Parties ready battle plans for recess

House Democrats will hammer Republicans during the Fourth of July recess over high gas prices and the Medicare prescription-drug benefit; House Republicans will hit back by disparaging a Senate immigration bill tacitly backed by President Bush.

House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) joined Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) yesterday to outline the first round of House hearings on the Senate bill scheduled for next week.

Boehner said yesterday that one reasons the House GOP is holding the hearings is to “back our hand heading into these negotiations” with the Senate.

The House Republican Conference assembled a recess-week communications kit for its members that will focus on border security against illegal immigrants.

The conference office has devoted the first six sections of the communications manual to this, including a list of measures on homeland security passed in the 109th Congress and “Four Things Americans Should Know About the Reid-Kennedy Bill,” according to a draft of the table of contents reviewed by The Hill.

The kits contain a copy of the leadership’s reform principles, which include more money for state and federal enforcement officials, stiffer penalties for illegal immigrants and for the employers who hire them, cultural assimilation for all immigrants, and outright opposition to legislation granting legalization or citizenship to illegal immigrants already in this country.

The member manual, which the office began distributing yesterday, includes data to help congressional Republicans push their message about a strong economy.

Democrats have scheduled a press conference for today to roll out their New Direction for America. Over the recess they will also call for improvements in the Medicare prescription-drug plan and criticize Republicans for high energy prices and the rising cost of higher education after an expected bump in interest rates next month on subsidized student loans.

“The American people will see through the Republicans’ old playbook of distort, distract and divide,” said Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “Pandering to the radical right wing’s wrong priorities does not reflect the American values of opportunity, security and prosperity.”

With immigration reform crowding other issues from the national spotlight, Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) has asked members to make a final drive in support of the Medicare prescription-drug plans that have largely faded from the headlines since the enrollment deadline passed.

Pryce organized a meeting of her 18-member whip team Tuesday to give each a list of colleagues to monitor over the break. Pryce also appealed to members during yesterday’s conference meeting to talk about the plans, a Republican aide in the room said. Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) followed Pryce’s remarks with an appeal of his own.

Pelosi reintroduced a plan this week to shift the management of those drug plans from insurance companies and drug providers partly to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). That would also allow CMS officials to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies.

Republicans will also be on the energy offensive during the recess. Their communications kit has sections on veterans, appropriations and increased energy production, including oil exploration in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, offshore drilling and the permitting process for new oil and gas refiners, as well as general talking points about the steep rise in gasoline prices.