Congressional leaders moved quickly Tuesday to distance themselves from the debt ceiling fight and to pivot to jobs, offering a preview of the message that Members carried home as they departed Washington, D.C., for the summer recess.
House and Senate leaders on both sides of the aisle vowed that Congress would return in September focused solely on job creation and economic growth, and they armed Members with talking points and research to use in communicating with voters, including recommendations for putting a positive spin on compromise legislation to raise the debt ceiling. The protracted, partisan battle over the Treasury’s borrowing limit froze virtually all other legislative business.
“It’s now time for Congress to get back to our regularly scheduled program, and that’s jobs,” Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) told reporters Tuesday afternoon after the Senate approved the debt ceiling legislation that cleared the House on Monday.
Senate Democrats tout passage of the debt legislation as a license to move off fiscal issues and on to jobs bills. For months, Republicans argued the debt should take priority, and Democrats plan to tell their constituents that the GOP should be satisfied and prepared to collaborate on the majority’s agenda for job creation, including patent reform and other bills that they plan to put on the floor after Labor Day.
Senate Republicans met for lunch after the debt vote to map their recess strategy. They outlined a jobs agenda that includes proposals for growth and criticism of the White House’s record.
Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), charged with message development, played video clips that featured GOP Members and others criticizing President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy and handed out double-sided pocket cards with the GOP jobs agenda on one side and a sideswipe of the administration on the other. The Republicans’ positive message: “We’ll make it better; making it easier and cheaper to create private-sector jobs.”
The GOP take on Obama, including a phrase that Republicans are likely to repeat often, reads: “He’s making it worse; a big wet blanket on the economy.” Alexander, noting Republicans split their votes on the debt legislation, indicated Members would sell the bill as a success in moving the debate over government spending in a conservative direction.
“I think we all agree that we’ve changed the agenda from spend, spend, spend to cut, cut, cut,” Alexander said. “However, we voted on this, I think we agree on that.”
For Democrats, the sales pitch on the debt limit is that they protected entitlements from the knife.
“Aside from not defaulting, our No. 1 goal was to avoid the kinds of consequences to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security that our Republican colleagues wanted, which was drastic cuts in benefits. We’ve avoided all of that,” said Schumer, who as chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Center is his caucus’s chief message strategist.
Similarly, House Democrats are proud they managed to protect Medicare and Social Security in the initial round of spending cuts, as well as the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts that go into effect in 2013 if the special committee created by the deal deadlocks or Congress fails to act on the panel’s recommendations.
The Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction is charged with finding up to $1.5 trillion in savings over 10 years before the end of the year. House Democrats attribute their win in New York’s 26th district special election in May to their opposition to the House GOP budget resolution, which would overhaul Medicare.
“House Democrats lived up to their promise to protect Medicare and social benefits in the debt deal, guaranteeing that the House GOP votes to end Medicare will remain front and center,” a senior Democratic aide said.
House Democrats were also told to stress their “Make It in America” agenda, which includes legislation that party lawmakers have proposed in recent years, some of which has drawn bipartisan support and the endorsement of the Obama administration.
“Republicans have been in charge for more than 200 days, passed zero bills, voted to destroy 2 million jobs, and voted against 10 Democratic jobs initiatives,” according to Democratic messaging materials.
“Now that the debt deal is behind us, going into August, House Democrats will focus on American’s top priority: putting people back to work, contrasting it with the Republicans’ top priority of ending Medicare,” the senior Democratic aide said. “That is a unifying message for Democrats.”
House Republican aides declined to share Conference messaging materials with Roll Call for this story. But multiple releases issued Tuesday by the National Republican Congressional Committee suggested House Republicans would push a jobs message similar to that of their Senate colleagues — one that focuses on private-sector job creation while blaming Democratic policies for the struggling economy.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.