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The House Schedules…Nothing

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Articles yesterday by the Washington Post’s Robert Costa and by The New York Times’ Carl Hulse and Jonathan Martin emphasize that the Congressional GOP won’t be engaging in any “grand compromises” on anything this year.  The GOP has retreated to its corner and will wait out the 2014 elections while watching the Obamacare train wreck roll out and the Obama foreign policy spread the results of its incoherence.  As Costa puts it:

GOP brass in both chambers have shifted their focus to stability, looking to avoid intraparty drama, rally behind incumbents and build Republicans’ ground game ahead of November’s midterm elections, where they hope to be competitive in a slew of Senate races and hold on to the party’s 17-seat House majority.

In that vein, championing a handful bills on job growth, energy and regulatory policy — all targeted at courting swing voters but unlikely to win Democratic support — has become a priority, with party leaders planning to spend months seeking consensus among Republicans and avoiding talks on controversial matters.

And further on:

At the House GOP’s annual retreat in January, Republicans spent most sessions discussing how to frame the party’s pitch to middle-class voters and get through the debate over suspending the debt ceiling. Influential voices, such as Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), devoted their speeches to the necessity of a united front and pressuring the president to support the Keystone XL pipeline, among other issues that could be helpful on the campaign trail.

The appetite there for anything resembling a grand bargain on immigration, taxes or health-care reform was nonexistent, according to several aides present, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meetings were confidential.

On health care, Republicans will offer their own wholesale substitute for the Affordable Care Act in the spring or summer, making full repeal of the law a keystone of their election-year message.

No mention, however, of a messaging strategy built on an aggressive hearings schedule, which continues to be the House leadership’s greatest failure.  They plan for nothing when it comes to moving public opinion and so they achieve nothing when it comes to moving public opinion.

There ought to be well planned and publicized sets of hearings every Tuesday and Wednesday between now and November that cue story-lines and commentary and drive themes for the fall elections.  That calendar of hearings ought to have been developed over the Christmas break, rolled out at the House retreat for review and tweaking, and in place now.  As it is, if any plan exists, it is a secret one, like President Nixon’s plan for Vietnam, but the better money is on there being no plan at all.  The Speaker and his team have great disdain for the idea of shaping public opinion.  The are “old school” which means “huh?”

How hard would it be to actually think through messaging along those lines?  Maybe only one in three hearings would generate traction, but perhaps more than that and in any event, it beats doing nothing and allowing the president to set the agenda each and every week.  Too bad today doesn’t feature a hearing on what went wrong in the Oregon health care exchange, next week a hearing on the medical device tax, and the following weeks hearings focused on Obamacare’s ravaging of religious freedom as the Administration’s war on faith rolls toward an argument before the Supreme Court on the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Company cases on March 25.

Specificity of subject and thorough questioning works.  Both are learned skilled sets that improve with practice.  No committee seems to have figured this out.

There is plenty to highlight and guide the MSM and center-right media towards, many hours of inquiries to launch that form a coherent, whole narrative and which would improve chances of success in the fall.

To develop such a schedule and insist on it happening would require House leadership –the Senate GOP controls none of the hearing apparatus of course– to oblige the chairs of committee to fall in with a general line and to not allow the appropriators to undo the work come the fall and the next CR.  The GOP cannot control what the president does abroad, and any confrontation with Iran could upend all their plans. (Don’t put it past a desperate president to toss the opening to Iran come October in favor of a policy of ultimatum backed by a threat of force.  The Cuban missile crisis saved Kennedy’s prospects in 1962 though of course JFK did not engineer nuclear brinksmanship for political reasons).

But no matter what the president does and does not do between now and November, the House GOP could at least try to message.


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