Democrats hope GOP chaos in fall will help them win back House

Democrats are banking that a chaotic autumn will convince voters the GOP is damaging the economy and help their party pick up House seats in 2014.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has been pushing the chaos theme, arguing House Republicans are willing to shut down the government and injure the nation’s credit in order to win ideological battles in Washington.

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“Americans are fed up with House Republicans' gridlock and obstruction, but most importantly, they're frustrated with the lack of progress on issues that matter, like working together to create good jobs, protecting Medicare and reducing our deficit in a balanced way,” DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) told The Hill.

The Democratic messaging effort is a shift from the party’s closing argument of the 2012 cycle, when it focused on Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) controversial budget plan.

It is intended to highlight what Democrats believe are a series of GOP blunders that stem from the party’s Tea Party-fueled conservative wing.

A major focus will be the push by some conservatives to force a government shutdown unless the White House agrees to defund ObamaCare.

GOP Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Mike Lee (Utah) are among the proponents of the plan, which 80 House Republicans have said they're on board with. Many other Republicans have criticized the strategy, suggesting it would hand Democrats a major political victory.

Israel said the threats show Republicans are all about getting their way — not about doing what’s right for the country.

“House Republicans are threatening shutdowns and economic crises if they don't get their way in partisan ideological battles, and that will be their downfall in 2014,” he said.

Republicans say the Democratic strategy is destined to fail.

They argue that the public blames both parties for the chaos in Washington and point out that Democrats tried the same narrative during the 2011 debt-ceiling fight before giving up and turning their focus to Ryan’s plan and to their “war on women” argument.

“It sounds to me like [what] House Democrats are saying more and more is they're actually rooting for a government shutdown so they can score political points. That's the lowest of the low,” said NRCC spokesman Dan Scarpinato. 

“The longer House Democrats refuse to be part of the solution to stopping ObamaCare and reducing our debt, the more voters are going to reject putting Nancy Pelosi back in the speaker's chair.”

Democrats picked up eight seats in 2012, but the GOP retained a comfortable majority in the House.

To win back the majority in 2014, Democrats would need to win 17 seats, a difficult task in a midterm election year where the president’s party historically fares poorly.

Still, Republicans won House seats at the midpoint of President George W. Bush’s first term, a fact that gives Democrats hope of bucking history.

Another point in their favor is the GOP’s miserable approval rating.

Only 22 percent of voters approved of the job performance of congressional Republicans in a July 22 McClatchy-Marist poll. A third approved of congressional Democrats, and 41 percent offered a favorable view of President Obama’s job performance.

Democrats will look beyond the fight over healthcare too.

They plan to raise the House GOP’s difficulty in moving a farm bill. The House only approved a farm bill after stripping out all funds for food stamp programs.

Just before going on recess, Republicans in the House also pulled a Transportation spending bill from the floor. The GOP chairman of the House Appropriations Committee said the bill lacked GOP support because of deep spending cuts necessitated by Ryan’s 2014 budget.

“We’re campaigning on the fact that their chaos and the broken Congress is hurting the economy,” Israel told CNN in early August. 

“They left for a six-week recess. They couldn't even pass a highway bill. You don't pass a highway bill, that's fewer contracts for highway companies. That’s a lower paycheck for highway workers. They couldn't pass a farm bill based on bipartisanship. That’s a tougher deal for rural economies. So the fact of the matter is that their chaos, their extremism is hurting the economy."

Bigger fights are looming this fall over funding the government and lifting the debt ceiling. The government will shut down without a new funding bill by the end of September.

But Democrats believe it is the litany of issues that will help set up their party’s 2014 election-year argument.

“One incident of the debt ceiling going bad isn't enough to cement in voters' minds. It's mostly the accumulation: It's the farm bill, Defense furloughs, the debt ceiling, 40 votes on [overturning] ObamaCare. After a while, it all adds up,” said a national Democratic strategist.