Republicans Aim for Middle Class in Bid to Take Congress

As Republicans seek to take control of the U.S. Congress in November’s election, party leaders are shifting the focus of their message from job creators to wage earners.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor helped unveil a 121-page policy document today that repackages Republican positions from health care to taxes for middle class voters whom the economic recovery has done little to help.

The change comes two years after Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful campaign centered its economic message on entrepreneurship, backing tax cuts for companies and featuring business owners at the party’s national convention.

“For most Americans whose daily concerns revolve around aging parents and long commutes, shrinking budgets and obscenely high tuition bills, these hymns to entrepreneurialism are, as a practical matter, largely irrelevant,” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said today in Washington. “And the audience for them is probably a lot smaller than we think.”

McConnell spoke at an event presenting the document, which was assembled by the YG Network, a Virginia-based group that promotes Republican policy.

Heading into the November congressional elections, polls show Republicans trailing Democrats on economic issues -- especially on income equality -- such as raising the minimum wage and closing the gap between rich and poor.

‘Serious Problems’

“The core of America -- the working middle-class families -- are facing some serious problems,” said Cantor, a Virginia Republican. “Overwhelmingly, the signs indicate that they don’t have that sense that they will enjoy upward mobility.”

The document, titled “Room to Grow,” pulls together a number of policies that Republicans have pushed in the past: replacing the Affordable Care Act with a plan that includes tax credits for workers who aren’t covered by employer-based plans; requiring colleges to repay a portion of their students’ debt defaults; and enacting rules to help shrink the size of the nation’s largest banks.

‘Better Shot’

“Americans do not have a sense that conservatives offer them a better shot at success and security than liberals,” wrote Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center and one of the document’s authors.

“Conservatives in American politics need to understand constituents’ concerns, speak to those aspirations and worries, and help people see how applying conservative policies could help make their lives better,” Wehner wrote.

The document was ridiculed by AFL-CIO spokesman Eric Hauser, who called it “Middle Class for Dummies.”

“This report reveals the true hollowness of establishment conservative thinking,” Hauser said in a statement.

Republicans have been divided over how to deal with poverty and income inequality -- including whether government should address the issues at all, according to a January survey from Pew Research Center.

While 70 percent of conservative Republicans said the government could reduce poverty by lowering taxes for the wealthy and corporations, just 42 percent of moderate Republicans agree.

Among liberal and moderate Republicans, 61 percent say the government should reduce the wealth gap in the U.S., while more than half of the party’s conservative base disagrees.

McConnell said today the report would help guide “the urgent task of alleviating the burdens of the working poor and the American middle class.”

“A Republican Senate would be a far more hospitable place for the consideration of the kind of creative policy proposals that you’ve all been writing and thinking about,” McConnell told the authors of the report.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.