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Gang of 10 Gives GOP Heartburn

Leaders Question Deal

Senate Republicans say they fear they might have lost their edge on the energy issue after some of their GOP colleagues joined the “Gang of 10” that is pursuing a bipartisan compromise.

Formed over the summer, the group has attracted increasing support, with its ranks swelling to 16 members, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has agreed to give their proposal a floor vote next week.

After weeks of working relatively unmolested, Republican members of the gang found themselves a target of party criticism this week.

According to lawmakers attending the weekly Conference luncheon Tuesday and the Republican Steering Committee’s Wednesday lunch, Members panned the policy provisions as well as the compromise’s potential to cripple the party’s sole advantage in an otherwise brutal campaign cycle.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) pitched the deal at the GOP gathering. One Republican Senator called the confrontation between group members and opponents at the Tuesday lunch “very one-sided.”

“Saxby got up and made a presentation, and he got dumped on by a whole bunch of people,” the lawmaker said.

Republicans say they have had success blaming Democrats for high gas prices and for their refusal to allow offshore drilling.

“From a political standpoint, I think it does sort of muddy the message,” Republican Conference Vice Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said.

Cornyn acknowledged that the Gang of 10’s deal could also help the lone Senate Democratic incumbent seen as vulnerable, Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.).

Some of the GOP concerns have been focused on policy issues. Gulf-state lawmakers released a letter Wednesday to members of the group asking them to make changes to their bill. The letter was signed by Cornyn, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), Alabama Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, and Sens. Thad Cochran (Miss.), Roger Wicker (Miss.) and David Vitter (La).

In the letter, the Republicans urged their colleagues to drop a tax provision they say “singles out production in the Gulf [and] is not only arbitrary, but it will discourage production where some of the largest discoveries of oil and gas are known to exist.”

Cornyn and others also acknowledged that much of the unhappiness with the group’s members stems from the fact that it could undercut the GOP’s energy messaging efforts. Faced with few winning polling issues, Republicans seized on the energy issue and gas prices in particular this summer.

They appear to have some success, and Republicans said the Gang of 10’s bill will at best confuse that message and at worst give Democrats cover just weeks before the November election.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), one of the original members of the group, acknowledged that the party is split over the approach. “There’s no question it’s stirred up a debate,” Thune said.

But he rejected complaints about the political implications of the deal, arguing that a bipartisan deal, even if it does not succeed, is still good for Republicans.

“We think it’s good politics for us to do something,” he said, noting that two vulnerable Republican incumbents — Sens. John Sununu (N.H.) and Norm Coleman (Minn) — have joined. “People who are saying it’s bad politics are blunted by the fact the people who are joining up are in tough races,” he said.

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