The tactic goes by several names: Déjà Vu, Play it Again, Summer Reruns. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) prefers "the cow agenda," saying House Republican leaders regurgitate previously passed bills, then force lawmakers to chew and swallow them again.
Whatever it's called, the strategy has infuriated Democrats. They accuse House Republicans of having so thin an agenda that they resort to re-approving measures languishing in the Senate, making only the slightest pretense at repackaging.
It started last month when the House passed three health-related bills virtually identical to measures it passed last year, the first half of the 108th Congress. H.R. 4280, for example, called for the same limits on pain-and-suffering awards in medical malpractice lawsuits as did H.R. 5, passed last year. H.R. 4281, dealing with small businesses' insurance policies, was indistinguishable from H.R. 660, and so on.
Last week, the House went through the same exercise with three previously passed education measures.
Actually, the bills aren't exactly the same as their 2003 versions, because a parliamentary rule (penned by Thomas Jefferson) states: "A question once carried, cannot be questioned again at the same session." Republicans found simple solutions, such as changing a "which" in H.R. 5 to a "that" in the otherwise identical H.R. 4280.
They further annoyed Democrats by allowing Republicans who face tough reelection bids to act as sponsors of the repackaged bills.
It was all too much for Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who went on the House floor last week to denounce a "Republican leadership bereft of fresh ideas . . . and struggling desperately to plug gaping holes in an otherwise embarrassingly empty floor calendar."
Republican leaders defended their strategy. Repetition, they said, is a legitimate tool to tell the Senate and the general public about the importance of the health and education initiatives.
"We have tried in many ways to talk about what our agenda is," said Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and shining new lights on old bills is one of those ways.
Speaking Into Thin Air
The president's weekly radio address, and the opposition party's response, may be disappearing from the nation's airwaves -- if, in fact, they were ever there in significant volumes to begin with.
Inside Radio, a trade publication, reports that more stations are dropping the Saturday morning feature. Among others, KRLD-AM, Dallas's big all-news station, did away with the addresses this spring. Another station's program director told the publication that the broadcasts have become "too partisan."
The broadcasts are carried on Armed Forces Radio abroad, and are fodder for Sunday newspaper stories. But no one knows for sure how many domestic radio stations have actually been playing the made-for-radio speeches.
"It's never been cleared by a lot of stations," said Jim Farley, vice president of news and programming at Washington's WTOP, which does air the addresses live. (C-SPAN radio, at 90.1 FM locally, airs taped versions on Saturday afternoons.)
During the Reagan administration, when he worked for NBC News, Farley said, several colleagues checked to see how many stations were picking up the network's feed. "We found almost no one was carrying it," he said, ". . . and I don't think much has changed."
Pushovers in Key States?
Perhaps this falls in the "yeah, duh" category, but there's new evidence that negative, misleading political ads work.
The National Annenberg Election Survey has polled "persuadable voters" in 20 presidential battleground states and found, among other things, that it's not terribly hard to give them jaundiced impressions of the candidates. These crucial voters -- who describe themselves as undecided or as having a preference but believing there's "a good chance" it could change by Nov. 2 -- make up only 11 percent of the national electorate. But they are poised to decide the all-important races between President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).
Among the survey's findings, outlined for reporters Friday: "Despite their stated lack of interest in political news on television, these key voters were at least as likely as others in their states to believe dubious claims made in attack ads widely shown in their states, from the claim that Bush favors sending American jobs overseas to contentions that Kerry favors raising gasoline taxes by 50 cents a gallon."
Perhaps those of us in the 30 non-battleground states should say a little prayer of thanks.