GOP brass enlists help on message

House Republicans are working to get more organized.

In an effort to improve coordination between leadership and the various House committees, Republican leaders have finalized six issue-based working groups to assist in the process of rolling out priority bills this election year.

House Republicans are working to get more organized.

In an effort to improve coordination between leadership and the various House committees, Republican leaders have finalized six issue-based working groups to assist in the process of rolling out priority bills this election year.

The move comes after House leaders missed a self-imposed deadline on lobbying reform and in the wake of clashes with panel chairmen during the 109th Congress, most recently with Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) on the budget resolution.

The groups, which will help organize communications strategies and outside coalition work for upcoming bills, are expected to work in close coordination with the legislative calendar released last month by House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Leadership created the groups at the end of March and the staffers are now meeting regularly.

This initiative is part of an overall election-year drive by the House GOP to improve coordination among the leadership, the committees and rank-and-file members. Boehner has also tapped members to craft a mission statement that is intended to act as a guidepost for Republican lawmakers in the House.

These new actions fall in line with Boehner’s pledge, during his race to become majority leader, to include more members in the legislative process. The teams are a joint effort by the entire leadership and were led by top staff to Boehner and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

The new House Republican groups will address the major themes of this election cycle, according to GOP leadership aides familiar with the new program.

The teams will separately address the war in Iraq, border security and other immigration-related issues, taxes and the economy, energy independence, and healthcare, particularly the Medicare prescription-drug benefit. One group will coordinate coalition work with outside interest groups.

House Republicans have bickered over the details of high-profile bills in recent months, including lobbying reform, immigration reform and the spending blueprint for fiscal year 2007.

House leadership had wanted to vote on lobbying reform well before the April recess and watched as the Senate passed its bill, 90-8, in late March.

Hastert Chief of Staff Scott Palmer and Boehner Chief of Staff Paula Nowakowski created the teams and will oversee them. Each group will consist of three staff members from each of the four leadership offices, and each of those offices will delegate a different staff member to oversee policy, communications and coalition work.

Gretchen Hamel, a spokeswoman for the House Republican Conference, described the groups as “a coordinated effort by the entire leadership to work with committees and members on legislation and communications.”

Hamel stressed that each group will work with members’ offices and be more “member-driven than leadership-directed.”

Boehner introduced a three-month floor schedule in March so that members could roll out legislation in coordination with that calendar and leadership could plan its message and coalitions work accordingly.

For example, next week’s theme is “Protecting our Homeland and Troops in the Global War on Terror.” As such, members are expected to vote on the Maritime Security Act and a bill to reauthorize funds for intelligence agencies throughout the federal government, according to a copy of Boehner’s three-month calendar.

Later in the summer, the groups will also help the committees of jurisdiction prepare bills in anticipation of the weekly themes. An initial version of Boehner’s schedule, for example, said the energy-independence package expected on the floor the last week in June was still “under development.” The working groups would make sure those bills are progressing through the committees of jurisdiction.

Members of the working groups will act as intermediaries between the leadership and committee members bringing various bills to the floor and will work with chairmen as they prepare legislation. They will help “build support for the issues as they are working through committees,” one senior GOP leadership aide said.

“This is a management tool for the leadership,” the aide said. The groups were created to help leadership work with the members and committee staff to foster “a broader sense of command and control.”

The GOP entities will focus more on the basics of bringing bills to the floor and communicating the substance of that legislation than on generating any ideas for actual legislation, which will likely alleviate the concerns of panel chairmen.

Democrats quickly interpreted the strategy shift as a sign of eroding support for GOP lawmakers.

“With less than six months until the election, Republicans are admitting that they are in trouble and are losing credibility with the American people,” said Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).