House vs. Senate

Posted: Jun 01, 2006 12:05 AM

As they face terrible polling numbers, Republicans have evolved the conventional wisdom that they are in more danger of losing the U.S. House than they are the Senate.

This presents Republican incumbents in the House with the prospect of an unconventional strategy. They might be well-advised to run a spirited campaign against, in effect, the Republican-led Senate and, indirectly, even their own president.

As it was designed to, the House has been feeling more of the immediate wrath of the public on matters such as taxes, the budget and especially immigration.

I have tried to argue that some kind of immigration policy that accommodates legal guest workers is necessary to prevent rising inflation and the crippling of certain industries key to the U.S. economy. One of those industries, housing, is already showing signs of a significant slowdown in some areas.

But that's looking at the situation from a broad policy perspective. Many polls show that Americans want a harsher approach to immigration than they see coming from the White House or the Senate.

Many of the congressional districts where Republicans are considered potentially vulnerable are ones that have been drawn to favor GOP candidates. The biggest risk to incumbents in these districts is that independents will turn out in droves to vote against them. Another (worse) possibility is that core conservatives might turn against them because of concerns with spiraling deficits, the lack of bona fide tax reform and, most of all, the perceived awarding of amnesty to lawbreaking illegal aliens now living in the United States.

And with the Senate leadership singing the praises of the immigration bill, including Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts in a post-vote press appearance, it is becoming increasingly clear that House members are being left to fend for themselves on this critical issue.

With President Bush's approval ratings so low, it's likely the most effective attack ad that Democrats will mount against GOP House candidates will be simply to show a picture of whatever Republican is being portrayed -- with his or her arms wrapped around the president.

Usually, that's a good thing for the president's party. But when the electorate has turned surly and the president's approval ratings are in the toilet, such high-profile photos can turn into political weaponry for the other side.

With time slipping away for Republicans to save themselves by passing meaningful legislation, those in closely contested U.S. House races would be well-served to start crafting the age-old, tried-and-true, brutal campaign strategy of castigating and dissociating themselves from "the GOP Senate leadership."

This may sound disloyal, but in emergency situations, such moves can be all that's left.

Better still might be a strong legislative stand right now. Not just a rhetorically strong stand -- as in, "we're going to stand tough by reworking a conference version of the Senate bill, so that the upper chamber gets what it wants" -- but a true line in the sand that forces the Senate and the White House to conclude that, for once, they are not going to get what they want.

There is little doubt that the core GOP conservative base wants the U.S. borders sealed off. And they expect those who illegally entered the country to be treated as having broken the law.

That doesn't mean these admitted lawbreakers can't necessarily meet the criteria to eventually become citizens.

But if Republican candidates expect their voting base to believe that illegal aliens should somehow pay little or no price for staying here, then these GOP incumbents are on automatic pilot when they should be navigating by dead reckoning.

With war, energy squeezes and the impact of cheap foreign labor on U.S. workers, it's fair to say the Republican voting base that has sustained the party since the days of Ronald Reagan is close to fed up with concepts like globalism.

It's sad for the Republican Party, but its clearest path to holding on to the House of Representatives may well be to throw the White House and the Senate under the bus.

Believe me, this sentiment is already being widely expressed in private conversations among House members and others. It wouldn't take much to craft those grumblings into a political message that's suitable for public consumption.