Forget Obama, House GOP's Target Is Senate Dems

Forget Obama, House GOP's Target Is Senate Dems

By Erin McPike and Caitlin Huey-Burns - January 24, 2013

Recalibrating their strategy after a bruising election and an inauguration that underscored President Obama’s renewed popularity, political savvy and place in history, Republicans are now training their fire on Senate Democrats instead of the man in the Oval Office.

Republican House members have come to terms with the fact that though they control the lower chamber, Democrats run the rest of Washington. In light of that, they are putting more pressure on the Senate to pass a budget -- a basic task of governing that has not been achieved for four years. And GOP groups are seeking to split Democrats into factions by spotlighting various objections to Obama’s policies from those within his own party, rather than assailing him directly.

Republicans hope ultimately to water down the president’s agenda. And so on Wednesday House Speaker John Boehner brought to the floor a bill to suspend the debt ceiling until May -- and require the Senate to pass a budget. It passed, 285-144.

“With the passage of this bill today, it’s pretty clear that we’re sending a message to the Democrat-controlled Senate that it’s time to do your job,” Boehner after the approval, which was aided by House Democrats. “We’re committed to doing a budget on the House side -- a budget that will balance over the next 10 years. It’s time for the Senate and the president to show the American people how they’re willing to balance the budget over the next 10 years.”

As evidence of the new Republican strategy, Boehner issued a series of tweets starting Tuesday morning that mocked Senate Democrats for their inactivity on the budget. One read, “You could take 179 round trips to the moon in the time since Senate Dems last passed a budget.”

Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray responded that her panel will pass a budget, and she intends to get it to the floor this year for a vote.

Asked if this GOP plan to pressure her conference complicates her own plans, the Washington Democrat told RCP: "The reason why we are where we are is because the House Republicans have decided to govern by crisis. That's not how we operate."

Rep. Trent Franks, a conservative from Arizona, differs, saying the strategy paints House Republicans as the responsible party.

“We are at such a systemic disadvantage given our small majority in one-third of government, that it’s incumbent upon us to reorient the playing field to give us some sort of regular order,” he told RCP. “One of the most advantageous elements of this strategy is to really highlight the Senate’s irresponsibility in the hope that they will have an epiphany and say, ‘Maybe we should do our job.’ ”

Pressuring the Senate is also a way to pressure the president, he said. “There is no question the president has the bully pulpit and that it’s much easier to communicate. We’ve got 233 people out there talking when the president has one unified communication source.”

Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, who devised political strategy for House Republicans as the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee for two cycles, told RCP that it's not in anyone's best interest for a Republican leader to negotiate one-on-one with the president. He explained that it makes for better policy when the House crafts its own bills and works with the Senate before sending them to the president.

"It's better to start and finish that way," Sessions said, noting that it's not a change in philosophy but rather "a mid-course correction."

Congressional Republicans have made spending and deficit reduction a legislative priority. Boehner told reporters Tuesday that the House’s central focus for the next 90 to 120 days will be the approaching fiscal deadlines. But his party intends to continue to use the Senate to pressure the president beyond those budget battles.

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Erin McPike and Caitlin Huey-Burns

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