With re-elections every two years, campaigns are never far from the minds of House Members. But Tuesday might have marked the moment when the 2012 presidential contest began to consume the House.
In the morning, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) unveiled a legislative agenda for the coming year explicitly designed to create a contrast with President Barack Obama, all while protecting vulnerable Members.
In the afternoon, House Democrats ambushed Republicans on an economic proposal that has overwhelming support — including Obama’s — spurning a press conference and prompting the conspicuous absence of a high-profile business leader who had been slated to attend.
Late Monday, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) called Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) in a last-ditch bid to get him and other Democrats to join Cantor at a press conference announcing the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act.
The legislation combines a series of measures to boost capital formation for small businesses, many of which passed the House in November with more than 400 votes.
But Hoyer wasn’t interested. He told Cantor “that while he supports the component bills, repackaging old bills isn’t a jobs plan and he’s not going to attend a Republican leadership press conference that says it is,” Hoyer spokeswoman
Katie Grant said.
Instead, Hoyer ripped Cantor’s bill at a Tuesday pen-and-pad with reporters, mocking the “JOBS” acronym as “Just Old Bills” because the package contains several bills that the House has already passed.
“These are six bills that have been passed overwhelmingly. I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t pass them overwhelmingly again [and] send them to the Senate. This clearly is not a jobs bill that we are looking for — a comprehensive, jobs-producing, jobs-stimulating piece of legislation,” Hoyer said.
The fierce pushback prompted AOL co-founder Steve Case, a well-known entrepreneur whom Obama has tapped to work on job proposals, to drop out of the afternoon press conference announcing the bill, GOP aides said.
Cantor, whose office had advertised Case’s participation in an invite sent to Members, said at the event that Case was “back on a plane, he has to speak at a TED dinner in California tonight.”
Adding to the confusion was the fact that just before Cantor’s press conference, Obama seemed to embrace his bill, which was based largely on recommendations from a jobs council Obama established.
“The president is encouraged to see that there is common ground between his approach and what Congressman Cantor outlined today, and we urge members of both parties in the House and Senate to come together on these provisions and do what the president called for in the State of the Union address: Send him a bill without delay,” White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said. Senate leaders have also signaled their openness to small-business legislation.
Earlier in the day, GOP leaders unveiled a legislative agenda explicitly designed for the campaign.
Calling it a “plan of action,” Boehner told Members that the agenda is designed to provide voters with a message about how Republicans would govern if they gain control of the presidency and the Senate.
“The president has given up legislating for the year. The payroll tax holiday extension was his last legislative priority, according to the White House. This means he knows 2012 will be a referendum on his failed policies, which have made things worse. It also means we have a year to show America what Republicans will do if we were in charge,” Boehner said in the meeting, according to a source present.
He also suggested the bills included in the agenda are designed to help Members with tough re-election campaigns.
“To do this we have to be smart, focused and mindful of the consequences of our efforts on the full Conference, not just those of us in 70 percent districts,”
Boehner told Members at the meeting.
Boehner presented six categories of legislation, all of which came under the heading of “jobs.”
The categories, which were based on polling Members about what topics the Conference should tackle, included tax reform, budget control and entitlement solvency, American energy, “Obamacare” repeal, reducing the regulatory burden and oversight.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office ripped the new agenda in a release, coupling each of the legislative categories with less-than-flattering “translations.”
For instance, the California Democrat’s office translated the GOP plan to work on repealing the president’s health care law as “taking away patients’ rights and putting insurance companies back in charge.”
However, Boehner’s plan was popular with rank-and-file GOP Members, who said it will help provide the necessary contrast to Obama heading into the elections.
“This is a watershed election coming up. The whole country knows. This is a big one,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee.
“We have to tell ’em what we’re for, so when we win, when we do it, they won’t be surprised, and, just as importantly, Members in Congress won’t be afraid when they start feeling the heat. So you gotta lay it all out,” Jordan said.