House Democratic leaders are attempting to do what they were unable to do in the majority: Unite behind a single message.
Several Democratic Members say leadership has sent the signal that the party should be strategic in trying to paint a contrast with Republicans and avoid a scattershot approach to amendments — the only real opportunity that they have in the minority to force floor votes. Top Democrats argue that too many wide-ranging amendments can muddy the party’s message and reduce its chances of taking back the House in 2012.
“We don’t have the opportunity to drive the agenda, so it’s making sure that we contrast what we would do with what Republicans are doing,” Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) said.
During their four years in the majority, Democratic infighting was common, particularly over major issues such as climate change and health care reform. Prior to and right after their midterm elections defeat, House Democrats were publicly divided over the direction the Caucus should take. Now in the minority, Democrats want to get on the same page.
“It’s not so much don’t do amendments or anything like that. It’s simply trying to make sure whatever we do makes clear the way it should have been done and the way it has been done,” Becerra said.
Some Democratic Members and aides, however, say that as Democrats considered plans to counter Republican initiatives such as the health care repeal and the seven-month stopgap funding bill, leadership pressured rank-and-file lawmakers to rein in the number of amendments that they offer and focus them on jobs, the party’s No. 1 talking point.
“There’s a general consensus that a focused message is a bit more effective than a loud cacophony,” said Rep. Jim Moran (Va.), one of the more than 40 Democrats who offered amendments to Republicans’ long-term continuing resolution when it was on the floor last month. “We Democrats are always tempted to contribute to the cacophony of concern, but I think the leadership is right that we need a consistent, focused message that is basically jobs, jobs, jobs. ... That’s the screening process.”
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) conveyed the idea that amendments should be jobs-focused to Members during Democratic Caucus meetings, Moran said.
One senior Democratic aide said the effort began during the health care repeal debate, when Pelosi’s office offered to help draft amendments, and continued that practice in the runup to the spending debate.
“Her intention was to use that to kill amendments on the CR,” the aide said. While her allies are supportive of the effort, the aide said, there are “a lot of Members who don’t necessarily think getting advice from Pelosi is what they need to be doing to get re-elected.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.