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First ’06 Victim: Bipartisanship

Democrats Warn of Traps

Senate Democratic leaders are pushing their rank-and-file Members to refrain from reaching across the aisle to work on legislation and other policy efforts with vulnerable Republican incumbents until after Election Day, warning that the GOP has often used such displays of bipartisanship to protect incumbents in tough races only to abandon those measures after November, Democratic sources said Tuesday.

Specifically, aides said party leaders were concerned that shows of election-year bipartisanship could help a number of Republicans facing difficult challenges, including Sens. Rick Santorum (Pa.), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), Conrad Burns (Mont.), Jim Talent (Mo.), Mike DeWine (Ohio) and George Allen (Va.).

The push to shun interparty ties through campaign season comes as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has put in place an aggressive dues program that requires lawmakers to raise cash for this year’s contests not only within the comfortable confines of their home states and Washington, D.C., donor bases, but also host fundraisers in other parts of the country, Democrats said.

During Caucus luncheons and staff-level meetings over the last several weeks, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and their top aides have repeatedly “reminded” Senators and staff that in order to win a majority in the Senate, “We have to beat [GOP] incumbents” and not help them by co-sponsoring legislation, jointly signing letters to other colleagues or the administration on key policy issues or agreeing to conduct joint events with vulnerable Republican incumbents, a Democratic leadership aide said.

According to the aide, Reid, Schumer and other leaders and strategists have argued that, “Every five-and-a-half years these guys pretend they’re moderate, and we fall for it every time. We’re not going to help them this time.” Aides insist they are simply using a GOP tactic against Republicans, arguing that the GOP has rarely agreed to work cooperatively with incumbent Democrats perceived as politically vulnerable.

Over the past six years Republicans have successfully used Democrats’ willingness to act in a bipartisan manner against them. For instance, Republicans used the No Child Left Behind Act — which President Bush signed in 2002 — to blunt Democrats’ criticism of GOP education policies by pointing out that the bill was originally backed by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). Bush also used that law during his 2004 presidential election defeat of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), as well as Democrats’ support of the war in Iraq in 2002 and 2003.

At the same time, Schumer is implementing an aggressive fundraising system that in addition to specific quarterly dollar figures also commits Senators to host a specific number of both D.C.-based and outside-the-Beltway fundraising events per quarter, as well as requiring members to log hours working the DSCC phone bank. At press time exact dollar figures were not available, and a DSCC spokesman declined to comment on the effort. But aides said members have been asked to host two D.C.-based fundraisers per quarter, a pair of outside-the-Beltway fundraisers per quarter, as well as making at least 10 hours of calls for the committee per quarter.

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