SENATE LEADERSHIP

Alexander Pushing Republicans To Shift To Offense

Posted on February 7, 2008

Like a new football coach trying to change a team's luck, Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander wants to focus on offense rather than defense, and he's looking to the playbook that sparked a GOP golden age as a model. "I think we've been pretty good as Republicans at blocking and tackling," Alexander said Wednesday. "I think [Minority Leader McConnell] has been terrific in helping us block bad legislation and remold some other legislation. But Mitch McConnell has told me, and my fellow Republicans have told me, we need to do a better job of saying what we're for. You're going to see a steady stream of ideas based on Republican principles that we hope earn bipartisan support." Alexander will take the first step in crafting a Republican agenda, pushing as early as next week for biennial budgeting. Beyond that, he said he intends to allow potential legislative proposals to simmer awhile before he collects them into an agenda that Republicans can use for the 2008 elections. The former governor and one-time presidential candidate compared his approach to the path that House Republicans followed in 1994 with the "Contract With America" that helped push the party into the majority and fueled the rise to speaker of former Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga. Alexander offered a reminder that the contract came together slowly during 1994 and wasn't officially rolled out until September, rather than at the beginning of the campaign year. This year, too, he said, there is plenty of time to let good ideas jell. "By September or October, we may have a defined agenda. Now, we've got a lot of good ideas for the country and we're going to go out and do our best to try and turn them into law," Alexander said. The biennial budget "may be an idea that our entire conference supports. But it doesn't have to support it today." Alexander also hopes to help shape the GOP's 2008 identity by what it does not do, namely the practice of what he calls "playpen politics" -- an exploitation of the political and legislative processes for political gain when humiliation of your opponent is the goal. It is something he accused Democrats of pursuing this week during work on the economic stimulus package. He has cautioned colleagues that following suit will not play well with voters. "The American people, if they can help it, do not want to send someone back to Washington who's going to spend most of his time playing politics at a time when we need energy independence, health insurance for every American, and to keep our jobs from going overseas," Alexander said. But a reluctance to hit below the belt should not be equated with opposition to vigorous debate, Alexander said. And he won't take it personally when Democrats use available options. "If they want to take a vote or two to find out whether they can get 60 votes based on principle and they win or they lose, that's fine. That's why we're here. We're here to have big arguments on important issues. We're not here to hire a bunch of campaign strategists to run war rooms and to put up posters on the Senate floor. The American people have a very good sense of smell about playpen politics. "They know it when they see it, and they don't like it, and Republican senators are not going to engage in it. And we hope our Democratic colleagues won't either."