WASHINGTON — Minnesota DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin’s conference call with reporters Wednesday was billed as a response to the ongoing congressional debate over extending a payroll tax holiday. Martin touched on the issue, but seemed much more interested in talking about presidential candidate Mitt Romney instead.
Martin smacked Romney for calling the payroll tax cut extension “a little Band-Aid” and said a President Romney would extend tax breaks to rich Americans and corporations rather than the middle class. He contrasted Romney’s hesitancy on the issue to Republican Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who this week urged House Republicans to extend the tax cut.
From there, Martin focused on Romney’s support for the controversial Republican budget plan and his work at Bain Capital and warned that Romney would ignore the middle class if he’s elected president.
Martin did hit House Republicans for voting down the Senate payroll tax cut plan, saying, “Republicans have proven their lack of leadership on this issue.” But there was no mention from the state party chair of the four Minnesota Republicans who voted against the plan; Romney was Martin’s target.
Asked about his focus on Romney, Martin called him a major “party leader” and said he was trying pressure both House Republicans and Romney to support the tax holiday.
When it comes to the Republican presidential nomination contest, Democratic leaders around the country have had an almost singular focus on Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who has been a leading candidate for the party nomination for months.
The Democratic National Committee — which forwarded the press release announcing Martin’s call — rarely puts out a statement against any other candidate, and the negative ads on its YouTube page are all about Romney. Wednesday afternoon, it highlighted this story about a new video put out by Obama re-election campaign. Like Martin’s call with reporters, the video’s focus pivots quickly from House Republicans to Romney.
Polling seems to support the Democrats’ Romney-centric approach: President Obama leads all Republican candidates in head-to-head match-ups, but his average 2.8 percent lead over Romney is the slimmest.
National Republicans take aim at Peterson
The same day Democrats started their offensive against Republicans, the National Republican Congressional Committee did the same, releasing a telephone call campaign blaming Democrats and Rep. Collin Peterson for the payroll tax cut standoff.
“If you’re as fed up with Congress as everyone else is, wait till you hear what your Congressman, Collin Peterson, did,” the call script says, according to the NRCC. “Not only did Peterson vote last week pave the way for a tax increase for you and every other American middle class family, but he is now stubbornly standing by his position that could raise your taxes by over a thousand dollars starting on January 1st.”
Peterson sided with the Democrats on both major payroll tax cut plans that have come before the House, voting against both the Republicans’ controversial one-year extension last week and their plan to block the Senate’s two-month extension on Tuesday.
Democrats have framed the payroll tax standstill as a Republican problem, charging House Republicans with obstructing the enactment of the Senate plan that passed with a bipartisan 89-10 vote. Senate leadership has vowed not to return to Washington to negotiate with the House on a one-year extension until it passes the Senate plan, so the NRCC call campaign could be an indication of how the party will respond if the payroll tax increases on Jan. 1.
For his part, Peterson has been cool to extending the 2 percent payroll tax cut at all. In a November interview with MinnPost, he said, “we can’t afford to give people a payroll tax cut,” and he told Minnesota Public Radio this week that “he would prefer to see the payroll tax cut expire as part of a broader effort to rein in the budget deficit.”
Asked about the NRCC’s campaign, Martin sidestepped Peterson’s less-than-enthusiastic support for the payroll tax cut extension. Separately, when asked whether the DFL Party would run ads against Republicans who oppose the Senate plan, Martin said it would not, but warned, “There are going to be serious electoral problems for people who vote against this.”
Devin Henry can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry