GOP’s Sept. goal: Do no harm

GOP’s Sept. goal: Do no harm
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Congressional Republicans have a simple mantra as they take a brief break from the campaign trail and return to Washington: Do no harm. 

Republicans believe they are on the cusp of capturing full control of Congress for the first time since 2006. They don’t want to squander the opportunity.

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GOP insiders hope the next two weeks in Washington will be remembered for being, well, fairly unmemorable. The House leadership’s game plan is to play prevent defense: Keep the government open, temporarily renew some federal programs, pass bills that can buttress their message for the midterms, and sprint back to the campaign trail.

One GOP strategist put it this way: “You’re heading toward the goal line, you’re at the 10-yard line and you want to score a touchdown. You don’t want to fumble the ball or create a self-inflicted wound.”

Stung by the backlash from shutting down the government a year ago, GOP leaders this time have moved to quash any talk about another shutdown or impeaching President Obama. Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSpeculation mounts, but Ryan’s job seen as safe Boehner warns Trump: Don't pull out of Korea-US trade deal GOP Rep: Ryan wasting taxpayers dollars by blocking war authorization debate MORE (R-Ohio) hasn’t exactly displayed great zest for making his lawsuit accusing Obama of abusing his executive power a focus of the summer. 

Such issues have the potential to ignite the conservative base in the final weeks before Election Day. But those headline-grabbing antics can also backfire, helping Democrats raise cash and alienating the independent voters the GOP needs to win back control of the upper chamber. 

Republicans can feel the wind at their backs. Vulnerable Democrats have been bogged down by a president who has been polling poorly all year and struggling to define his strategy to fight Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria.

The lackluster jobs numbers for August undermined confidence about the economy, which was already tepid at best.

Veteran Senate Republicans have been warning their colleagues on the other side of the Capitol to avoid any distractions that could halt the GOP’s momentum and undermine candidates in tough races. 

After its five-week recess, Congress returns for votes on Monday night and will be working through Sept. 19. If lawmakers can quickly wrap up their work, the House may not come back to town until after the election. 

The biggest must-do item is perhaps also the most mundane: passing a stopgap measure or continuing resolution to fund the federal government before money runs out on Sept. 30.

The debate won’t be drama-free — there’s an election, after all — but Obama announced over the weekend he would punt executive action on immigration reform until after Nov. 4, removing a contentious issue that some conservatives suggested could trigger another shutdown.

“The big thing is just to get the job done,” House Budget Chairman Paul RyanPaul RyanRyan: Graham-Cassidy 'best, last chance' to repeal ObamaCare Ryan: Americans want to see Trump talking with Dem leaders Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (R-Wis.) told The Hill. “Mainly getting the bills paid and keeping the government funded is probably the paramount stuff.”

The 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee, writing in his new book, even went so far as to call last year’s shutdown a “suicide mission.” And Ryan accused Democrats of ginning up talk of another shutdown for political gain.

“All the talk about shutdown simply comes from Democrats who wish for a shutdown for political advantage,” Ryan said in the interview. “We’re not talking shutdown; we’re not planning shutdown; we’re gonna do a CR.

“They’re the ones who want nothing more than to change the topic, change the subject with some mess in the fall,” he continued. “We like where we are and we want to keep moving on the same path we’re on.” 

Renewing the Export-Import Bank is another potential minefield that House Republicans are trying to navigate. GOP leaders are negotiating with Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), a fierce Ex-Im critic, to extend authorization of the bank into early next year, giving the party more time to reform or scrap it.

The bank’s charter expires on Sept. 30. 

A handful of messaging bills — those that have no chance of passing the Democratic-led Senate but help candidates make a point — will also be part of Republicans’ pre-election agenda. In a memo to his conference, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the House will take up a package of jobs bills and another comprised of energy bills. 

Other legislation will shine the spotlight on the Obama administration’s IRS email scandal and condemn the prisoner swap involving five Taliban fighters who were released from Guantanamo Bay.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Republicans’s September agenda simply amounted to “yet another month of special interest giveaways,” including another vote to repeal Obamacare.

Americans, Pelosi said, “want us to spend September creating good paying jobs, raising the minimum wage, renewing emergency unemployment insurance, standing with students, and giving America’s women the respect of equal pay for equal work.”

A GOP leadership aide laid out what would be “a good September” for the party: “We are going to keep the government up and running and focus on jobs, energy, health care, and accountability – all issues important to the American people.”

Of course, there could still be a September or October surprise — a terrorist attack on American soil or other cataclysmic event that could change the dynamic of the 2014 race. And John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSpeculation mounts, but Ryan’s job seen as safe Boehner warns Trump: Don't pull out of Korea-US trade deal GOP Rep: Ryan wasting taxpayers dollars by blocking war authorization debate MORE and House Republicans have little control over the types of unexpected scandals that have roiled tight races in the other chamber. 

In 2012, then-Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) caused party leaders heartburn and killed his chances of unseating Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillGOP sees fresh opening with Dems’ single payer embrace Senators blast internet subsidy program It is time to make domestic terrorism a federal crime MORE when he talked about what he termed “legitimate rape” during a local TV interview.

Democrats actually picked up two seats in the Senate that year after Akin and other GOP candidates stumbled on the stump.