The best illustration of the battle lines for the upcoming midterm elections will be on full display Tuesday when the House of Representatives interrupts its vacation to vote on a controversial bill that Democrats say will save jobs and Republicans denounce as more excessive federal spending.
At issue is a controversial $26 billion package that emerged from the Senate last week after House lawmakers had already left for their six-week summer break.
Democrats believe the bill is a much-needed lifeline to help cash-strapped state and local governments save tens of thousands of teacher jobs and pay for medical coverage for the poor.
It includes $10 billion in funding to save teachers' jobs and $16 billion to help states meet their Medicaid payments. Democrats have said the funds would help avert the layoffs of about 140,000 teachers and tens of thousands more first responders.
For Democrats, interrupting their summer recess to rush back to work to avert "massive layoffs" is time well spent because House passage of the bill is the only thing standing in the way of President Obama signing the measure and putting the funds into action.
"Democrats are fighting for the middle class and working to create good-paying jobs here at home and keep America number one around the world," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "We are moving our country forward. And we are not going back to the failed Bush policies that left us with deep deficits, a deep recession, and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression."
But Republicans see the issue from a much different perspective. GOP lawmakers argue that the move is merely another misguided government stimulus to bail out desperate state and local governments.
Even though the bill will not add to the nation's deficit, Republicans are trying to portray Democrats as a group hell-bent on another increase in federal spending at a time when the debt has already spiraled out of control.
With the November midterm elections now three months away, the battle lines have been drawn. Republicans say they are trying to rein in the Democrats' runaway spending. Democrats say they are trying to overcome the GOP's dogged opposition and save U.S. jobs.
So may the best the best man spin ...
"The American people are screaming at the top of their lungs to Washington, 'Stop, stop the spending, stop the job-killing policies,' and yet Democrats in Washington refuse to listen to the American people," top House Republican John Boehner of Ohio said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, countered, "We're coming back because it makes no sense from a jobs perspective, and it makes no sense from the perspective of our children's education, to have an insufficient number of teachers in the classroom. I mean, it's as simple as that."
Creating Jobs or Excessive 'Stimulus'?
Van Hollen emphasized on a conference call Friday that the $26 billion package would save close to 300,000 jobs and its costs are offset by budget cuts and closing tax loopholes.
"It's the right thing to do and it's the essential thing to do as we continue to move in this very difficult economy," he said.
Such arguments are what voters should expect to hear ad nauseam from now until November. Nothing less than control of the House is at stake. All 435 House seats are up for grabs with Republicans needing to gain 39 in order to take back the majority in the people's chamber.
If Democrats can save hundreds of thousands of jobs and pull the country out of recession, they have a good shot at keeping control on Capitol Hill. But if Republicans can convince voters that the Democrats' economic policies have failed -- at the expense of adding trillions of dollars in red ink to the nation's tab -- then the lower chamber could swing to the GOP.
That is why Republicans such as Boehner say the state fiscal aid bill coming up for a vote Tuesday is simply more "stimulus" spending on top of last year's $862 billion package.
"The American people don't want more Washington 'stimulus' spending, especially in the form of a pay-off to union bosses and liberal special interests," Boehner said in a statement last week when Pelosi called House lawmakers back to work.
Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois said in the weekly Republican radio address, "Under Democratic leaders in Congress, spending has gotten completely out of control. It reminds me of when Mom and Dad go away for the weekend. The teenagers say, 'Leave us home alone, we're responsible, what can go wrong?'
"Except Mom and Dad come home a day early only to find the house is trashed, the police are parked outside and everything is a mess."
Such statements "define the differences between the two parties," the Democrats' Van Hollen said.
"I will leave it to the voters to determine whether they think having a teacher in a classroom is some kind of special interest as compared to corporations who have been getting big tax loopholes to ship American jobs overseas."