- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2001

Republicans and Democrats, in an August break from six months of congressional warfare, are touting their accomplishments back home and taking the political pulse of voters at a time of increasing economic uncertainty.
Expressing new confidence after their recent legislative victories on a patients' bill of rights and the energy bill, House Republicans have scheduled 250 town hall meetings and other events in their districts to tout tax-rebate checks being mailed out this summer and a major education-reform bill that is nearing enactment.
"We had a great last week before the recess began. We left here winning and we left on offense and we're going to continue to be on offense throughout the August recess," said Christine Iverson, spokeswoman for the House Republican Conference.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, is planning a nationwide campaign to promote the GOP's legislative agenda during the four-week break.
Democratic leaders will be out on the district speaking circuit, too.
House Democrats went home with plans to attack the Republicans on Social Security reform, a strategy Democratic leaders hope will resonate with their party's base. They plan to put the GOP and the administration on the defensive when President Bush's commission begins work this month on a sweeping reform plan to partially privatize the system.
"Social Security continues to be one of the most powerful issues that illustrate Democratic support of working families," said Texas Rep. Martin Frost, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
While Republicans were getting a little nervous about the weakening economy, they believe they are well positioned to argue that tax cuts will strengthen the economy, and that Democrats fought the tax rebates in the face of rising layoffs and an anemic economy.
"The Democrats are having a tough time dealing with Republicans because we have captured the issues like education reform, so what's left for them to argue but that the sky is falling and Social Security is going to be stolen," said Terry Holt, spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas.
"This is a playbook the Democrats have used for a long time and every time they have used that tactic, it works a little less well," Mr. Holt said.
Senate Democrats have focused their resources on passing campaign finance reform and a patients' bill of rights. But campaign finance reform has been blocked in the House for now and, with the help of a vigorous hands-on lobbying effort by Mr. Bush, House Republicans have passed energy and patient rights legislation.
Republicans believe they are well positioned to negotiate differences with the Democrats in conference committee where GOP leaders have been relatively successful this year, winning victories for the president on the tax cuts and a tighter budget plan.
"We are pretty evenly matched when we go into a conference but we have a little more leverage because we have the White House and the president can exert a lot of pressure with the power of the veto," said a House Republican leadership official.
Democrats are planning a major political attack on the Republicans at month's end when the Congressional Budget Office is expected to release new data showing the non-Social Security budget surplus has shrunk considerably.
"A lot of Democrats are very concerned that the Republicans have blown the surplus and that risks priorities for prescription drugs, education, national defense, Social Security and Medicare," said Tom Eisenhauer, spokesman for the House Democratic Caucus.
"If abandoning fiscal responsibility and blowing the surplus is a good political move then they are totally out of touch. Their one accomplishment has put us in a weaker fiscal position which isn't good for the economy," he said of the tax cuts.

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