House Democrats and Republicans appear to be taking the same message home for August: Washington is broken.
The only difference is whom they’re pointing the finger at for breaking it.
In the Democrats’ case, the August recess marching orders for the rank and file very clearly advocate blaming the House Republican majority.
But because they also have a president to defend, the recess packet handed out Monday night includes instructions on how to promote Obamacare, slam the sequester, champion a comprehensive immigration rewrite and advocate for gun control.
Playbooks full of talking points and messaging tactics, designed to help lawmakers effectively hawk the party line back home during the five-week break from legislating, are a tradition on both sides of the aisle. More often than not, they are simply regurgitations of phrases and narratives that creatures of Capitol Hill by now know by heart.
But this year, a side-by-side comparison of the Democratic and Republican playbooks offers perspective on the parties’ starkly divergent ideologies — in terms of tone, substance and strategy.
The GOP playbook, rolled out earlier this month, has a clear message: Washington is the problem, and the GOP is the answer.
House Democrats, in their own toolkit, have a predictable counterpoint: “Still no jobs, no budget agreement, no solution from House Republicans, and no willingness to even sit down and negotiate,” reads one Democratic talking point laid out in a section titled, “Jobs & the Budget: Democrats Focused on Solutions for Middle Class; GOP Continues NO Jobs Agenda of Obstruction, and Misplaced Priorities.”
Republican leadership’s guide to navigating the five-week district work period is seeped in the lexicon of the digital age, urging the rank and file to take to Facebook, Twitter and Vine to spread the word against the 2010 health care law and bureaucratic regulations.
Democratic leaders encourage members to use online and social media tools to “amplify events” surrounding their “Economic Agenda for Women and Families,” the party’s multi-point policy platform unveiled earlier this month. “56 percent of social network users are women,” they point out. But they don’t urge caucus lawmakers to affix a hashtag to every talking point. Rather, they suggest orchestrating intimate roundtable discussions and forums aimed at helping constituents understand the downside of the sequester. Such events should star a “real person” — a furloughed army official, for instance, or a senior citizen robbed of Meals on Wheels benefits.
Democrats are not explicitly advised to broadcast their events live on YouTube nor to live-tweet proceedings, as Republicans suggest. But they should absolutely milk media coverage for all it’s worth, inviting the press to accompany them on tours of, say, hospitals or child care centers.
As the minority party in the House with little control over what bills come to the floor, Democrats can’t really tout a legislative agenda of bills that actually have chance of becoming law in the 113th Congress. Much like they do in Washington, they can only offer suggestions about how they could make things better, and they’re expected to defend their record from when they were in charge.
The 2010 health care law, which was passed under Democratic control of the chamber, is one example. While unpopular with Republicans, Democrats are prepared throughout August to talk about the ways in which it’s helped Americans and prepare constituents for the health care exchanges scheduled to open their doors later this year.
Gun control legislation, which has been a non-starter so far in the Republican House this year after a background check bill failed in the Senate, is another. The Democratic playbook includes a “step-by-step outline for planning a successful gun violence prevention forum,” which should draw from an eclectic group of speakers: local elected officials, sportsmen’s groups, school officials, law enforcement groups, mental-health experts and a constitutional law expert.
The goal of such a forum is to communicate “the message that we can respect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens while also putting into place policies that reduce and prevent gun violence.”
Immigration is another area where Democrats ought to be prepared to draw hard lines in the sand, according to leadership.
Make no mistake: Democrats won’t accept anything less than a comprehensive immigration policy rewrite, and they want it signed into law before the end of the year.
They also won’t, as a unit, support the Republicans’ Kids Act, which would provide legal status for young undocumented immigrants brought into the country illegally by their parents — the group Democrats call DREAMers.
Democrats also have an “Immigration Myth-Busters” section to combat notions that could derail efforts to pass an immigration bill. They use statistics to disprove that “new immigrants coming to America today aren’t learning English” and that “most immigrants are criminals.”