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Parties Give Recess Orders

Talking Points Direct Senators

Gas prices, home foreclosures and veterans’ education benefits will be on the lips of most Senators as they travel in their home states this week, following a whirlwind June in which the chamber accomplished a lot but left plenty to do.

Predictably, Senate Democrats plan to focus on their successes in passing a new education benefit for GIs returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and an extension of unemployment benefits, as well as their progress in moving a housing foreclosure measure. Senate Republicans will home in on what they see as the Democratic majority’s failure — the lack of action on bills to spur domestic energy production.

Both parties are taking the partisan fight that they’ve been having on the Senate floor back to their states, with Democrats blaming GOP “obstructionism” for the inaction on gas prices, renewable energy tax breaks and a Medicare doctor’s bill. For their part, Republicans will be calling Democrats out of touch with practical solutions to rising energy prices.

Republicans are aiming to score big with a message that zeroes in on gas prices by largely repackaging long-standing policy goals of drilling for more oil.

“I think we have the upper hand because we happen to be right on getting more American energy,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) said. “We’ve been for it. They’ve been against it. There’s no question about it.”

Republicans are also trying to broaden their energy pitch by incorporating policies that encourage fuel-efficient technology, such as plug-in electric cars. The talking points that Republican Senators were given on their way out of town last week hit on the theme “Find More, Use Less.”

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) has emphasized getting bipartisan support for the GOP’s latest energy legislation. As an acknowledgement, the GOP’s proposal left out drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is opposed by a majority in the Senate, including some Republicans. However, other proposals that Democrats and environmentalists generally oppose, such as expanded offshore drilling, are in the measure.

Republicans argue that Democratic plans for rising energy costs “ignore half the law of supply and demand, focus only on using less, propose begging Saudi Arabia for more oil, [and] say ‘No we can’t’ to more American energy,” according to the GOP talking points.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the GOP’s energy message also gives Republicans a way to talk about the economy.

“Energy’s affecting food prices, transportation costs and quality of life,” Graham said. But he said the No. 1 question on constituents’ minds is gas prices.

“If you’re a politician and you go back home, you can’t go 3 feet without somebody asking you, ‘What are we going to do about gas prices?’” he said.

Senate Democrats will also focus on gas prices during the recess, using the chamber’s inability to pass their energy proposal that targeted energy prices, housing legislation and a Medicare doctor’s bill as part of their broader effort to highlight the number of GOP-led filibusters, which they now say is up to 79.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) office suggests that Senators hold a press conference with “grocers, truckers [and] food suppliers” while at home to show “that we understand gas prices and flooding [in the Midwest] have caused food prices to rise,” according to a recess messaging packet provided to the Senate Democratic Conference.

Reid’s office also compiled a detailed list of state-specific statistics and other talking points on current issues, Democratic accomplishments and “Republican Obstructionism” for Members to weave into their public speeches.

Democrats will use passage of the new GI bill to reach out to veterans’ organizations and others who have often lean toward the GOP, according to Democrats.

Reid’s office advises Senators that holding a GI bill press event with veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars would provide “an opportunity for Democrats to work with veterans groups that usually do not support our initiatives.”

On the housing issue, the recess message packet counsels that lawmakers should “work with local credit organizations to find a block with a mixture of foreclosed and lived in houses” to be a backdrop for press events on foreclosures. Senate Democrats sought to pass the housing measure before leaving for the recess but were stymied by a handful of Republican objections. Still, the measure appears on a path to passage, considering more than 80 Senators support it.

Although the packet did not include language on Medicare, leadership aides said Friday that Reid’s office is developing a plan to attack Republicans for blocking the bill late Thursday and are expected to provide it to Democratic lawmakers during the break.

The Medicare measure would prevent doctors who serve the government-run health insurance program from having to take a pay cut starting Tuesday, but the inability to clear the House-passed bill means current law will lapse. President Bush has issued a veto threat because he — along with Senate Republicans — object to cuts to the Medicare Advantage program that would be used to pay for the doctors’ fix.

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