GOPers Fear Losing Jobs Message War

Wanted to be sure you saw this article in today’s Politico on GOP “heartburn” and division over their jobs message. It’s not hard to see why they’re having so much trouble with their message – after eleven months in the House majority, they still haven’t put forward an actual jobs plan.

GOPers fear losing jobs message war
By: Manu Raju and Jake Sherman
November 29, 2011 08:03 PM EST

Congressional Republicans have become increasingly divided during the latest legislative battles, with some fearing that the White House is winning the message war over the No. 1 issue facing the country: jobs.

As Congress debates an extension of a payroll tax holiday, a number of Republicans are worried that their party has not done an adequate job responding to the battering they’re taking daily from President Barack Obama on the campaign trail.

And in the policy realm, Republican rifts are blowing into the open: The party is split over whether to seek new tax revenue to rein in the debt, how to pay for an extension of the payroll tax credits and unemployment benefits — or whether Congress should even extend them at all.

The internal debate comes as Republican leaders are trying to figure out how to end a grueling, gridlocked congressional session, testing a series of GOP promises about changing the way Washington works. But the party’s jobs message — that House Republicans have passed “jobs bills” that sit stalled in the Democratic Senate — appears to be causing the most heartburn.

“Fifteen bills coming from the House that no one ever heard of — including me — is probably not the best marketing plan,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told POLITICO, calling instead for one unified GOP bill.

In the House, freshman Rep. Randy Hultgren of Illinois said Republicans “need to do better on messaging,” adding that the party’s jobs pitch “hasn’t been cohesive enough.”

“We haven’t done enough,” he said. “I think it’s gotten out some, but it’s not enough. We’re not there yet on the message.”

A senior House Republican lawmaker said the message is confounding.

“This president has proposed a budget that puts us into bankruptcy — yet we’re talking about a dozen to two dozen orphan bills that the Senate won’t pass,” the lawmaker said.

Defenders of Republican leadership throw up their hands, pointing to recent polls showing their party on nearly even ground with Obama over the issue of job creation and arguing that the president’s approval numbers remain weak — in the 30s on his handling of the economy.

Speaker John Boehner has argued to colleagues that internal polling shows voters are growing more receptive to the GOP jobs message compared with Obama’s. And Senate Republicans point to one bill that largely represents the GOP position and would have eliminated federal rules, lowered taxes and expanded energy production.

“Our message has been less government, less regulation,” Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska said.

On Wednesday, Obama heads to Scranton, Pa., where he’ll promote a $265 billion expansion of the payroll tax break paid for by a new 3.25 percent surtax on millionaires. Republican leaders say the surtax would hurt small businesses and are preparing an alternative bill to avert an expiration of the workers’ tax break by year’s end.

In the meantime, House Republicans are internally debating their year-end strategy, eyeing ways to extend unemployment benefits and the payroll tax holiday, likely coupled with a patch to the Medicare reimbursement rate for physicians. There have been talks between House Republicans and Senate Democrats about tying the extension of unemployment benefits to reforms of the program.

But there’s dissension in all directions on how to handle those extensions.

There are Republicans who don’t think unemployment benefits and the payroll tax break should continue. Hultgren said he doesn’t see the programs “creating a lot of jobs,” and Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi said the proposed payroll tax break for employers “does not result in more work.” Republicans have quietly — and increasingly publicly — expressed pause about the tax holiday, raising questions about whether it’s been effective.

Regarding an extension of unemployment insurance, Rep. Ted Poe of Texas said Congress “ought to concentrate on paying people to work, not paying people not to work.”

In the another corner, some moderates are pushing back against calls to pay for the payroll tax break, especially in light of the Republican position to extend Bush-era tax rates without paying for them.

“We have to stop playing games and start solving problems,” said Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown. “It wasn’t paid for before, so why is it paid for now? Through economic activity, it will pay for itself.”

Republican leaders downplay the internal divisions, saying they’re trying to find a middle ground given that they control only half of the Capitol.

“We’re trying to show some flexibility and good faith so that voters will see that we’re not being intransigent but that we’re trying to offer good ideas and come up with solutions,” said Texas Sen. John Cornyn, referring to his party’s openness to raising revenues to cut the debt.

But that doesn’t sit well with other conservatives, such as Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, who warned Tuesday that Republicans risk “giving up what [we] stand for” if they compromise on revenues.

“I think it’s a bad idea,” he said.

At a closed House Republican Conference meeting earlier this month, Rep. Judy Biggert of Illinois suggested that party leaders buy television ad time to get the message across that Republicans are fighting for jobs.

Many of her colleagues seem to agree, particularly on the jobs issue.

“I think the Republicans do need to do a better job,” Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana said. “It’s not really clear that either party has been very successful in meeting what is clearly the No. 1 issue that the public expresses.”

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions expressed frustration that the public is “not hearing what the Republicans are offering.”

Still, some say much will change once the Republicans have a presidential nominee who will set the party’s agenda and — presumably — force GOP lawmakers to serve as an echo chamber.

“Once we get a presidential candidate, messaging will be determined at that point,” said Nevada Sen. Dean Heller. “I still think we’ve failed in our ability to get our message out, but I think presidential politics will overshadow any message of today.”

Scott Wong contributed to this report.
 

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