On eve of break, Obama, Democrats plot summer strategy

Members of Congress may get to hit the golf course or head to the shore next month, but they'll also get some quality time with constituents. So before they return to their districts from Aug. 3 through Sept. 8, congressional Democrats are huddling with the president to make sure their message is in line with the president's.

Mr. Obama heads to Capitol Hill on Wednesday for a pair of separate meetings with House Democrats and Senate Democrats. According to House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the president will give Democrats a bit of a pep talk but also go over the lay of the land as they ready for upcoming fiscal battles. A Senate Democratic aide said the president is expected discuss not only fiscal issues and job creation, but also issues like immigration and the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

"The August District Work Period allows us all ample time to speak directly to the men and women who sent us to Congress, to listen to their concerns, to chart a course forward for our country," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote in a letter to House Democrats on Monday.

The August recess can also derail delicate negotiations over dicey issues like immigration reform, particularly if a party isn't unified in its message. That's why party leaders send their members off to their districts equipped with talking points, sample op-eds and suggestions for the sort of outreach activities that could advance their agenda.

Along with her letter, Pelosi sent House Democrats material covering the jobs and the economy, the Affordable Care Act, immigration and gun violence.

On the economy, Democrats are being encouraged to stress Mr. Obama's point -- spelled out in four speeches the president has delivered in the past week -- that the economy works best when it's built "from the middle out."

"The Republican Majority has spent the past seven months without a jobs bill and without a budget agreement," Pelosi wrote in her letter, while Democrats have put forward plans to invest in infrastructure and innovation.

On immigration, Democrats have been encouraged to highlight the importance of a comprehensive effort, even though House Republicans insist they will take a step-by-step approach to the issue. They've also been directed to remind voters of the benefits they're already receiving from the Affordable Care Act, and of the fact that Democrats support expanding background checks for firearm purchases.

While Mr. Obama reviews these talking points with congressional Democrats, Organizing for Action (OFA) -- the group that evolved from Mr. Obama's campaign organization Obama for America -- is giving the same talking points to its backers.

In an email signed by Mr. Obama, OFA told its backers on Tuesday that special interests "plan to make the loudest noise when your members of Congress come home for August recess."

"I'm counting on you to be just as vocal -- to make sure the agenda that Americans voted for last year is front and center," the letter says, encouraging supporters to take actions like handing out flyers in their communities, hosting meetings or writing letters to the editor.

"I know it's easy to get frustrated by the pace of progress," the email from the president reads.

In fact, Congress may not get much done at all in September on issues like gun control or immigration reform. The House is in session for a total of nine days in September, and the looming fiscal deadlines will overshadow every other matter.

If Congress fails to extend government funding by Sept. 30, some federal operations will shut down. Some Senate Republicans, however, have said they'd vote to shut down the government rather than pay for any funding for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. A few weeks later, the Treasury Department is expected to hit its borrowing limit, meaning Congress will have to raise the limit or risk letting the nation default on its loans.

"The prospect of a government shutdown or more drama around the debt ceiling would be bad for the economy, there's no doubt about that," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday. Still, given that leaders from both parties have said they want to avoid those scenarios, Earnest said "there is ample time for us to make sure that that doesn't happen."

As for the president's August schedule, Earnest said it's still coming together, but "unlike Congress, the president will be at work for most of that month."

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