House Democrats are returning to yet another tactic they employed the last time they were in the minority: holding mock hearings to draw attention to their positions.
Party leaders on Wednesday held the second in what will be a series of unofficial, Democrat-only hearings that they hope will bring attention to how they would govern if they were back in control and paint a contrast with Republicans. Wednesday’s session — organized through the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee — focused on the urgency of creating jobs.
“There should be no higher priority for this Congress than creating jobs now,” said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who called the hearing along with Democratic Steering and Policy Committee Co-Chairmen Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) and George Miller (Calif.).
Coming on the heels of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in which he stressed the need to invest in the nation’s aging infrastructure, the hearing had a heavy emphasis on the nation’s transportation and infrastructure needs. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D) and transportation and infrastructure experts testified.
Democratic sources say the reason for the hearings is twofold: combat the GOP majority’s agenda and fill the vacuum left by the White House on messaging. Democratic Members have been unhappy with the Obama administration’s role in communicating their positions, particularly on health care reform and the economy.
The mock forums were standard practice for Democrats the last time they were in the minority; House and Senate Democrats held them regularly before they retook the majority in 2006. Senate Republicans also held similar hearings last Congress to highlight their positions on a range of issues including energy and tort reform. For the minority, they are one of the few avenues available to drive the conversation because the majority controls the floor and the agenda.
During last month’s debate over Republicans’ efforts to repeal health care reform, House Democrats held a similar hearing aimed at highlighting the positive effects that the law is having on ordinary Americans’ lives.
“We can’t push a bill on the floor,” said a senior Democratic aide, who added that “it just makes sense to get as much attention to the hearing as possible.”
A second senior aide accused Republicans of “legislating by talking point and sound bite” and said the hearings were a chance for Democrats to highlight their positions.
“For better or worse, Democrats are very substance-focused — and a talking point or a bumper sticker is not enough,” the aide said.
Still, aides likened Pelosi’s strategy this time around to the “Six for ’06” initiative, a six-pronged legislative road map that Democrats campaigned on in 2006. This week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee formally unveiled its “Drive to 25,” a similar slogan-driven initiative that references the net number of seats Democrats need to win back the majority.
Democratic lawmakers took the opportunity Wednesday to criticize their Republican counterparts.
“I’m disturbed that so far this new Congress has shown little urgency to address the job situation, and that must, in fact, change,” Miller said.
Rep. Robert Andrews described House Republicans as “absent landlords,” castigating Republicans for not yet bringing any job-creation legislation to the floor this year.
“We’re back here today because we believe that we’re eager to do what the majority has refused to do,” the New Jersey Democrat said.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger said it’s incumbent upon Democrats to be proactive with their message rather than just reacting to Republicans.
“It’s so extremely important because you have to have the people who have to implement the programs to create the jobs, and one of the focuses of having Gov. O’Malley here was to talk about infrastructure and why you need to invest in transportation and how investing in transportation helps you move forward in the future, but also helps you now for creating jobs,” the Maryland Democrat said.
“Members will be very anxious to have a place to go to,” one former Democratic leadership aide who now works on K Street said. “It’s demoralizing if there is no response. It can help keep the morale of some troops high.”
The hearings and other press events could also provide a vehicle for junior lawmakers to raise their profiles, the former leadership aide said.
Freshman Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) was among the Members who participated in Wednesday’s hearings.
So far, however, it appears that Democrats are relying mainly on senior Members and Pelosi allies such as DeLauro and Miller to lead the counteroffensive. If leaders don’t bring in more moderate factions of the Caucus, the former aide cautioned, it could make it more difficult for them to unify the Caucus.
Republicans, meanwhile, used the forums to offer a shot of their own, accusing Pelosi and her leadership team of doing little to create jobs when they were in the majority over the past four years. The National Republican Congressional Committee issued a challenge to Pelosi to “admit the failure of her policies to create jobs” and described the hearing as “political theater.”