House Republican campaign committee lying low on debt crisis

While the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is attacking House Republicans it has pegged as vulnerable on the tax issue, the committee’s Republican counterpart has remained silent on House members and the fiscal-cliff negotiations.

Since election night, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has been lying low, issuing releases outlining Republican leadership shifts and its weekly news roundup, but putting out little commentary on the parties’ negotiations to deal with the nation’s debt crisis.

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On Dec. 7, the NRCC issued a statement from incoming Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) after the release of the November employment numbers that attacked President Obama for “very slow economic growth,” but made no mention of Democrats in Congress.

Meanwhile, the DCCC launched an effort this month to attack 40 House Republicans it sees as vulnerable for their stances on taxation of the middle class and the wealthy.

The committee created a website, GOPHostageTakers.com, that includes a petition calling for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) “and House Republicans to allow a vote on middle-class tax cuts.”

They’ve also fed reporters in the districts of those targeted Republicans with releases highlighting a discharge petition introduced earlier this month by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to extend the George W. Bush-era tax rates for the middle class while allowing rates to rise on the wealthy. The petition will need 218 signatures to get to the House floor for a vote, a majority Democrats will be unable to achieve without help from a few dozen Republicans.

This week, the DCCC also announced robo-calls in the districts of 35 of those Republicans.

NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek pushed back on the idea that the committee was staying silent on taxes and the fiscal cliff, pointing to a petition the committee launched highlighting Obama’s initial proposal giving the president power to eliminate the debt ceiling.

“Sign our petition if you agree: ‘No more blank checks, Mr. President!’ ” it reads, but it makes no mention of House Democrats.

Bozek said that the attacks from the DCCC were indicative of the party’s refusal to take the fiscal crisis seriously.

“Clearly, Democrats would rather play political games than offer real solutions to solve our fiscal crisis. That approach didn’t win them the majority in 2012 and it won’t in 2014,” she said in an email to The Hill.

But not all Republican groups are sitting the fiscal-cliff fight out. American Action Network, the nonprofit affiliated with the Congressional Leadership Fund, launched a Web ad Tuesday, its second in a series of ads concerning the debt crisis. The ad features former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin accusing Obama of not having a plan to avoid the fiscal cliff.

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Crossroads GPS, the nonprofit affiliated with American Crossroads, a Republican-leaning political action organization, launched radio ads targeting five red-state Democratic senators up for reelection — Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) — calling for a “bipartisan” and “balanced” solution to the nation’s fiscal problems.

GOP strategist Tyler Harber said that those outside groups might be strategically better poised to comment on the fiscal-cliff negotiations.

“Outside groups are better equipped to apply pressure to Democrats who want to fix our fiscal problems by simply raising taxes without cutting entitlement spending,” he said.

“I think you'll see that a more targeted and more effective use of the outside-group money may have a more lasting effect on the Democratic image,” Harber said.

Neither group, however, has thus far offered much cover to House Republicans on the tax issue.

The NRCC may be staying out of the political fray surrounding the negotiations because there is evidence, on the tax issue in particular, that most Americans support the Democratic position. Four polls released over the past two weeks indicate public support for raising taxes on households making more than $250,000 per year.

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With Republicans from both chambers defecting from the party’s opposition to higher taxes for the wealthy, any attacks the NRCC launches against members in favor of tax increases could come back to bite them, if Republicans as a whole end up accepting those tax increases in a final deal.

Harber noted that the NRCC decision to stay on the sidelines could simply be a matter of wanting to spend funds in the most advantageous ways.

Attacking nearly two years out from the next election, before members have even gone on the record with their votes, might be too far removed from the actual campaigning that will take place throughout the next cycle.

Voters tend to have short memories, Harber said, and are likely to forget the preliminaries of the fiscal-cliff negotiations after the fact.

“I think we're two years away from the next election that would be meaningful to those 40 vulnerable Democrats, and the more damning message occurs after they have taken the vote,” he said.

“I think the strategists on the Republican side, by and large, see this as a waste of money.”

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