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GOP Lawmakers Planning United Message on Budget

Determined to present a unified front against the White House and a Democratic-run Congress, Republicans plan to use the budget release today to kick off a five-week campaign that will highlight areas where they believe the administration’s blueprint is flawed.

A senior GOP aide said the campaign would include the circulation of coordinated talking points and the melding of the documents from the House and Senate Budget panels and Republican Conference committees.

“The House Conference is working with House and Senate Budget committee staff to try to get us singing off the same sheet of music right out of the gate,” a second aide said.

Staff from the offices of House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) met Wednesday morning on the Senate side to discuss the roll out of their plan, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

“This is a continuing effort to highlight not only what Republicans feel are deficiencies in the budget, but also the areas where we can find common ground so Americans can evaluate the final product with a full set of facts,” McConnell spokesman Josh Holmes said.

A Boehner spokesman confirmed the meeting and said the economic stakes are too high for their message not to be heard.

“We already know this budget will raise taxes in a recession, which is disturbing in and of itself,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel wrote in an e-mail. “But based on media reports, the budget appears to raise them not just on ‘wealthy’ Americans, but on small businesses, retirees, and basically anyone in America who uses energy.”

House and Senate Republicans vowed to work closely together earlier this year, a lesson learned after the massive losses sustained by both chambers in the 2008 election cycle.

For example, on Jan. 8, Boehner and McConnell held a joint press conference to respond to Obama’s economic speech. And during the stimulus debate, each chamber issued press releases that pointed out the same spending projects that they deemed to be wasteful.

Senate Republicans were forced to diverge during the stimulus debate, in part because three GOP Senators voted for the bill.

Unity, however, has been a double-edged sword for Republicans.

Although House Republicans voted unanimously against the economic stimulus bill on Feb. 13, energizing the GOP base, recent polls suggest that Republicans, not Obama, have been unwilling to extend an olive branch — which in turn has caused their approval ratings to plummet.

Members and staff on both sides of the aisle agree that Obama’s popularity must be kept separate from his policies so they can attack the message without attacking the president.

The senior GOP aide stressed that both chambers would strive not just to point out what was wrong with the bill, but to work equally hard at identifying policy areas where Republicans could agree with the administration.

“This is not just opposition messaging,” the aide said. “We want to highlight areas where we agree, too.”

Boehner defended the Republicans to reporters Wednesday, saying the public would eventually realize that they, too, wanted Obama to succeed. “We are doing everything we can to work with the president where we can. As you all know, there are differences between Democrats and Republicans,” Boehner told reporters Wednesday.

“I think the president certainly didn’t want to start the way he did. I think clearly he wanted more participation,” Boehner said. “He wanted House Democrats to allow more participation from us.”

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