow the consideration of a bill aimed at the housing crisis.

But the major test of the Democrats’ message of “we’re trying, but Republicans are stopping us” will be their success at passing a budget resolution through both chambers this week — a feat that needs only a majority in each chamber and cannot be filibustered. The Democratic budget blueprint is pretty much the road map for their entire agenda for this year and beyond.

To hear Democrats tell it, their budget will create jobs, improve the economy and make America safer. Of course, it does none of those things outright because it is nonbinding. Democrats, however, say it lays the groundwork for the binding policies that will accomplish those goals.

“These are the things that we are seeking to do that distinguish us from them,” said House Budget Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.). It is not necessarily a new game plan to contrast their plan to create jobs by spending on road construction and other infrastructure with what they say is the GOP’s repetitive “tax cuts for every economic malady” message.

Even so, Spratt said Monday he didn’t include a carve-out for another economic stimulus package in his budget because he didn’t want to “create the idea that it’s there and ready to go.”

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) set aside $35 billion for whatever economic growth measures his leadership wants to bring to the floor.

It’s apparent that keeping each Member on message and united will be no easy task for Democratic leaders. That’s why Senate Democrats will be handing out recess packets at today’s party lunch. The talking points in those packets are “80 percent focused on the economy” and attempt to school Senators in how to frame everything Democrats are trying to do in terms of the economy, said the Senate Democratic leadership aide.

“When you’re gone for two weeks, there’s always the possibility of losing focus,” said the aide. “But we’re going to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Republicans, meanwhile, plan to rip into Democrats on taxes and national security.

Senate Republicans are planning to focus on the “family budget,” trying to paint the Democratic budget as a massive tax increase for families at a time when they are struggling to pay bills.

“Our Members are going back over recess and we hope connecting with people and talking about their own budget and how they’re going to be putting gas in their car, and distilling it down in a way that is more accessible to voters,” said Ryan Loskarn, spokesman for Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.).

And Loskarn said that Republicans have also shown a repeated willingness to work with Senate Democrats on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, on the first stimulus package and on other legislation.

“I don’t think they have a lot of opportunities to say we’ve stymied progress,” Loskarn said.

Senate Republicans plan to force Democrats to take several votes against permanently extending President Bush’s 2001 tax cuts along with other tax breaks.

So far, Democrats appear to have only one amendment in response, but it will become one of their central economic themes, aides said. The proposal, offered by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), would extend several middle-class tax cuts.

“Our version is about what responsible tax cuts look like,” said one senior Senate Democratic aide.

Republicans will attack the Democrats for incompetence in legislating, a House GOP aide said. “We are happy to raise Democratic incompetence whenever we can. … The few lame bills they have they have to pull off the floor.”

But a House Democratic leadership aide said Democrats would talk about the economy and energy, highlighting the stimulus package and the checks that will go out as tax season approaches, as well as the House-passed energy tax bill.

“Those are two of the biggest issues that are most on the minds of the American people,” the aide said.

That being said, there is a sense that Congressional news is getting drowned out to a certain degree, the aide said.

“We all watch cable news and we all know the presidentials are receiving the lion’s share of the coverage, and we all know that’s how this process works, particularly during this historic presidential election. … But that hasn’t stopped our Members from going out and talking about what they are doing back home.”

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