DON GONYEA, host:
Congressional Republicans are riding the wave of voter discontent. The anemic job market, the record deficit, and a year and a half of partisan bickering have tarnished the Democrats - especially with independent voters.
Behind the scenes, Republican leaders are working on a unified agenda they hope will win over those independents, and allow them to take dozens of seats in November and capture a majority in the House of Representatives.
But defining that agenda may be harder than it sounds.
NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.
ANDREA SEABROOK: Remember last summer, when Tea Party protesters took over all those town hall meetings?
(Soundbite of crowd chatter)
SEABROOK: Remember all the energy they sparked against President Obama and congressional Democrats?
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SEABROOK: Well, that energy is exactly what Republicans should be focused on, says Minnesota's Michele Bachmann.
Representative MICHELE BACHMANN (Republican, Minnesota): We shouldn't take it for granted. And I think that as the American people have rejected the Pelosi-Obama agenda, they haven't necessarily gravitated over to the Republican Party. And I think that's simply because we haven't presented them yet with a message that they might want to gravitate towards. So I think we need to do that.
SEABROOK: That's why Bachmann created the Congressional Tea Party Caucus - to listen to tea partiers, she said at a rally, and stake out their agenda.
Rep. BACHMANN: They believe that we are taxed enough already, that the federal government should not spend more money than it takes in, and that Congress should act within the constitutional limitations, as given to us by the Founding Fathers. That is the banner that we believe in.
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SEABROOK: But the Tea Party doesn't speak for the Republican Party as a whole. In fact, of the 178 Republicans in the House, 46 have joined the Tea Party Caucus so far. That's about the same number who belong to the Republican Main Street Partnership, a prominent group of Republican moderates.
Former congressman Tom Davis is its president.
Mr. TOM DAVIS (President, Republican Main Street Partnership): You have to manage the Tea Party. It brings tremendous energy to the election cause, but it also scares away some moderate voters who may want to send Obama a message, but they're not sure they want to give him a Tea Party.
SEABROOK: Davis says the bigger Republican message this fall should be simple.
Mr. DAVIS: Do you want to put a check on Obama? Or do you want to write him a blank check?
SEABROOK: It isn't much of an agenda - but then again, it shouldn't be, says Davis. After all, Republicans have no chance of taking control of the whole government this fall. President Obama will still be there. So divided government is the best-case scenario for Republicans, and it tends to appeal to independent voters.
So now, imagine you're a Republican leader, trying to figure out how to propel your party to the finish line this fall. Do you listen to the Tea Party people, with all their energy? Or the Main Street Partnership and its sway with independents? Maybe you go a third way, and ask the people.
Eric Cantor, the House Republican whip, has gone digital.
Representative ERIC CANTOR (Republican, Virginia; House Republican Whip): Today, we are launching Youcut, a project designed to take on the culture of spending in Congress.
SEABROOK: Youcut is a website where anyone can vote for programs they think should be cut from the federal budget. It's called crowdsourcing, and it could have a big impact on Republicans' fall agenda. Or maybe this will - the website set up by House minority leader.
Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; House Minority Leader): Hi, I'm John Boehner. I'm glad you've come to America Speaking Out.
SEABROOK: America Speaking Out is another crowdsourcing website, though this one is broader. Here, Republicans are gauging interest in all kinds of ideas beyond budget cuts. From trade and immigration to jobs and the wars, people can vote for what they think the Republican agenda should be. So far, it's generated tens of thousands of ideas.
The problem is, that same breadth between tea partiers and moderates is reflected on the site. The most popular ideas range from Hillary Clinton should be tried for treason, to marijuana should be legalized to block drug traffickers.
Perhaps that's why this is the one agenda item Boehner has officially endorsed so far.
Rep. BOEHNER: No bill should be voted on unless it's been available online for at least three days so that the American people can see what Congress is doing.
SEABROOK: Read the bill. Who's against that? Now, building a more substantive Republican agenda? That's the challenge. This August, with lawmakers home in their districts, the rank-and-file will test-market ideas while the leadership comes up with a message to campaign on in the fall.
Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.
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