- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

House Democrats are feeling emboldened as they head to their annual issues conference and a pep talk from President Obama in Philadelphia this week, relishing a series of stumbles by the Republican majorities in Congress and rallying around a populist tax-the-rich agenda that they are convinced will score points with voters.

Rep. Steve Israel of New York, who headed up House Democrats’ campaign operation last year and now runs the Policy and Communications Committee, said Tuesday that his party had quickly regained its footing after taking a beating in the November elections.

“The opening weeks of this Congress have not been kind to the Republicans. They have been a reminder to middle-class Americans that the Republican priorities are wrong,” he said.

Republican leaders have already had to scratch bills dealing with abortion and border security, while scrambling to repair deep fissures in the conference. The divisions among Republicans on abortion and immigration gave Democrats an opening to claim they had the high ground on those hot-button issues.

Presenting themselves as champions of the middle class and Republicans as allies of the rich, Democrats have embraced the liberal agenda that Mr. Obama presented last week in his State of the Union address. The plan included a plan to raise taxes on the wealthy and give a slew of tax breaks to middle-class families, free tuition at community colleges, boost the minimum wage and mandate employers provide paid sick leave.

Mr. Israel said these “paycheck” issues will pay off for Democrats in the 2016 elections.

“If we spend the next two years standing up on the floor every day demanding a middle-class tax cut, and Republicans spend the next two years blocking it in order to protect the ‘trust fund loophole,’ then we are in a very good position,” he said. “And I think that’s what the next two years will look like.”

House Democrats will huddle at the Sheraton Society Hill Hotel in Philadelphia from Wednesday through Friday to hone the message and plot strategy. Mr. Obama is scheduled to deliver the keynote address to the conference Thursday evening.

The Democrats’ rising spirits follow weeks of soul searching after the elections, when the president and other party leaders decided that they needed bolder liberal policies to win over middle-class voters.

Rep. James P. McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat, insisted that the party’s “hand-wringing” had been overplayed in the media. But he said the agenda laid out by Mr. Obama had galvanized the party.

“The things the president talked about actually make a difference in the lives of average people,” he said. “Donald Trump probably doesn’t care about paid sick leave or a bump in the minimum wage, but the people I represent do. And I think there are people out there — I’m not just talking about Democrats but a lot of independents and moderate Republicans — who are looking for archchampions for the middle class.”

Still, Democrats owe much of their buoyed confidence to missteps by the Republican leadership in the first month of the new Congress.

The turmoil within the House Republican ranks began with Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, suffering a humiliating insurrection in his re-election as speaker, with 25 of his members opposing him, the largest intraparty revolt against a sitting speaker in more than 100 years.

House Republican leaders then struggled to pass measures that would block President Obama’s deportation amnesty — a bill that already was headed for almost certain defeat by a Democratic filibuster in the Senate or by Mr. Obama’s veto pen.

More embarrassingly, they had to pull a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks except in cases of incest and rape because of an uprising by female Republican lawmakers and then pull a border security bill that faced opposition from conservative members who complained that it was too weak.

Mr. Boehner acknowledged the rocky start at a press conference Tuesday.

“Yeah, there’ve been a couple of stumbles, all in our effort to show the American people we’re here to listen to their priorities,” the Ohio Republican told reporters after meeting with his fellow House Republicans in a closed-door strategy session.

He said he and his leadership team had rushed bills to the floor in order to get a quick start, including legislation that passed in the last Congress. But he said their ambitious legislative schedule led to miscommunication within rank-and-file lawmakers, and they had to work harder to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Still, the damage was done.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, celebrated the Republican troubles with a blast email that proclaimed “every week has been characterized by divisive votes and dysfunction within the House Republican conference.”

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