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GOP to Try Incremental Strategy

With Democrats looking to paint the GOP as the “party of no— thanks to its opposition to climate change and health care reform, Senate Republicans have begun shifting their rhetoric away from simple condemnations, arguing instead for an incremental approach to legislating.

Up until now, most of the GOP’s message has been focused on the health care debate. But in a floor speech Tuesday, Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) expanded this new rifle-shot approach to legislation to virtually every major policy fight before Congress — including immigration, health care, the budget and climate change policy.

Noting that the 2006 immigration bill “fell under its own weight— and that health care reform is “in the ditch,— Alexander argued that “it’s time we recognize we don’t do comprehensive well. … I think it’s plenty obvious that we in Congress have been biting off more than we can chew.—

Republicans said the new approach, which has been championed by Alexander and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) over the past several months, comes in response to increasing public discomfort with the federal government’s efforts to tackle broad policy reforms.

“There’s a lot of public skepticism about government’s ability to do major overhauls of health care or immigration, for example,— National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said Tuesday, adding that Republicans are “responding to what we’re hearing from our constituents … something that is symptomatic of the problems of Congress.—

[IMGCAP(1)]Privately, however, Republican operatives acknowledge the new emphasis on using a rifle-shot approach to big policy issues has several political benefits. It allows Republicans to effectively counter Democratic charges that the GOP is the “party of no— by giving Members specific proposals — and an alternative plan for addressing policy problems. Additionally, it is politically much more difficult for Democrats to shoot down Republicans’ plans, since by and large the targeted fixes advocated by the Senate GOP have been endorsed by Democrats in the past.

Cornyn argued that while both parties would like to enact their own set of sweeping reforms to various federal programs, public confidence in the House and Senate have sunk to all-time lows in recent years.

Cornyn argued that if Congress is going to regain the moral authority to comprehensively reform anything, it would first have to work to use smaller, incremental reforms to today’s pressing problems in order to regain the public’s confidence.

“Think of it as confidence-building measures. … Congress as an institution has a lot of work to do to rebuild public confidence, whether it’s by Democrats or Republicans. Democrats are reaping the harvest of public distrust and skepticism,— he said.

Alexander, who has argued that the protests during the August recess show Americans are unhappy with comprehensive approaches to problems, agreed that Congress needs to earn back the public’s trust, telling reporters Tuesday that “working step by step to re-earn the trust of the American people is the direction we should go on health care and the other big issues that face us.—

Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Thune (S.D.) argued that while there may be greater emphasis on Republicans’ proposals for reforms in recent weeks, they are not in response to pressure from Democrats or concerns that the GOP has not articulated a set of alternatives to Democratic policy proposals. Rather, Thune maintained, his Conference has long been opposed to broad reforms in favor of a more targeted approach to problems. The messaging is “reflective of the view of our conference that many of these problems are discreet problems and need discreet solutions. You don’t hit a gnat with a sledgehammer,— Thune said.

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