Winning the August recess

at 07:46 AM ET, 08/02/2011

Within 24 hours, the Senate will follow the House’s lead — passing the compromise deal to raise the debt ceiling and heading out of town for its month-long August recess.

The August recess is not only the longest break Congress takes all year, but also its most important, as members spend extended time in their district and the political media searches for emerging storylines.

August recesses of recent vintage have given us Bill Clinton’s testimony to the Starr grand jury and subsequent admission of an affair with Monica Lewinsky (1998), the scandal surrounding former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig (2007) and the rise of the tea party in reaction to President Obama’s health care legislation (2009).

That history — coupled with the decidedly controversial way the 112th Congress closed its first seven months on the job — make it likely that this August recess will be decidedly consequential.

Polling suggests that members are headed back to districts packed with people who believe Congress is failing them.

A new Washington Post/Pew Research Center survey asking people to pick a single word to describe the debt debate showed that “ridiculous, “digusting and “stupid” where the most often mentioned. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the way Washington went about is business of late.

Here’s the word cloud — awesome! — from the poll:

In hopes of countering that unrest and channeling it for their own political purposes, both parties will head home with talking points at the ready.

For Republicans, the first seven months of Congress represent reining in the free-spending ways of the Obama Administration and working to set the country on a path to fiscal strength. From the narrowly avoided government shutdown to the passage of Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget, to the most recent showdown over the debt limit, Republicans will argue they stared down the big-spending Democrats — and won.

Congressional Democrats will focus heavily on the Ryan budget — in particular the provisions that would fundamentally reshape Medicare into a voucher program — and paint an image of a Republican Party beholden to its tea party wing.

In the end, however, the messaging both parties bring into the August recess matters far less than the messages they take from their constituents prior to returning to Washington after Labor Day.

During the 2009 recess, Democratic Members of Congress got to see first-hand the anger coursing through the country about health care and came back nervous — if not in a full froth of panic — about the bill and its political consequences. (Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown’s special election victory in January 2010 only added to the heightened level of worry among many Democrats.)

With a similarly volatile electorate seemingly waiting for them at home, how Members of Congress process the unhappiness with Washington — assuming that’s the message they hear over the next month — could have a broad impact on the legislative agenda moving forward.

The piece of congressional business that could be most affected by this recess? The super committee being set up to recommend further trims to the federal budget with a pre-Christmas deadline. The seeds for what gets cut — and how deep each side digs in — will be planted over the next month.

Presidential, Senate candidates balk at debt deal: The compromise reached by Obama and leaders of both parties is about as popular among GOP Senate candidates as it is among GOP presidential candidates.

Several of them came out against the plan Monday, carving out conservative ground in their races and avoiding a deal that almost everyone agrees stinks.

The top three GOP candidates in the open Texas Senate race all came out against the bill.

Former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) concurred: “After months of pushing our economy to the brink, Washington has yet again failed to deliver a long-term solution to our debt crisis.”

And former Florida state representative Adam Hasner said: “There will be good conservatives on both sides of this vote, but I oppose this plan because it falls woefully short of putting America on sound financial footing.”

Among GOP presidential candidates, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Rep. Michele Bachmann, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul have all come out against the plan. Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman supports it.

Huntsman, meanwhile, is questioning Romney’s courage on the issue.

A chink in Beshear’s armor: For the first time, Republicans trying to take down Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) are getting somewhere.

On Monday, two government employees stepped forward complaining that a cabinet official had been pressuring government workers to contribute to the Beshear campaign.

One official, Rodney Young, got the ball rolling when he wrote a letter to the state GOP and Attorney General Jack Conway alleging that a deputy secretary in the Justice Cabinet asked government employees to contribute. Young listed 13 names of employees who had been the subject if the effort, and one of the 13, Patrick Sheridan, confirmed to a local politics blog that he was asked to give money.

It is a felony in Kentucky for a campaign, or anyone on behalf of a campaign, to target government employees for contributions. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, though, they can be contacted as part of a broader fundraising effort.

Until now, Beshear was a strong favorite for reelection, as GOP nominee David Williams’s campaign has sputtered out of the gate.

Mississippi GOV primary today: It’s time to cast ballots, as Mississippi voters pick their nominees for governor today in the first big primary of the 2011 election.

Despite Gov. Haley Barbour (R) being term-limited, Republicans are heavily favored to hold this seat. The question is whether Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant (R), the favorite, can survive a primary with businessman Dave Dennis.

On the Democratic side, the field is highlighted by Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree and businessman Bill Luckett, who has been endorsed by actor Morgan Freeman.

Case poll shows him topping primary, general: A new poll conducted for former congressman and Hawaii Senate candidate Ed Case shows him being both the favorite to win the Democratic nomination and a better general election candidate for his party.

The Merriman River Group poll shows Case leading Rep. Mazie Hirono, 53 percent to 37 percent in the Democratic primary. He also leads former governor Linda Lingle, the leading potential GOP candidate, 48 percent to 38 percent in the general election.

Perhaps most interestingly, Case’s poll also shows Lingle leading Hirono in a potential matchup, 48 percent to 43 percent. Case’s pollster argues, of course, that he represents Democrats’ best hope of hold retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka’s (D-Hawaii) seat.

Fixbits:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) thinks Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) will run for president.

Perry clarifies that he supports an anti-abortion amendment.

Huntsman’s campaign misspells his first name ... again.

Mary Kaye Huntsman makes her solo debut.

Obama is in a statistical tie with Romney in Pennsylvania, according to a new poll.

Pawlenty announces his Iowa county chairs.

Former Louisiana governor and current GOP presidential candidate Buddy Roemer gets his turn on “The Daily Show.”

The words people use to describe the debt limit debate.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) toys with supporting primary opponents for those who support the debt limit deal, after previously saying he wouldn’t oppose incumbents.

Illinois state Sen. Chris Lauzen (R) weighs a bid against former congressman Bill Foster (D) in a newly created congressional district.

Democrats’ search for a Senate candidate in North Dakota continues after a state senator says no.

Democratic consultants Michael Meehan of Blue Line Strategic Communications and Stephanie Silverman of Venn Strategies are combining to former Venn Communications LLC.

Must-reads:

Perry’s legion: The folks behind the man” — Ross Ramsey, Texas Tribune

Expect more hard times as round 2 of debt fight, election near” — AP

Mitt Romney’s low-profile strategy” — Ben Smith, Politico

 
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