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Democrats Play Blame Game

As Election Day approaches, House Democrats are plotting a new round of finger-pointing that blames Republican rule for a number of national ills.

“We have folks now pretending they haven’t been in power for the last eight years, and that the failures of the last eight years were somebody else’s fault,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who is captaining the campaign.

The effort, highlighting what Democrats are terming the “Republican record of failure,” will unfold over the course of the month in House floor speeches, Web videos, newspaper opinion pieces and town hall presentations.

Republicans are already pushing back, noting that Democrats, who control both chambers of Congress, are in no position to launch attacks.

“For nearly two years, Democratic leaders have controlled the House of Representatives,” Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. “For nearly two years, they have had the opportunity to lead. Instead, they have stumbled and fumbled, producing little but embarrassing ethical lapses and political posturing.”

The hot potato over who deserves responsibility for the state of the union comes against the backdrop of what might be called a national malaise: Three out of four Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, according to; the stock market last week saw its steepest tumble in 10 weeks; and consumer confidence remains shaky as unemployment rises and housing market troubles continue to roil the economy.

The blame game heating up on Capitol Hill has already been playing out in the presidential campaign, as both candidates jockeyed for the “change” mantle during the national party conventions. While the House Democrats’ message will likely enforce what Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) is saying on the trail, Hoyer said he did not coordinate its development with the campaign. “We’ve been talking about this for the last six years,” he said.

Hoyer previewed his line of attack in a floor speech Monday. “The dominant political fact of the last eight years has been Republican failure — serial governing malpractice. This month, we will be holding them to account,” he said. He ticked off a laundry list of bad economic news and added, “All of that happened under the grip of Republican ideology. Eight years in the White House. Six years at all the levers of power. And after all that, they have the gall to ask for more? Every time they try to change the subject, every time they pretend to be agents of change, we will answer with the simple fact of their failure.”

In a letter to House Democrats today, Hoyer will ask for help in making the contrast “explicit” between the two parties’ records by giving one- and five-minute speeches on the floor, discussing the issues with reporters, releasing statements and writing opinion pieces. Hoyer today will also be presenting reporters with a “Republican report card,” in which he gives the minority party failing marks on the economy, Iraq, energy, health care, deficits and debt, corruption and abuse of power, and Hurricane Katrina.

Hoyer has tasked committee staffers with putting together more in-depth reports on the GOP’s performance, with the Budget, Homeland Security, Intelligence, Financial Services, Foreign Affairs, Energy and Commerce, and Ways and Means panels, among others, expected to weigh in.

In the interview, Hoyer said while Democrats have indeed controlled both sides of the Capitol since 2007, the Bush White House and a razor-thin margin in the Senate have made it difficult for the majority party to advance its agenda. Nevertheless, he said, Democrats will also be devoting time this month to touting what they have accomplished, a list that includes implementing the 9/11 commission recommendations, raising the minimum wage, overhauling ethics standards, expanding education benefits for veterans, hiking fuel-efficiency standards and a housing market rescue. The positive message will be prospective as well, Hoyer said, highlighting Democratic plans to implement fiscal responsibility, spend on health care and infrastructure, and redeploy American troops to confront terrorism “where it exists.”

Boehner, in his statement, offered a different assessment of Democratic rule. He said Democrats have failed to address soaring gas prices, a critique that has become a rallying cry for House GOPers in recent weeks. He said Democrats also “repeatedly passed the largest tax increase in history, hobbling families, small businesses and the American economy as a whole,” and “refused to shut down the earmark factory in Congress, and have instead spent hundreds of millions of dollars showering their newly-elected members in taxpayer-funded pork in hopes of helping them get re-elected.”

“Democratic Leaders would like to pretend that they don’t control this Congress,” Boehner continued, “and given the record-low approval ratings they have achieved, I can’t blame them. But to now try to blame Republicans for their record of failure is pathetic.”

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel indicated that in response to the Democratic offensive, Republicans will continue to focus on the debate over energy resources. House Republicans staged a five-week protest on the darkened House floor during the August recess, demanding Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) call the chamber back into session for a vote on expanding access to domestic energy supplies. Democratic leaders as early as this week are expected to unveil an energy package that would tie limited new drilling offshore to renewable electricity mandates and shifting tax breaks from oil companies to renewable power.

“It’s time for Democrats to lead, and instead they’re trying to pass the buck,” Steel said. “Until we get a real vote on the energy issue, we’re going to continue dealing with the No. 1 issue on the minds of the American people.”

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