House Republicans failed in their first attempts this week to implement a portion of their new 'Pledge to America' but are sending their Members back to their districts to tout the agenda as a road map for the next Congress.
Democrats hope to use the Republican theme to their own advantage, urging their Members to describe the upcoming elections as a choice between 'Moving America Forward or 'Exact Same' Agenda,' according to talking points prepared by Democratic leadership and obtained by Roll Call.
Throughout its development, House Republicans insisted the pledge would be a 'governing agenda,' meant to be implemented immediately if Democrats would allow issues inside it to come to the House floor for votes.
Party leaders unveiled the 45-page plan last week, listing an array of things they plan to do to restore the economy and make the nation safer. On Wednesday, they offered the first concrete legislation to implement it: a partial repeal of the health care reform bill. The language was included in a GOP motion to return to committee a bill to provide health care to 9/11 first responders.
The procedural measure failed 185-244. Republicans also tried but failed to force a vote on their proposal to terminate the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
'While Washington Democrats continue to ignore the voices of the people and defend the misguided law, Republicans understand that the costly, job-killing bill was enacted against the will of the nation,' said Chief Deputy Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), chairman of the pledge project. 'Though Democrats used their large majority to defeat our measure today, we will not stop until we complete the promises made in our pledge to America.'
Republicans said they could not move the rest of the agenda because Democrats adjourned the session.
'We had plans we could have already implemented to create jobs and rein in spending,' said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for the pledge project. 'But the Speaker adjourned the House early, without addressing America's top priorities, so her Members could go home and campaign. They were more interested in saving their own jobs than creating more American jobs.'
Democrats immediately mocked Republicans for breaking their own pledge, because the GOP motion did not include language citing its constitutional basis. The GOP pledge states, 'We will require each bill moving through Congress to include a clause citing the specific constitutional authority upon which the bill is justified,' but Assistant to the Speaker Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said the GOP motion to recommit 'contains no reference to constitutional authority.'
Buck said the motion to recommit was not a bill, so the constitutionality pledge does not apply. Democrats' 'misunderstanding of basic House procedure and definitions explains a lot about the epic failure to govern we've seen this Congress,' he said.
Wednesday's defeat aside, provisions of the pledge make up the bulk of the Republican recess packet distributed to Members, which encourages them to talk about the document's broader themes of job creation, lower taxes and government reform.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) said Members would continue to hold town hall meetings to discuss those issues with their constituents.
'Real simple: free the free-enterprise system, bring back the 3 million jobs,' he said.
Republicans will also continue to assail Democrats for putting off a vote to extend the Bush-era tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 until the post-election lame-duck session. The tax cuts are scheduled to expire Jan. 1.
'Democrat tax hikes would adversely impact the 75 percent of small business owners that file taxes at individual rates ' the same small business owners responsible for nearly two-thirds of private sector job creation,' according to the Republican recess packet.
The tax cut issue has become a problem for vulnerable conservative Democrats, many of whom voted against the House adjournment resolution Wednesday to express their discontent with their leadership's decision to delay the vote.
But Van Hollen blamed the delay on Senate Republicans for stalling the legislation.
'We are doing all that we can and need to do leading up to today, and now we need to go back to our districts and spend some time talking about the very clear choice that Americans have between Republicans and Democrats on the ballot,' said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's incumbent retention program.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her leadership team are also providing Members with fact sheets, talking points and a suggested opinion piece related to Democrats' efforts to boost jobs and bolster the stagnant economy.
Democrats want to hammer the Republican record on trade issues and contrast the 'GOP Record on Shipping Jobs Overseas,' with the majority's effort to close tax loopholes and pass a 'Make it in America' manufacturing jobs initiative.
Rep. John Boccieri, a freshman in a tight re-election race, already picked up the theme of attacking the GOP pledge. 'We don't want to go back to those same policies that got us into this mess,' the Ohio Democrat said Wednesday. 'We want to keep the country moving forward.'
Democrats have acknowledged they are battling a sour national mood but insist that once Members are back in their districts, they will be able to make headway with voters.
'What people think is going on here in Washington is completely different from what folks think is going on in these individual districts, and the Members need to be back in their districts talking about our accomplishments,' Wasserman Schultz said.
Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) said talking points are irrelevant. 'I'm going to talk about my record. I've been in office for two terms.'