Message Machines Revved as House Prepares to Return

Posted August 6, 2010 at 5:30pm

House leaders of both parties return to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday prepared to use the chamber’s hastily called session to hone their election-year messages and trade barbs over which party is doing more to help the economy.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) decision to briefly suspend the six-week recess to pass a $26 billion package of aid to states caused leadership offices to snap back into action as lawmakers across the country scrambled to adjust their schedules for their return to the Capitol.

Democrats are working to build a sense of urgency for the one-day floor session, which they view as an opportunity to rack up a dramatic and concrete win on their largely stalled jobs agenda. They estimate that the legislation, which the Senate passed Thursday, would save 300,000 jobs, in part by providing $10 billion to avert teacher layoffs.

Republicans also are fired up over the special session, characterizing it as another example of Democrats unable to stop themselves from spending.

Lawmakers will reconvene against the backdrop of Friday’s lackluster July jobs report. Democrats hope that the vote will give them a chance to sharpen the contrast they have been trying to draw between their policies, which they tout as designed to help the middle class, and those of Republicans and former President George W. Bush, whom they blame for the stagnant economy.

Democratic lawmakers and aides insisted there was strong support in the Caucus for the state aid package, while Republicans said most of their Members would vote against the legislation.

“Democrats are helping teachers to stay in the classroom and policemen to stay on the beat,” Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said. “Republicans would rather they’d stay on the unemployment line.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Assistant to the Speaker, downplayed the risks to vulnerable Democrats who must upend plans in their districts, arguing that the quick trip back to Washington will be well worth it.

“We know that millions of kids are preparing to return to school shortly, and it’s important that they have teachers there in the class to greet them,” the Maryland Democrat said. “That is why it’s so important to move quickly.”

Democrats are “expecting most Members to make it back” for the session, a Democratic leadership aide said.

Democrats reminded reporters that in March 2005, then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) interrupted a recess to pass legislation aimed at keeping a feeding tube in Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged Florida woman.

Republican leaders said the special session showed the Democratic commitment to unions and special interests rather than average Americans.

“The American people don’t want more Washington ‘stimulus’ spending, especially a payoff to union bosses and liberal special interests attached to a job-killing tax hike on job-creators here in the United States,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). “This is a stunningly tone-deaf move by Democrats who can’t kick their addiction to more government spending.” Steel said the Tuesday session would give Republicans the opportunity to vote on a privileged resolution that would prevent Democrats from holding a lame-duck session after the midterm elections.

The resolution, authored by Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.), requires lawmakers to pledge not to assemble for a lame-duck session except in the case of an emergency that requires immediate action.

Price said despite the Democratic leaders’ insistence that they would not use a lame-duck session to push through major legislation, Democrats have also indicated that several large bills were not necessarily considered dead.

“Card-check isn’t dead, the national energy tax isn’t dead, and [Democrats] are still interested in increasing taxes,” Price said. “I want to make sure the American people won’t buy a pig in a poke.”

Democrats characterize the Republican effort as hypocritical, noting that Republicans have taken advantage of lame-duck sessions in the past, including in 2006 when Democrats won control of the chamber. Van Hollen called Price’s resolution “scare tactics” and accused the GOP of “trying to spread the notion that there’s some secret plan” to pass a multitude of bills in the lame duck.

“There isn’t, there just isn’t,” Van Hollen said, adding that there would not be any “major legislation” passed during a lame-duck session.

Still, the House’s return offers Democratic leaders a fresh opportunity to consider bills that the Senate passed in a last-minute flurry of activity. House Democratic leaders on Friday were discussing adding to their agenda a $600 million border security bill that passed the Senate by unanimous consent late Thursday.

Leaders are facing pressure from within their own ranks to act next week on the border security bill.

“Now it is time to say enough is enough. Enough partisan maneuvering, enough political posturing, enough petty Washington games. We have to put our security first and get the job done,” Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) said in a statement. “We have an opportunity to break through the gridlock. Unlike the Senate, the House has managed to move this funding forward several times before, and they should do it again — by committing to not ending this session without passing the border security bill.”

Van Hollen told reporters midday Friday that those discussions were “ongoing.” The border security bill calls for the deployment of 1,500 new border patrol and immigration agents. Democratic leaders likely would only move on the bill if Republicans indicated they would not put up a fight. A similar measure passed the House by voice vote last month.

One leadership aide said the border bill likely would be the only addition to the schedule.