Dems get August marching orders

House Democratic leaders on Thursday offered a final set of talking points to rank-and-file members leaving Washington for the August recess.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) called on Democrats to use the break to portray Republicans as a dysfunctional majority unable — or unwilling — to pass even the most pressing legislation before the House.

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The party leaders are urging their caucus to highlight the summer's unfinished business, including the farm bill, postal service reform and reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, all of which the Senate has approved with bipartisan support.

“They have not governed for the middle class, ignoring our main challenges of job creation and balanced deficit reduction,” the Democrats wrote in a letter to their caucus. “Instead, they have abandoned compromise in favor of partisanship.”

Pelosi and Hoyer took a swipe at GOP leaders for pushing “messaging” proposals — including numerous efforts to repeal President Obama's healthcare law — that never had a chance of moving through the Senate or the White House.

“Again and again in this Congress, Republicans have wasted the House’s time considering political messaging bills that cater to the extreme wing of their party,” the Democrats wrote.

Also central to their August messaging strategy, Democratic leaders want their troops to emphasize the distinction between their party's tax plan and that of the Republicans — an issue that has come to a head in recent days, as both chambers voted on competing measures for extending the Bush-era tax rates.

Behind Obama, the Democrats want the lower, Bush-era rates to expire for families with taxable income above $250,000 — a proposal the Senate passed with a largely partisan vote last week. Republicans, meanwhile, are pushing to extend the lower rates for everyone — a proposal the House approved Wednesday, also largely on partisan lines.

Behind Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Republicans have flipped the blame for the impasse back onto Democrats, accusing Senate leaders of blocking numerous tax, energy and regulatory proposals the GOP says will create jobs. Boehner has vowed to bring the House back from recess this month to address those issues if Senate Democrats will do the same.

“House Leaders made it clear earlier this week that we will bring the House back at any time if Senate Democrats act to stop the looming tax hikes or replace the devastating defense sequester with other spending cuts,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Thursday. “On both issues, the House has acted — so House Democratic leaders should direct their complaints and comments to Senate Democrats, and President Obama.”

The stalemate sets the stage for another high-stakes tax fight in the lame duck, when both sides will be arguing the economic benefits of their competing proposals — both on taxes and a long list of “fiscal cliff” issues.

The August break — not officially a recess, because the House on Thursday killed a proposal to adjourn for the month — offers lawmakers from both parties a five-week opportunity to make their case to voters.

Pelosi and Hoyer were clear in how they want their members to attempt that sell.

“When meeting with middle-class families and small business owners in your districts and listening to their concerns,” they wrote, “it is important that we send a clear message about how Democrats are working to move America forward and how Republicans are responsible for prolonging the uncertainty they face when it comes to taxes, sequestration, our economic recovery, and jobs.”