Agitated? Irritable? Hostile? Aggressive? Impulsive? Restless?

By Dana Milbank
Thursday, May 15, 2008

House Republicans may be heading off a cliff in November, but give them credit for perseverance. Even after the new slogan they floated -- "The Change You Deserve" -- was discovered to be trademarked ad copy for the antidepressant drug Effexor, GOP leaders decided to go with the rollout anyway.

"The Republican agenda, 'The Change You Deserve,' is directed at America's families," Rep. Kay Granger (R-Tex.) announced at a televised news conference with House Republican leaders yesterday morning. "And you may be a little surprised at this agenda."

Why, yes, we are. And Democrats are manic over the medicinal mantra.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) called reporters into his office. "Democrats, not drugs, is what the American people need," he said. He flashed the Effexor side effects on a large flat-screen television. "Nausea, up to 58 percent," Hoyer said. "Actually it's higher than that for Republicans."

"Are depression symptoms keeping you from where you want to be?" Effexor's maker, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, asks in its promotions. "Not feeling as good as you used to?"

For House Republicans, the diagnosis is obvious: They are suffering from Election Anxiety Disorder. Tuesday night, they lost the third special election in a row to Democrats in heavily Republican congressional districts. Eighty-two percent of Americans say the country is on the wrong track, and they're largely holding President Bush and his party responsible. This week, panicked House Republicans defied Bush and voted with Democrats to pass a farm bill and to divert oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Leaving the weekly House Republican breakfast meeting yesterday in the basement of the Capitol, the congressmen wore grim faces. "How's it going in there?" a reporter asked.

"Hard to tell," said Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.), brushing past.

"I'm running late," said Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio).

Among the few to emerge smiling was Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia; he's retiring from Congress and just presented his colleagues with a memo about the many Republican ailments. Reporters asked Davis to diagnose his party.

"Well, this is the floor," Davis said, stomping on the concrete beneath him. "And we're underneath the floor." Without strong medicine, he said, Republicans will lose 25 seats in November. "We're the airplane flying into the mountain."

Davis disappeared, and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the man in charge of the House Republicans' campaign effort, appeared. He looked to be a candidate for mood elevation as he described the meeting he just left. "People are concerned, and legitimately so," he said. "Clearly we've got problems that are deep and serious in terms of how we're going to do in the fall elections."

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