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Democrats Arm Members for Message Wars

House Democratic leaders have ramped up their efforts to give their rank-and-file Members plenty of messaging fodder to take home during the August recess.

The strategy is twofold: emphasize efforts to create jobs and boost the ailing economy while underscoring Democrats’ deep-rooted support for social safety-net programs. Both have been tailored to facilitate drawing contrasts with Republican challengers.

And both were on display Wednesday when Democratic leaders passed three planks of their new trade and manufacturing-based “Make It in America” initiative and also held a press conference on the steps of the Capitol commemorating the 75th anniversary of Social Security. Democrats plan to argue over the upcoming six-week recess that Republicans might revive former President George W. Bush’s plan to partially privatize Social Security if they win control of the House in November.

Democrats will hold a similar press event Thursday commemorating the 45th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid.

Democratic leaders also have huddled twice this week behind closed doors with their rank and file to map out August messaging campaigns. A Democratic leadership aide said Wednesday morning’s Caucus meeting included a presentation from White House aide David Simas and focused heavily on Social Security and seniors.

Democratic leaders distributed a memo outlining themes they are encouraging their rank and file to emphasize —and plan media events around — during each week of the recess. All but one of them, Troops and Veterans Week, are under the broad banner of “fighting for the middle class.” Weekly themes include Make It in America Week, Small Business Week, Consumer Protection Week and Protecting Social Security Week.

Democrats are well aware that their fate in November — and perhaps even their ability to retain a majority in the House — could hinge on how well they sell their job-creation and economic agenda. Last week they rolled out the Make It in America initiative, which House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer insisted Wednesday would be a primary focus leading up to the election and beyond.

“Democrats understand that a strong manufacturing industry is integral to America’s economic strength,” the Maryland Democrat said. “This is not a one-week effort, it’s not a one-month effort, it’s not a one-year effort. It will be a continuing effort — in this Congress, in the next Congress and beyond.”

Hoyer said Democratic lawmakers will be telling their constituents, “We agree with you on the importance of manufacturing to jobs and our prosperity, and we’re dedicated to reviving it.”

Hoyer boasted that the first component of the Make It in America initiative, a bill aimed at reducing the cost of parts that compose finished products, was sent this week to President Barack Obama for his signature.

So far, though, the bills that Democrats have packaged under the Make It in America banner have been significantly easier lifts than some of the jobs bills they pushed earlier this year. Hoyer said the House likely will tackle a broader jobs bill — which a Democratic aide said likely will include components of the House-passed extenders bill that stalled in the Senate — before breaking for the August recess.

Meanwhile, a handful of House Democrats, led by Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards, staged a 15-minute sit-in on the Senate floor Wednesday to protest the chamber’s inaction on House-passed jobs bills, including a small-business lending bill that the Senate is currently considering. Edwards led a similar sit-in late last week, and another is planned for Thursday. “We want to keep at it and draw attention to the fact that there are these jobs bills awaiting action,” Edwards spokesman Ben Gerdes said.

Republicans have blasted the Make It in America push as pandering to voters. Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), called the initiative “just meaningless legislation thrown together with the ease of a third-grader practicing their cursive writing.”

“It’s painfully obvious that Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi designed this PR push to try to save the jobs of weak Democratic members, not to create jobs for struggling American families and workers,” Dayspring wrote in an e-mail to reporters. “That’s not leadership, that’s panic.”

House Republican leaders have encouraged their rank-and-file Members to use the August recess to promote the “America Speaking Out” agenda project and released a district work period packet to help them complete the task.

The 22-page document includes a list of recommended events and media appearances for Members to complete while in their districts. Members have been asked to submit a list of scheduled town halls, job fairs or other public events so the information can be compiled into a master list.

“For the next six weeks we have an opportunity to step up our dialogue with the American people at community events, job fairs, town hall gatherings, and other face-to-face meetings,” GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter in the packet. “It’s a chance for us to further establish our governing agenda as we talk about Republican solutions and listen to the suggestions of our constituents.”

The bulk of the packet centers on five topics that Republicans will highlight over the break — job creation, spending restraint, national security, government reform and health care reform.

Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.

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