Pocketbook issues are Dem focus

With their foes vigorously trying to portray them as the party of gay marriage and flag burning, Democrats next week are set to unleash a counteroffensive to define themselves as defenders of “family security,” devoted to the everyday pocketbook issues that affect Joe Voter.

With their foes vigorously trying to portray them as the party of gay marriage and flag burning, Democrats next week are set to unleash a counteroffensive to define themselves as defenders of “family security,” devoted to the everyday pocketbook issues that affect Joe Voter.

The action on domestic issues is the latest installment of the Democrats’ legislative agenda, should they win back the House or Senate in November. Earlier this year, Democrats proposed efforts aimed at lobbying and ethics reforms (the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act), foreign policy (Real Security) and high-tech goals (the Innovation Agenda).

The plan will propose such perennial Democratic domestic-policy goals as raising the minimum wage, cutting interest rates on college loans, repealing subsidies for oil producers and allowing the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower prescription-drug prices.

Although in the works for months, the plan nearly coincided with the Republicans’ own retreat to familiar domestic-policy issues, a comparison Democrats welcome.

“It will be a differentiation from the Republican agenda, [focusing on] issues that are immediate to the lives of the American people, immediate to their family life, and not being addressed by this Congress,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told The Hill. “Our contention is that we have the wrong priorities, so we’re talking about a new direction for all Americans.”

Senate Republicans this week held a vote on a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union between a man and a woman. The House plans to take up the issue soon. Other efforts are planned to ban flag burning. Both issues appeal to the Republicans’ core socially conservative voters. Republicans’ focus on gay marriage was instrumental, some political observers have said, in securing President Bush’s reelection in 2004.

But Democrats contend that swing voters would prefer to see members of Congress focus on more common, everyday economic issues.

“When Republicans are doing things that don’t address people’s day-to-day problems, it’s a perfect time to say we’re going to do x, y and z to address your day-to-day problems,” said Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic strategist at Bryan Cave Strategies.

Pelosi briefed members of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on the agenda rollout Monday afternoon.

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will likely call on their colleagues to rally around party leaders when they announce the plan. Such agenda events in the past have included a broad cross-section of Democrats from both the House and Senate.

Meanwhile, as November approaches, Democrats are still debating whether they want to unveil a document concisely summarizing what they would do should they regain power. In 1994, Republicans released a 10-point Contract With America briefly describing their legislative priorities, although polls showed that most voters were not aware of the document when they voted.

A document with a working title of “Six in ’06” has been circulating in Democratic circles. It has yet to be released formally and may not be for some time, but Democratic aides said that Democratic leaders have already been referring to items from the list in recent media appearances.

Reading the tea leaves from such appearances, the bullet points on the list may include familiar issues like raising the minimum wage, fully implementing the Sept. 11 commission’s security recommendations, reinstating pay-as-you-go rules that limit deficit spending, expanding college loan programs, allowing the government to negotiate down drug prices and curtailing dependence on foreign oil.