During the first month of the Democratic-controlled Congress, Republicans held numerous press conferences on Capitol Hill to vent their frustration over being locked out of the legislative process. Many accused Democrats of violating House rules to push their legislation through.
However, the nuances of parliamentary procedure are likely to be lost in translation to voters back in the members’ congressional districts, leaving the GOP the tactically challenging task of making their complaints palatable to the voters back home.
“The people don’t care about the process,” said Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.). “They don’t care we were kept out of the room; we care they don’t.”
In order to get the GOP message out, he added, members must break down information to communicate clearly how the process impacts constituents and their pocketbooks.
“What they care about is what happened in the end and how it is going to affect [them], and what happened in the end last week was bad and is going to affect them in a bad way,” Campbell said.
“We had an opportunity to decrease the budget by $10 billion and they didn’t. They spent $10 billion more,” Campbell said, referring to the continuing resolution passed last week, which Republicans say cost the nation billions. “So obviously our messaging on this is going to have to be loud, it’s going to have to be focused, and it’s going to have to be clear.”
Campbell said he and several other members have been having conversations with members of leadership on how to best send the message to voters on budgetary issues.
Ed Patru, a spokesman for the House Republican Conference, echoed Campbell’s remarks.
“We communicate in a different language on the local level,” he said.
Patru said the conference is using simple, family-oriented examples to illustrate to voters why they should perceive certain Democratic policies and bills to be wrong.
“The budget is a great example,” he said, likening the Republican characterization of the Democratic budget plans to a family budget. “Most families who are trying to balance a budget don’t max out their credit cards on a shopping spree and then ask the boss for a raise.”
Patru acknowledged that Republicans are likely to lose the inside-the-Beltway debate because of the heavy Democratic majority. But outside Washington, he said, Republicans have an advantage because of their ability translate the debate into understandable analogies.
“The average voter may not understand regular order, but they do understand and agree with the elements of [what is] fair,” he said. “They see the validity and expect bipartisan cooperation.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has been aggressively addressing this issue, according to spokeswoman Jessica Boulanger. She cited several recent press releases targeting both vulnerable freshmen with a newly minted voting record and incumbents in traditionally Republican districts.
She stressed the importance of taking complicated concepts, such as the recent spate of Republican motions to recommit, and translating them into language and concepts that average voters can grasp.
“These votes are happening every day on the House floor,” Boulanger said. “It’s our job at the NRCC to boil it down into simple terms that the average voter will understand.”
In addition to helping voters understand Beltway politics, Republicans also face the challenge of keeping members of their own conference together. As a case in point, 57 House Republican members crossed over and voted for the continuing resolution that their GOP colleagues rallied against.
Republicans leaders have explained that the members who have voted with Democrats on the kind of issues brought up in the first “100 hours” did so because in many instances it was easier than explaining all the nuances that went into a partisan vote.