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Republicans Prepare to Widen Message War on Democrats

Congressional Republicans at home for the holiday recess remained concentrated on health care. But as 2010 opens, Republicans find themselves with the opportunity to tap into a handful of different messages, and they are coordinating their efforts as they do their best to capitalize on the second session of the 111th Congress.“The Christmas [terrorist] plot and latest round of [Democratic] retirements shifted the news cycle. But our guys are still focused on health care,— a Republican Senate aide said Thursday.In the wake of the failed terrorist attack on a Northwest Airlines flight that has put President Barack Obama on the defensive, the GOP has widened its net to include a focus on homeland and national security — issues on which Republicans are looking to reassert themselves.GOP Senators are also concentrating on federal spending and the debt as they prepare to debate a move last month by Obama and the Democrats to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) struck a deal with Republicans late last year to hold a debate and additional votes on the matter when the chamber convenes after the holiday recess.After five years of playing defense as the Democrats pushed them into the political wilderness, Congressional Republicans believe the atmospherics are turning in their favor. That view was bolstered over the weekend by revelations that Reid referred to Obama in racially insensitive terms back in 2008. Top Republicans, including National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas), called for Reid to resign his leadership post, and they are unlikely to let the issue drop.“Republicans are running the table on the messaging matrix. Democrats have been on the defensive for months and it won’t be letting up anytime soon in 2010,— a GOP campaign operative involved in House races said Friday. “They need to improve their numbers on jobs, deficit spending, and national security issues. Those are all conversations we would be happy to have from now until Election Day.—But Democrats are dismissing the Republicans’ optimism as misguided, arguing that the GOP will pay a price on Nov. 2 for attempting to block much-needed health care reform legislation, which is on track to be signed into law as soon as later this month.The majority is also questioning the Republicans’ credibility on economic issues, given their penchant for earmarks and deficit spending when they controlled Congress.“It’s desperate flailing,— a Democratic source said. “Rush [Limbaugh] told the GOP they weren’t being tough enough and this is apparently their solution — waving their arms in agony over everything, making up and cherry-picking stats and just obstructing for obstruction’s sake.—“It’s hard to take these guys seriously on things like deficit reduction when they stood steadfast in opposition to a health care reform bill that reduces the deficit by tens of billions of dollars,— this operative continued. “Most folks see right through these shenanigans.—But Republicans believe just the opposite as they eye polls showing public dissatisfaction with the overhaul efforts. Republicans have continued to use the issue to criticize the leadership of Obama and Congressional Democrats.As Reid, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Obama have begun the work of reconciling competing health care bills, the GOP has moved to leverage potential flaws in the legislation.For instance, after one media outlet published a story on a provision of the legislation that might accidentally penalize married couples, the Republicans incorporated the news of this “marriage penalty— into their talking points.Meanwhile, House and Senate Republicans have worked closely to flog the transparency issue, sending out numerous statements demanding that Democrats grant C-SPAN’s request to televise the health care negotiations.In a letter last Thursday, Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Thune (S.D.) asked Reid to honor C-SPAN’s request. All 40 GOP Senators signed the letter, which noted that Obama — while a candidate for president in 2008 — had promised repeatedly to televise health care reform negotiations on the network. C-SPAN’s chairman and CEO, Brian Lamb, sent a letter last week to Congressional leaders requesting to televise the discussions to reconcile the House and Senate health care bills.Reid and Pelosi have decided to forgo the formal conference committee as they work to put together the final bill.“To ensure that the American people have the ability to witness the on-going negotiations between the House and Senate, we ask that any negotiations regarding a final health care reform bill be conducted in the light of day,— Thune’s letter reads. “The Chairman of C-SPAN, the network responsible for broadcasting the deliberations of Congress, has offered resources to cover all negotiation sessions live. We urge to take him up on this offer.—

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