House Republicans Try to Climb Out of ‘Hole’

Posted May 15, 2008 at 1:24pm

In a move aimed at stanching the steady bleed of support for their party, House GOP leaders on Thursday emerged from a closed-door meeting with a new plan for winning back voters.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) invoked the landmark “Contract with America,” a national campaign platform that successfully swept Republicans into the Congressional majority in 1994, to describe the GOP’s new agenda.

Republicans plan to cast themselves as “agents of change” by softening their image on social issues, bringing women voters into the fold and using “every tactic available” to differentiate themselves from Democrats.

House Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.) on Thursday was set to distribute a memo to all GOP Members outlining the new policy agenda.

“You should know that the policy prescriptions listed here are not exhaustive. Add what you like. Emphasize what resonates best in your district,” Putnam wrote.

“But our voices must be united in saying that the Pelosi Premium and the largest tax increase in American history — two so-called “accomplishments” of the Democrat majority — are not the changes Americans deserve.”

With 172 days left until the election, “there is no time to waste,” Putnam concludes. The new agenda “starts today.”

House Republicans have been scrambling to figure out what changes to make to avoid an all-out disaster in the November elections after a trio of special election losses in Republican seats, the latest of which occurred Tuesday night in Mississippi.

According to a copy of talking points used by Boehner to address his Conference on Thursday morning, Republicans are “in a hole, no doubt about it.”

“There isn’t a man or woman in this room who likes the hand we’ve been dealt. But throwing in the towel won’t help anybody,” Boehner said.

“The only way we can get ourselves out of this hole is by working as a team.”

The key to winning back support from voters is showing that Republicans are agents of change, Boehner said, and this requires an agenda and a message. That message: “The Change You Deserve.”

Over the next seven weeks, Republicans will roll out their change-centric agenda in five parts.

The first was a “family-friendly” initiative, which seeks to help working women by giving tax breaks to female-founded small business and assuring access to education and health care, was announced Wednesday by GOP Conference Vice Chairwoman Kay Granger (Texas).

The second GOP priority is energy, which it plans to raise next week, so “we can be talking about it over the Memorial Day break,” Boehner said. The next is the economy, which Republicans will talk about during the week of June 12. Then it will be security, prior to the July 4 break, and lastly, the GOP will focus on health care, after the July 4 break, which is “closest to the annual release of the new uninsured numbers.”

Boehner said this plan is the culmination of several efforts that have been under way since January to strengthen the GOP base.

“We didn’t lose our base in 2006; we lost independents, especially women,” Boehner said.

Noticeably absent from the family-friendly strategy, however, is any mention of social issues that Republicans frequently campaign on, such as gay rights, abortion rights or school prayer.

Boehner clarified that the new agenda is “not the Contract with America II. It’s a ‘toolbox.’”

But the two agendas do have things in common, including that they are based on “conservative, commonsense ideas not being addressed by this Congress” and seek the same effect: “trust us with the majority again, and here’s what we’ll do.”

Boehner said Republicans will use “every tactic available” during House floor action in order to call attention to their agenda and to draw contrasts between themselves and Democrats.

According to Boehner’s talking points, these tactics will include forcing votes on procedural motions, “guerrilla tactics” on the floor, special orders and one-minute speeches, press events with outside groups, coalition outreach outside the Beltway and aggressive media outreach.

In the meantime, as Republicans brace for what may be shaping up to be a rough November for their party, House Democratic leaders remain in a state of self-congratulatory harmony and chalk up their recent successes to Democrats having a unified voice.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she doesn’t have “the faintest idea” whether it is possible for Republicans to recast themselves in a more moderate light in order to appeal to more voters.

“I assume that this Republican [Conference] will advance an agenda that they believe in, as we do with our agenda” she said.

Right now, however, what they believe in is “far different from where the mainstream of America is,” Pelosi said. She described the GOP agenda as one marred by “disarray, chaos, dissatisfaction and uncertainty about the future.”