By Reid Wilson - 07/09/09 07:19 PM EDT
The spending spree comes as Republicans are convinced the legislation, which passed the House last week by a narrow 219-212 vote, will be a boon to their electoral fortunes.
Vulnerable members getting positive airtime include Reps. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), a freshman who has been the focus of both significant criticism and praise; Harry Teague (D-N.M.); John Boccieri (D-Ohio); Alan Grayson (D-Fla.); Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.); and Frank Kratovil (D-Md.).
Print advertisements, which are cheaper and less effective, are running in nearly 40 districts, according to groups backing the bill.
Among the dozens of organizations and corporations that backed the measure, some — like the League of Conservation Voters, the National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club and several major unions like the Service Employees International Union and the United Steelworkers under the umbrella of the Blue-Green Alliance — are funding public outreach on the bill.
The groups declined to give a total figure for the money spent on the advertisements but called it a significant amount.
Republicans have characterized the energy plan as something destined to raise costs for families and weigh down the already struggling economy. They’re also using it as a steppingstone toward advancing a larger narrative about spending and taxes, a narrative that began with the stimulus measure. Their next step, according to a GOP source, will be the healthcare overhaul Congress is debating now.
“Democrats just passed a national energy tax in the midst of severe economic recession and yet they are surprised by the angry reception they have received back home in their districts,” said National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) spokesman Ken Spain. “Democrats in swing districts are rightly worried about this potential career-ending vote.”
And, as with stimulus legislation passed earlier this year, both sides are convinced theirs is the proper political approach.
Democrats are focusing on what they say are the bill’s national security benefits and the prospect of new job creation, aspects they think will be able to sink in with voters over the long run.
“We think that the people who voted no against this are going to pay a price. They’re the ones who voted for the status quo on energy,” said Navin Nayak, global warming project director at the League of Conservation Voters.
The battle to define the issue is far from over. The NRCC has run television advertisements hitting Perriello and radio advertisements targeting a dozen other Democrats for supporting the legislation.
But the money the GOP has spent has been far outweighed by the amount groups that favor the legislation have dropped.
Groups that back the bill say they have no intention of letting the GOP define the bill as a tax-raiser.
“We’re fully committed to make sure that members who voted yes are defended and ultimately will benefit from this,” said Jeremy Symons, global warming campaign executive for the National Wildlife Federation.
All the advertising has done little, so far, to clear up confusion over the bill, and members are still getting calls even though the ball is now in the Senate’s court.
“We’ve gotten lots of calls both in favor and against the legislation, and most of the calls don’t reflect a real-time analysis of where the legislation is now,” Boccieri said. “There’s some misinformation that’s been put out there by the Republican Party and most of it is inaccurate.”
Editorial boards around the country have decidedly mixed outlooks, and as the bill’s costs get short-run attention, several vulnerable members are feeling the heat.
Passions are running high over the legislation. Rep. John Adler (D-N.J.) told a local columnist he was shoved by a woman who opposed the legislation. Teague got bad press when he visited a local diner to chat with constituents about the bill. And protesters picketed offices of members in Ohio and Florida.
“This is something where there are probably short-term political points for Republicans on scare tactics, but in the long term [voters] are going to see Congress did something to make our country safer,” said Perriello.
“There are many people concerned about costs and there are other people in the tea-party crowd that have just sort of wrapped this all together in some conspiracy,” Perriello added. But, he said: “We win this argument with the American people on national security, we win it on jobs, we win it on climate and science.”