Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) says that Republicans will fight the
2006 campaign by combining 2002-style attacks on Democrats as
"weak on security," 2004-ish attacks on "obstructionism"
and a new line of argument that "Democrats have no ideas."
He told me
in an interview that the GOP also will have an agenda that emphasizes
"securing" what voters hold dear - freedom, the homeland,
health care and prosperity - plus reform and solving the country's
includes lobbying reform, legal reform, border security, competitiveness,
"tax increase prevention" and reductions in Medicare
growth (which he termed "not cuts").
"we can't set our expectations too high" for specific
accomplishments because of "a short legislative calendar,"
and because of Democratic "slow-rolling and obstruction."
a tough environment right now," he acknowledged about the
coming election year, "but I am confident that we will maintain
the majority" because "the Democrats have no ideas,
no policies to put forward," while Republicans do. (Extensive
portions of the interview with Frist will be published in Monday's
Roll Call policy briefing, "State of the Union:
2002, when Frist was chairman of the National Republican Senatorial
Committee, he told me that Democratic delays in creating the Department
of Homeland Security focus "attention to issues we are stronger
on - defense, patriotism, support for the military."
approving tough ads that ran against Democrats such as then-Sen.
Max Cleland (Ga.), the GOP picked up two seats and won back majority
control, propelling Frist toward leadership of his party.
the Democrats, by objecting to President Bush's National Security
Agency surveillance program, "again are positioning themselves
as weak on national security, weak on defense, weak on protection
of moms and dads and kids in their households around the country,
rejecting the president's responsibility to protect us here in
fully understand their position, especially in a year when they're
trying to rebuild," he said. Frist's view tracks with that
of Bush political adviser Karl Rove, who said Democrats have a
"pre-9/11 worldview" that's "not unpatriotic,"
but "profoundly wrong."
he'd been "fully briefed" on the NSA program and added,
"I support it. It's constitutional and critical to the safety
of the country," though he did say he'd consider upgrades
to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act "to bring
it into the 21st century."
with Frist as Majority Leader, the GOP picked up four more seats,
including that of Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), by labeling
the opposition as "obstructionist."
Democrats are at it again, "as demonstrated by what we're
seeing right now - the continuing postponement and obstruction
of the asbestos bill," which would create a $140 billion
fund for victims of lung disease and limit fees for trial lawyers.
what the [Judge Samuel] Alito hearings [for the Supreme Court]
showed is that the American people are weary of these insufferable
attempts by Democrats to use obstruction, slow-rolling, postponement
and delay of an agenda that would help them as individuals.
a losing strategy for them, because you couple that with the lack
of policy ideas that speak to the real needs of the American people,
and there will be frustration and rejection."
say they will come forward with a positive alternative agenda
- but not yet. Jim Manley, top communications aide to Senate Minority
Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), told me that "we've taken a page
from [ex-Speaker] Newt Gingrich's (R-Ga.) playbook," noting
that the GOP didn't release its "Contract with America"
until September 1994, not long before they won control of the
major theme is - and apparently will remain - that under Republican
control, Washington, D.C., is mired in "a culture of corruption."
If and when lobbying reform is passed - Frist said, in early March
- Democrats will go on to tie every GOP health, energy and entitlement
proposal to "corrupt" interest groups that back it.
This is in
keeping with the latest strategy memo released by Democratic operatives
James Carville and Stan Greenberg, advising that at the moment,
"Democrats are not seen as more ethical than the Republicans."
is "a powerful opportunity to join the real-time battle as
the voice of the public and public interest, critics of lobbyist
influence, champions of bold reform and story-tellers about Washington
- the place where corrupt lobbyists win out over the people on
things that matter to people's lives.
bothers people the most about corruption is not the fouling of
the process, but the impact on real things - energy prices, the
Iraq war and Medicare reform. Those are 'facts' that upset people
the most and the consequences that make the scandal real, and,
It was evidently
in pursuit of this strategy that Reid issued a withering attack
on the asbestos bill as allegedly lobbyist-created, only to be
forced to back off when Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the bill's
chief sponsor, raged at him and when Reid was criticized by The
New York Times for protecting trial lawyers.
that "the Democrats' 'culture of corruption' theme really
is in contrast to our pro-growth, secure-America's-prosperity,
need to be addressed," he said, starting with bipartisan
action on lobbying reform and "aggressively addressing earmarks,
which can be corrected and will be corrected."
He said he
is committed to bring to the floor permanent repeal of the estate
tax, extension of Bush's other tax cuts through 2010, an immigration
bill and a medical malpractice overhaul. He also said there was
strong bipartisan support for science and education upgrades to
improve U.S. competitiveness. After Bush failed on Social Security
last year - Frist blamed that on Democrats - "there will
be some hesitation to take on Medicare reform, but I'm going to
take it on," he said, as well as upgrading health information
technology and closing health care disparities.
where things are headed, the 2006 election shapes up as a nasty,
negative contest between Democrats shouting "corruption"
and Republicans shouting "weak, obstructionist, no ideas."
Voters can only hope that some day, politicians will get around
to solving their real problems.
Kondracke is the Executive Editor of Roll Call.