May the best bulldog win: GOP rivals

House Republicans have already begun mapping their attack strategy for the next two years.

House Republicans have already begun mapping their attack strategy for the next two years.

Leadership candidates have highlighted their plans to hammer the incoming Democratic majority for ethical lapses, fiscal irresponsibility and legislative mismanagement, borrowing from a playbook those same Democrats used with great success to unseat the Republican majority.

Leadership hopefuls have made regaining the majority the central thrust of their campaigns, but rank-and-file members are debating as to which candidates can successfully implement their attack strategies as well as the particulars of the individual plans.

Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who is locked in a tight race with Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) to retain his post in the next Congress, released a detailed roadmap yesterday to unify Republicans on tough votes, offer viable alternatives to Democratic bills on the floor and target potentially vulnerable Democrats on every tough vote.

Blunt is trying to make his procedural knowledge a big advantage over Shadegg heading into a potentially tight election with the Arizona conservative.

In the strategy memo, entitled “24 Months to a New Republican Majority — A Plan for Victory,” Blunt outlined 60 Democratic seats carried by President Bush in 2004 where Republican leaders will apply pressure either to flip Democrats on the floor or punish them in campaign materials for voting with party leaders.

“We must hold our Conference together to deny [presumptive House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) victory and force vulnerable Democrats to take tough votes,” Blunt wrote. “This won’t be as simple as going to the floor every day and simply voting ‘no.’ We will have to offer well-crafted alternatives that allow some of our Members to vote ‘yes’ on a better plan before voting on the Pelosi plan.”

Blunt outlines amendments he would offer to projected votes implementing pay-go rules in the budget process, raising the minimum wage and allowing the federal government to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, each of which is expected to be part of package offered by Democrats in the first 100 hours of their majority.

“It’s going to take a lot more than that,” said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill about offering amendments to sink the Democratic legislation. “There is consensus on each of these issues, and I think there will be a push for clean passage” on the popular measures.

Shadegg also offered members his own broad vision statement yesterday in which he promises to work with the next chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee to hold freshman Democrats accountable for the campaign promises they made during the last cycle.

In an echo of the GOP’s combative stance, Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), the retiring chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, gave an impassioned speech to members yesterday during their regularly scheduled conference meeting, members and aides said afterward.

“The wake is over,” Thomas told his Republican colleagues yesterday while imploring those who will remain next year to use their power as a minority to exploit divisions on the other side of the aisle.

Thomas, who has never shied from partisan sparring, told his soon-to-be-former colleagues to hammer Pelosi immediately for her attempts to elevate Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) to the majority leader post despite his role as an un-indicted co-conspirator in the FBI’s Abscam investigation.

As members prepare to elect a new slate of leaders in the wake of their devastating electoral loss, Republicans appear likely to elect a slate of familiar faces to the leadership, even though many lawmakers are concerned this could send the wrong message to voters.

During a closed-door meeting of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), Blunt hinted that four members of the current leadership — himself; his chief deputy, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.); Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio); and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) — will return to the leadership, an aide present said.

Blunt is trying to hold his post as whip despite a groundswell of support for Cantor. There has been talk of organizing a write-in candidacy for the Virginia Republican, but members and staff are doubtful that a member will stand up and nominate him in the conference meeting for fear of angering Blunt.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) circulated a letter yesterday outlining his own vision for Republicans in the minority in which he questions the wisdom of electing familiar faces to the leadership.

“Are House Republicans electing a leadership team to be an effective minority or a leadership team to regain the majority?” Gingrich wrote to members. “These are very different roles and require very different considerations, very different strategies and very different leaders.”

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the self-proclaimed “cheerful pugilist” who chairs the RSC, delivered a fervent speech to centrist members of the Tuesday Group yesterday that one aide present believed would sway at least a few members in attendance, even though Boehner is still considered the front-runner.

Pence ducked into an empty conference room with Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas), who is also running for leader, after making his presentation, but denied afterward that the two were conspiring against Boehner, the odds-on favorite.

In addition, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced his endorsement of Shadegg yesterday, even though Shadegg’s team debated releasing the senator’s endorsement during the race for leader last winter. Some House Republicans are not fond of McCain, claiming he’s a liberal Republican who constantly seeks media attention.

Republicans have punted one of the biggest questions about their reorganization until after the reorganization caucus this Friday.

Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio), the outgoing chair of the Republican Conference, told members in their closed-door meeting yesterday that leaders would not introduce a revised conference rules package until members return from the Thanksgiving holiday. Staff for outgoing Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) will work with the staff of the newly elected leaders to craft the final package.

The two big questions at this point regard term limits for ranking members — whether or not service as chairman counts against members in vying for ranking member slots and whether those ranking members will be chosen solely for seniority or will be allowed to make presentations to the reconfigured Steering Committee.

Most of the members vying for those slots have already made inquires with leadership about that process and will continue to angle for those slots as leaders craft the new rules.

“We’re waiting on leadership selection,” said Rep. Richard Baker (R-La.), the senior Republican on the Financial Services Committee, who was in a tight race to chair the committee before last week’s loss. “It’s too early at the moment to know how it will play out.”

Baker’s chief rival for the slot, Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) — should Pryce and Dreier not ask to be considered — will also continue to campaign.

“It matters,” Bachus said of becoming the ranking Republican. “Whoever the ranking member is absolutely has a step up” in a potential future race to become chairman.

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