By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 28, 2010; 6:27 PM
Democratic leaders unveiled a plan Wednesday to link the Republican Party to some of the most extreme elements of the "tea party" movement, seeking to define all GOP candidates as outside the mainstream by highlighting such tea party talking points as ending Medicare and privatizing Social Security.
With lawmakers preparing to head home to their districts to campaign during the August recess, Democratic leaders sought to demonstrate that all Republicans are cut from the same cloth as such tea party favorites as Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle and Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Timothy M. Kaine, flanked by a half-dozen House members, released "The Republican Tea Party Contract on America," a 10-point list created by the DNC that Kaine warned would become the Republican agenda if the GOP were to return to power after the November midterm elections.
Among the items are some that are supported by the Republican congressional leadership, such as repealing the health-care overhaul and extending Bush-era tax cuts. But many of the items -- including ending Medicare, repealing the 17th Amendment that provides for the direct election of senators, and abolishing the departments of Education and Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency -- have only been endorsed by select candidates or lawmakers not part of the party leadership.
Still, Kaine made the case that even fringe tea party elements are now part of the Republican mainstream, saying the movement has become "the most potent force in Republican politics."
"The Republican Party agenda has become the tea party agenda and vice-versa," Kaine said, pointing to the newly formed Tea Party Caucus that includes some members of the Republican leadership, including Republican Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Tex.) and Republican Caucus Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.).
The Republican National Committee responded by calling the plan the "latest attempt to distract voters from the Democrats' failing agenda and falling poll numbers."
"Clearly Democrats have failed to understand that the mounting voter frustration heading to the polls this fall is a direct result of the arrogant agenda that brought us bailouts, takeovers and a sky-rocketing deficit," RNC spokeswoman Katie Wright said in a statement. "Not wanting a repeat of last summer's town hall meetings, the Democrats' strategy for this summer appears be attacking voters as opposed to listening to them."
When asked, Wright would not say whether the RNC disagrees with any of the 10 agenda items. The DNC's list creates a difficult situation for the Republican establishment: Embracing the agenda threatens to turn off independent voters, while disowning any of it could create friction between the party and tea party activists.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), vice chairman of the DNC, said Republicans and tea party activists are "one and the same."
"They are standard-bearers," Wasserman Schultz said. "Their nominees for race after race have embraced these agenda items. They stand at rallies with tea party people who have embraced this agenda. Essentially, you don't know where the Republican Party ends and the tea party begins and vice-versa, and they have to own that."
Democrats created a Web site called RepublicanTeaPartyContract.com, and a 50-second video to carry their message. The video, "One and the Same," features Angle, Paul and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), chairman of the Tea Party Caucus, along with House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
Democrats said they would make the case when they return home next month for town hall meetings and other campaign events that Republicans would govern by returning to Bush-era economic policies and by embracing the tea-party agenda.
"When we go back to our districts and such, we need to point out who was driving that particular economic vehicle into that ditch and what are the plans for the future," said Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Tex.). "The Republican Party is actually saying, 'Put us back into the driver's seat.' The first thing they will do is place that economic vehicle into reverse. That's the only gear they know."
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, issued a statement accusing Democrats of practicing "the politics of fear."
"How quickly the politics of hope have been replaced by the politics of fear, as public support has eroded for the Democrats' reckless spending agenda," Cornyn said. "As they attempt to re-brand and re-calibrate their election-year strategy yet again, Democrats forget that the problem isn't their message -- it's their big-government policies."