Presidents Day recess time for a messaging war on spending cuts

Democrats headed back to their districts for the Presidents Day recess hope to drive home the message that Republicans should be blamed if the fight over spending cuts ends in a government shutdown.

They say they are confident that Republicans have overreached with their handling of the 2011 spending bill and believe that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is vulnerable to charges of putting political concerns above the well-being of the nation.

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In a direct jab at the Speaker, Democratic lawmakers are planning to message the continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government as the “So Be It” bill and have printed up buttons with that slogan for members to wear.

Boehner said that if the CR causes some federal layoffs, “So be it."

“We will hold House Republicans accountable for choosing the wrong priorities — putting special interests ahead of the middle class," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) said in a statement Saturday after early-morning House passage of cuts. "It’s wrong to take researchers out of the lab or keep homeless veterans on the street to protect special interests. It’s just wrong.”

The Republican message over recess will be that Democrats are “the only people talking about a shutdown” and that Democrats are using scare tactics in a bid to continue their wasteful spending.

House Democrats were still deciding Friday on how much advertising to buy during the week, but they had settled on a message of pointing out specific cuts in the House GOP spending bill and portraying them as unreasonable, a Democratic strategist said.

Democrats will tell constituents that the GOP bill will kick 218,000 children out of Head Start, cause 7,000 special-education teachers to lose their jobs, devastate cancer and diabetes research and deny assistance to homeless veterans.

The Republican-controlled House is working on a continuing resolution to fund the government that makes cuts of at least $61 billion to funding levels in the current CR. The Democratic-controlled Senate has said that the House bill is “dead on arrival,” and the White House has promised a veto if the bill should come to the president’s desk.

A key part of the Democrats’ messaging strategy will be to place the blame on the Republicans if an agreement on the CR cannot be reached and the government is forced to shut down.

If Republicans' cuts are successfully painted as unreasonable, it is easier to blame them if a shutdown occurs, a Democratic aide said.

“The more the details of the bill become known, the stronger our case becomes,” the operative said.

One aspect of the message is that the spending bill “destroys jobs” at a time of economic recovery.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has instructed members, through a district work period packet, to cite an Economic Policy Institute study that estimates the CR will cost 800,000 jobs in the public and private sectors.

“At a time of economic recovery, this measure goes too far — cutting jobs and harming middle-class families, young adults, seniors and veterans,” the instruction states.

It says Democrats will trim spending by “going after tax loopholes and wasteful subsidies, instead of the reckless and indiscriminate cuts in the GOP spending plan.”

They have launched a website — www.whenarethejobs.com  — to promote the argument that the GOP is focused on “destroying jobs” instead of creating them.

Democrats will argue that Boehner has reinforced the message that the Republicans cuts are unreasonable and go beyond trimming waste, since Boehner and other GOP leaders originally wanted a bill with smaller cuts.

GOP leaders backed a bill to cut $35 billion from current funding levels, but House GOP freshmen successfully pressured them to include another $26 billion in cuts.

Democrats will also point to efforts made by their party to save American jobs. They will highlight attempts to pass a Build America Bonds initiative and a bill ending government contracts for companies that offshore jobs, according to the House Democrats' “District Work Plan.”

A successful amendment to the CR, backed by Democrats and centrist Republicans, that restores funding for police and firefighters programs will also be touted to constituents. They will argue that a shutdown will cause delays in Social Security checks for seniors.

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