- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2001

Congressional Republicans lately are fond of saying they are on the same page as the White House and they mean it literally.
When 220 or so House Republicans meet this morning at the Capitol to receive informational packets on tax cuts and education reform for the upcoming recess, their folders will include for the first time in anyone's memory "talking points" provided by the White House.
"The president has proposed a bold and fair tax relief plan that will reduce the inequities of the current tax code and help ensure that America remains prosperous," the section on tax relief states.
It's just the latest example of how, in less than one month, the Bush administration has coordinated its media operation with Congress to a degree that Republicans never thought possible during eight long years of battling the Clinton White House.
"For most of us, this is a completely new experience," said Christine Iverson, spokeswoman for Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Republicans. "We clearly weren't receiving talking points on a daily basis from President Clinton. We've sort of had to create this from scratch."
During President Bush's first three weeks in office, his communications office has e-mailed daily themes to Republicans on the Hill so representatives and senators could put out a unified message. The first week was education; the second was tax cuts, and this week, it's national security.
"We are essentially on the same song piece," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican. "Some of us are singing bass and some are singing tenor, but we are pretty well singing the same tune."
Already, Republicans say the effort is producing results. A White House source pointed with pride to last week's "rolling out" ceremony of Mr. Bush's proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut.
Mr. Bush held a morning event in the Rose Garden that was carried live on cable television. Congressional Democrats followed it with an event at the Capitol in which they displayed a luxury car to symbolize their view that the president's tax cuts favor the wealthy.
But Republicans followed up the Democrats' press conference 15 minutes later by having Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill "deliver" the president's tax-relief plan Mr. O'Neill was actually holding an outline that lacked many details to congressional Republican leaders at the Capitol. That event also was carried live on cable.
"Basically, we bracketed them," the White House source said of the Democrats. "We want to make sure the address '1600' [Pennsylvania Avenue] is cemented in people's minds."
Said a House Democratic leadership aide, "Everyone agrees they're off to a good start. They [the White House] have a lot of people who know the Hill. It's certainly a big advantage for the people who have the White House."
A recent memo from Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee pointed out the Republicans' cooperation and seemed to acknowledge Mr. Bush's momentum by stating, "There is no specific Democratic tax-cut package at this time."
To foster this new relationship, press secretaries of congressional Republican leaders are having lunch each Friday at the White House with their Bush administration counterparts. Last Friday, they met Karen Hughes, counselor to the president and a former television reporter, and Ari Fleischer, White House spokesman and a former press secretary for the House Ways and Means Committee.
In addition to Mr. Fleischer, Republican congressional staffers have a new ally at the White House in Jim Wilkinson, who was hired recently as a deputy communications director. Mr. Wilkinson worked eight years as a press aide for Mr. Armey, and spent last year at the National Republican Congressional Committee with its chairman, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia.
"Jim has been invaluable because he understands what we need and when we need it," Miss Iverson said. "It's also helpful to work with people you know and trust."
Mr. Wilkinson said, "Every single thing we do is based on three principles teamwork, customer service and friendship."
In the Senate, the Republican Policy Committee's deputy director, Melissa Sabatine, is coordinating the effort with Miss Iverson and the White House for the Senate Republicans' new chairman, Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
"Everyone is energized and upbeat," Miss Sabatine said. "It's very easy to get your calls returned [by the White House]."
She also credited improved communications to Nick Calio, assistant to the president for legislative affairs, and his staff that includes several former Hill aides.
Even some Republicans say the operation is simply a logical outgrowth of their party controlling the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate for the first time in decades.
"I think the administration's off to a good start," said Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican and assistant majority leader. "The Democrats have always done a good job, I think they've always followed the lead of President Clinton, and they usually were singing from the same spreadsheet. We have not done that, frankly, and we haven't been very good at it."
Mr. Nickles said there are still some Republicans who "are doing different things that kind of conflict with" the administration's message, an apparent reference to Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Mr. McCain has competed with the White House for media headlines in the first few weeks of Mr. Bush's presidency by promoting his own legislative agenda, including campaign finance reform and a patients' bill of rights.
A Republican source speaking on condition of anonymity, pointed out that the new administration-congressional relationship is only 3 weeks old, saying that both sides have taken "baby steps" and the real test will be when they face a crisis.
However, Miss Iverson added that the prevailing attitude is "so far, so good."
"Our goal is that no member of Congress should be unable to answer questions about the [president's] tax-cut plan," she said.

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