Dems punch back on GOP's economic messaging

Dems punch back on GOP's economic messaging
© Greg Nash

House Democrats this week launched an 11th-hour campaign designed to take the wind out of the sails of the GOP’s central argument heading into the November midterm elections: that the country is more prosperous under Republican rule.

Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi, Dem rebels near deal on term limits for party leaders Pelosi divides Democrats with term-limit proposal Oval Office clash ups chances of shutdown MORE (Calif.) and her fellow Democrats are rolling out a series of state-specific reports that show low- and middle-class workers have been left behind while the wealthiest Americans have benefited handsomely from the Republicans’ economic agenda.

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The late messaging campaign provides a counterpunch to the GOP’s principal pitch — amplified by President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republicans move to block Yemen war-powers votes for rest of Congress Trump says he's considering 10 to 12 contenders for chief of staff Michael Flynn asks judge to spare him from jail time MORE at his campaign-style rallies — that their economic formula has lifted all ships across the income spectrum. It also indicates that Democrats, in the final push toward the Nov. 6 elections, see political gold in battling Republicans head-on over an issue the GOP considers its strongest selling point.

“What is at stake in this election is nothing less than the health and financial security of families across America,” Pelosi said in an email.

The deep-dive reports survey the economic conditions in more than a dozen states roughly two years after Trump took office. The takeaway, Democrats found, is that low- and middle-class workers are suffering the effects of wage stagnation, higher health-care costs and a lack of congressional action to boost infrastructure projects — smoking-gun evidence, Democrats say, that Trump’s economic arguments are little more than bluster.

“After two years under total GOP control of Washington, health costs and prescription drug costs are rising, real wages are stagnant, and huge infrastructure needs have been left unmet,” Pelosi said.

The first report to go public focuses on Pennsylvania — a timing strategy designed to coincide with Trump’s campaign rally in Erie on Wednesday evening. Trump won the Keystone State in 2016 after promising voters there that he’d be laser-focused on lifting the Rust Belt economy after years of decline.

“We’re going to bring back our jobs to Pennsylvania,” Trump told a crowd in Erie in 2016.

Returning to the town two years later, the president said he’d honored his word, asserting that his policies — including the 2017 tax-reform law and newly imposed tariffs — have been a boon to regional steelworkers, the shale industry and miners of “beautiful, clean coal.”

“Under Republican leadership, America is booming, America is thriving, and America is winning like never before,” he told the crowd, “because we are finally putting America first.”

Democrats have found a different landscape in Pennsylvania. Their report ticks off a series of economic indicators suggesting the state’s workers have not benefited — and in some cases have been harmed — under GOP policies.

Real wages, for example, have fallen 2.2 percent in Pennsylvania in the months since Trump took office, the Democrats found, citing research by the Joint Economic Committee, while more than 1 million state taxpayers will receive no benefit — or face a tax increase — over the first two years of the Republicans’ tax overhaul.

On the health-care front, Democrats have warned that a Trump-backed lawsuit in Texas challenging ObamaCare’s protections for patients with pre-existing conditions threatens to price millions of sick patients out of coverage. In Pennsylvania, they found, that suit could affect more than 5 million residents.

GOP leaders are quick to reject such arguments, saying the economic gains — which have pushed Wall Street to an all-time high and unemployment to a 49-year low — are helping everyone. Speaking at the National Press Club this week, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHouse Republicans move to block Yemen war-powers votes for rest of Congress Stefanik: GOP leaders need to step up their female recruitment efforts McConnell agrees to vote on Trump-backed criminal justice bill MORE (R-Wis.) touted gains in manufacturing, retail sales, consumer confidence and job openings as clear evidence that Republican policies are paying dividends across the board.

“Today, our country is turning the corner,” he said. “American families are better off now.”

Rep. Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), chairman of the Democrats’ campaign arm, said his polling indicates Republicans are running away from their top legislative priorities, particularly the tax law and efforts to repeal ObamaCare. Those issues, he said, have alienated voters, even in conservative-leaning battleground districts, and left GOP candidates scrambling for a message that resonates.

Frequently, he said, Republicans are leaning on personal attacks against their Democratic opponents in lieu of a focus on the tax law and other issues.

“There’s a reason why you’re not seeing Republicans run on their record,” Luján told reporters at a Bloomberg roundtable last week. “Republicans are having a heck of a time right now, and they’re just looking to attack anywhere that they think they might be able to, and they’re throwing whatever they can at the wall to see what sticks.”

He added that people “don’t just want a reason to vote against the other side; they want a reason to vote for someone or something.”

The Democrats’ new campaign marks a kind-of pivot away from the fight over Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughThe case for reauthorizing VAWA Kamala Harris to keep seat on Judiciary Committee Planned Parenthood president 'deeply concerned' about Kavanaugh presence on Supreme Court MORE, who was recently confirmed to the Supreme Court after a protracted fight over sexual assault allegations. That battle consumed much of the political oxygen, in Washington and beyond, in recent weeks.

Democrats are hoping their new economic offensive will shift the debate back to bread-and-butter issues they think are more likely to steer voters’ hands at the polls.

“House Democrats are going to continue to drive home the facts that expose the core contrast between our ‘For The People’ agenda and Republicans’ disastrous record on the kitchen table issues facing hard-working families across America,” Pelosi said.