By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 24, 2010; 11:24 PM
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) led an organized Democratic effort Friday to paint the newly released GOP agenda as a return to Bush-era policies, trying to frame the "Pledge to America" as nothing new or forward-looking.
Grabbing onto an offhand comment by House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), Pelosi tried to deflect Thursday's release of what she called "the exact same agenda as before."
"We're going forward. We're not going back," Pelosi told reporters at her weekly briefing.
Five times, Pelosi invoked a version of one phrase Boehner said at Thursday's release of the agenda in Sterling - "We're not going to be any different than we were before" - as evidence that the agenda contained few new ideas. "I'm not big on these pledges. I think they're a lot of showboat myself. I don't like to take them; I don't like to exact them," she said.
Republicans quickly countered that Pelosi had cherry-picked the quote to apply to the entire agenda, when in fact Boehner's comment was related to the lack of social values issues in the "Pledge."
In their effort to appeal to independent voters not focused on social issues, Republicans intentionally played down subjects such as immigration, gay marriage and abortion, instead devoting the lion's share of the 21-page document to taxes and spending. Pressed on that absence, Boehner ducked the question by saying Republicans would not be "any different" on such issues than they had in years past, maintaining their conservative approach.
Boehner's office circulated a fact-check release suggesting Pelosi had hit a "new low" for a "pants-on-fire lie."
The new agenda includes a Republican vow to permanently extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, a repeal of President Obama's health-care law and such GOP staples as increased funding for a ballistic missile defense system.
The ideas were presented at a news conference mostly by junior Republicans, with Boehner the only speaker who had served in an elected leadership position during the GOP's previous 12-year run in the majority.
Democrats have come out with an aggressive campaign to try to define the new agenda, hoping this will put a dent in the momentum Republicans have gained as Obama's polling numbers have slumped amid a sluggish economy.
Pelosi's office issued a memo at noon Thursday, an hour after the GOP event finished, highlighting Boehner's "any different" comment and claiming the agenda was "a pledge to the big special interests." The Democratic National Committee and White House aides have also worked in concert to push the same themes.
On Friday, Pelosi took the lead: "As they have said - they're not doing anything different, exact same agenda as before, or to continue onto a path of job creation, deficit reduction and reduction of taxes for the middle class: That's the choice in the election."
Pelosi, however, rejected the idea of trying to nationalize the entire campaign, as some strategists are suggesting.
"We're comfortable where we are, regardless of what that poll may be. And as I've said to you over and over, we win these races one district at a time. And we watch them very carefully, and we're very pleased with where it's going," she said.