Energy Solution Provides First Test in GOP Rebranding

Energy Solution Provides First Test in GOP Rebranding

By Kyle Trygstad - May 6, 2009

Facing a growing image problem, a 78-seat deficit in the House of Representatives and soon to be on the short end of a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, Republicans set out this week to try and recast the Grand Old Party with voters by focusing on an issue Democrats have yet to build consensus around.

"Our brand has been tarnished," House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) said Thursday during his weekly press conference. "We've been in a difficult position having lost a lot of seats in the 2006 election cycle, a lot of seats in the 2008 election cycle, and our candidate for president didn't do nearly as well as we all would have liked."

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Two new organizations have sprung up from the House Republican Conference to remedy the situation: the National Council for a New America and the American Energy Solutions Group. The NCNA, led by Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.), and the AESG, chaired by Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.), are taking the show on the road, holding "conversations" with Americans around the country. They say the best solutions come from the people, not the leaders, and these efforts will provide a direct channel between the two.

"To the extent that we go out around the country with some of our national leaders and we listen to the concerns of the American people, I think it makes us a stronger party, and we'll be able to develop better solutions," Boehner said.

The NCNA held its first event Saturday at a locally-owned pizzeria in Arlington, Va. -- just across the Potomac River from Washington. Speaking at the event were Cantor and former governors Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. In the coming months, more events will be held around the country and will include party leaders such as Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. John McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin -- who was recently added to the list after initially being left off.

"From a conservative side, it's time for us to listen first, to learn a little bit, to upgrade our message a little bit, to not be nostalgic about the past," Bush said Saturday. "What we need to do is to listen, to learn, and then there will be a new generation of leaders who will lead. Listen, learn, lead. And that's what I believe this National Council can provide."

The AESG's first energy summit took place yesterday inside the Capitol, with the focus on the Democrat-written cap-and-trade proposal currently under consideration in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Future events are scheduled for the Memorial Day recess in Pennsylvania, Indiana and California.

Cap-and-trade is an issue Republicans believe they can capitalize on. As Democrats struggle to muster support within their own party, the issue has become the first test of the GOP's new rebranding effort.

Calling it a "national energy tax," GOP leaders continue to voice concerns that the Democrats' plan to cap carbon emissions would cost the average American household more than $3,000 per year, result in the loss of a significant number of jobs, and disproportionately affect coal-producing states.

"The reality is the ‘cap-and-tax' legislation offered by the Democrats amounts to an economic declaration of war on the Midwest by liberals on Capitol Hill," Pence said in his opening remarks at the summit. "Let me be clear: Republicans want to protect our environment. Republicans want to grow our economy and protect jobs, and Republicans believe we can do that while at the same time working toward a cleaner environment."

Democrats, meanwhile, have been unable to build consensus on their climate change bill, and Democratic members of the Energy and Commerce Committee met with President Obama at the White House yesterday -- an indication of the importance of the bill to Obama.

"We're hopeful to get something done this year. Obviously, as I said, it is a strong priority of the President's," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday during his daily briefing with reporters. "I think the meeting today denotes both his interest and his activity level on this in trying to move a solution forward."

Another possible setback for the Democrats is a new bipartisan energy proposal introduced yesterday by Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), which could siphon away support for the cap-and-trade bill written by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.).

However, despite the mounting speed bumps, Energy and Commerce Chairman Waxman said yesterday his legislation is still on schedule for a Memorial Day committee vote and remains a priority to be passed by the full House this year.

One new idea Democrats in the committee have agreed on is a "Cash for Clunkers" program, which offers a $3,500-to-$4,500 voucher for a more fuel-efficient vehicle to car buyers who trade in their old, low gas-mileage vehicles. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that with the new program, "consumers will save money at the pump, help protect our planet, and create and save jobs for American auto workers."

Offering alternative solutions is a key component to the Republican rebranding effort, however the GOP has yet to offer its own energy and climate change proposal. Pence said one is on the way, but the first priority is to derail what the GOP considers an onerous piece of legislation.

"The to first stop a profoundly bad idea in the form of the national energy tax -- the cap and trade bill," Pence said. "And the other part of our mission is to build a Republican alternative on the foundation of our all-of-the-above strategy with the American Energy Act in the last Congress ... that will allow for an improvement of our environment without chasing energy jobs out of this country."

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Kyle Trygstad is a Washington correspondent for RealClearPolitics. Email him at: Follow him on Twitter @KyleTrygstad.

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