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Dueling narratives: What should Congress tell voters in August?

By Ron Bonjean
updated 6:53 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Members of the House and Senate take a 5-week recess each summer.
Members of the House and Senate take a 5-week recess each summer.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ron Bonjean: As Congress leaves for recess, members face an angry electorate
  • The approval ratings for Congress are at a dismal 12.3%
  • Bonjean: Voters will be looking for solutions, not just spin

Editor's note: Ron Bonjean is a Republican partner with Singer Bonjean Strategies. He has served as lead spokesman for both House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- After two years of a virtual stalemate of progress in Washington, members of Congress are headed home for five weeks during August. The pressure is on for both parties to tell two very different stories to voters with only a short time before the election.

So who will have the better narrative? And will Americans listen?

Voters are unhappy with everyone, which includes President Barack Obama, Democrats and Republicans. According to Real Clear Politics polling average, President Obama's approval rating stands at 41.6% while Congressional approval is in the tank at 12.3%. Partisan warfare is a clear culprit to these low ratings.

Ron Bonjean
Ron Bonjean

During August, voters should be prepared to take plenty of Advil, because their headaches are about to get worse.

Expect to hear Democrats complain loudly that Republicans are going to try to impeach Obama, that an attempt to sue the President is a useless partisan exercise designed to fundraise from conservatives across the country and that women should be very afraid of the Supreme Court decision on contraceptives.

Republicans will shout that Democrats are driving the impeachment story to fundraise off their liberal base, that the Senate is obstructing progress to protect their vulnerable members in red states from having to take tough votes and that suing Obama is necessary because he isn't doing his real job of working with Congress.

The polarization merry-go-round in Washington can be very attractive for a member of Congress to fall into selling a partisan only message to their constituents. But, when Americans run into a TV show they don't like, they turn the channel.

Voters are desperate to know about what can be accomplished to help them. Climate change isn't going to cut it for Democrats and abortion isn't going to work for Republicans. They simply don't connect to the average voter concerns.

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The issues that matter are front and center in everyday American life. Both sides are going to have to address the border crisis and their solutions to the problem. We are dealing with innocent children who are caught up in this mess. The news has saturated America and is a common topic around dinner tables and water coolers across the country. People are concerned and frustrated that Washington has spent too much time finger-pointing at each other.

How do our elected officials plan to help create the conditions for more jobs, more money in their wallets and more food on the table? How can their lives be made better for themselves and their children? The Democrats will likely point to some positive economic indicators and rising consumer confidence to show that it is turning around. But they lack an overall agenda to demonstrate there is a future method toward achieving economic stability.

Republicans can show they have a plan to turn around the economy faster, but rightfully point out the inaction by the Senate Democrats to address Republican plans. The House of Representatives, run by Republicans, has passed myriad bills dealing with job creation, gas prices and small business issues. These bills can be used as basis for a forward-looking agenda.

The battle over the female voter will continue through August, with Democrats pointing to the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision on female contraception coverage as a threat to women's rights. The Democrats have also tried to push through votes appealing to the middle class on the minimum wage and the gender gap in pay.

House Republicans finally wised up and recently offered a female agenda of their own right before the August break that would increase job training, incentivize flexible work schedules, provide tax breaks for children and families, and strengthens charter schools. The package also includes new legislation to prevent retaliation when women ask about equal pay.

Beyond this rhetoric, there is a better opportunity for Republicans in this election cycle to sell a positive message to voters because Democrats are being forced to defend the White House and its handling of the crises at home and abroad.

It's more difficult for a Democrat to have to answer questions about the missing e-mail scandal at the Internal Revenue Service or President Obama's handling of Israel or the Ukraine and then pivot to a positive message on female gender pay.

Mad people vote. And people are mad at Washington.

Republicans can blame the President for his failure of leadership, but the bulk of their arguments must be centered on positive solutions that connect with people who are tired of the finger pointing. This means that Americans could lean toward the GOP when they vote this November, if the focus is kept on what people are demanding to know, which is, "How we get out of this mess?"

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