House GOP Fights for Media’s Ear

Posted May 17, 2005 at 6:51pm

If bills pass and no one is there to write about them, do they make a sound?

Such is the problem facing House Republicans, who, with one media firestorm on ethics in a brief lull and another on judges about to start, are seeking ways to break through with their message that the economy is improving and they deserve the credit.

Normally, GOP lawmakers can expect to have that theme countered by critical Democrats. Now, however, House Republicans also have to cope with the fact that reporters who have spent the first several months of this year focusing on Congressional ethics, lawmakers’ travel and Terri Schiavo are pivoting into wall-to-wall coverage of the Senate filibuster showdown.

“The economy is improving,” said House GOP Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio). “That’s good news that keeps getting crowded off the front page.”

Despite passing broad measures covering energy, transportation, bankruptcy and class action, GOP lawmakers have been frustrated at their inability to gain traction on their record of accomplishment. Instead, the focus on corruption and the Schiavo debate has pushed public opinion of House Republicans — and Congress as a whole — to historic lows.

Hoping to reverse that negative trend, Republicans are spending this week holding a series of events to make the case that their responsible stewardship and fiscal discipline have kicked the nation’s economy back into gear.

On Tuesday, the Conference’s Waste, Fraud and Abuse Public Affairs Team held a press conference to tout the GOP’s efforts to hold down the deficit. Republican leaders will hold a similar event today as the House churns through its first set of Appropriations bills.

On Friday, the Labor Department will release its latest state-by-state employment numbers, giving lawmakers a chance to brag to reporters back in their districts that GOP policies have contributed to job growth.

That regional focus has been a key part of House Republicans’ efforts to break through the crowded D.C. media environment.

When the Conference staged a series of events earlier this month to draw attention to high gas prices and the importance of the House-passed energy bill, the leadership divided the country into 10 different regions and engaged Members to hold conference calls with local reporters in each region.

The emphasis on outside-the-Beltway media will become even more important if the Senate grinds to a halt next week over the issue of changing the filibuster rule, an event that would presumably drown out most other Congressional news.

Though the action will be on the other side of the Capitol, House Republicans plan to do their part on the nuclear option story. Their work will likely focus more on blaming Democrats for halting Senate business rather than on the specific debate over the filibuster rule.

“If we get ourselves involved in the judicial nominee fight we will be arguing for fairness, but more importantly we’ll be urging Senate Democrats to pass the good job-creating legislation that will help Americans back home,” said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

Pryce acknowledged that with the Senate about to go nuclear, getting the House GOP’s message out “becomes increasingly difficult, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop.”