Link to Solutions Handbook House Republicans Delivered to the President Today:
CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS – CONGRESSIONAL AFFAIRS
Jan. 29, 2010 – 3:24 p.m.
Obama Pushes ‘Constructive Debate,’ GOP Pushes Back
By Edward Epstein, CQ Staff
BALTIMORE — President Obama urged House Republicans on Friday to work with him on the nation’s biggest problems, but he also stoutly defended big domestic initiatives that the minority party scorns.
The upshot of the president’s lively and frequently pointed 90-minute appearance before the House Republican Conference’s annual policy retreat — some 15 minutes longer than scheduled — was that a bipartisan approach might be possible on some smaller issues Congress faces this election year.
But on big Obama initiatives such as health care and global warming — and even his plans for a partial domestic spending freeze — the president and Republicans seem destined to butt heads just as they did throughout 2009.
“All of us have to choose if we’re going to be politicians first or partners in progress,” Obama told the members.
Obama, who during the 2008 campaign said he wanted to tone down Washington’s strident, nonstop partisanship, said he still hoped that he and Republicans can meet regularly this year.
“I want us to have a constructive debate,” he said. “The only thing I don’t want is for Washington to be Washington-like.”
The move is pragmatic in many ways: Obama is in a politically weakened state because of Republican Scott P. Brown’s win in this month’s Massachusetts special election, depriving Democrats of their 60-vote majority in the Senate.
While the House Republican leadership said they hoped the Obama give-and-take with their members heralded a new era of communication, rank-and-file GOP conservatives said they still rejected Obama’s policy prescriptions as too liberal.
“The president suggests he’s not an ideologue. You wonder if the building is going to turn,” said Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona.
And even the leadership said that despite Obama’s bid for bipartisanship, he is being countermanded by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who they say almost never involve the minority in writing legislation.
Democrats say that turns the real situation on its head. They scorn the GOP as the “party of no” that has made it clear it wants Obama and Congress to fail in everything they do.
Obama reprised several of the proposals he first offered Wednesday evening in his State of the Union message and said he thought they were ideas that Republicans could get behind. These include his idea for a one-year tax credit for small businesses who would get $5,000 for each new worker they hire. The break would be capped at $500,000 for each company.
He also wants to eliminate the capital gains tax for small businesses and create a $30 billion pool of unspent bank-bailout money for small business lending.
“There is nothing in there that’s against the ideological disposition of this caucus,” he said.
But in a sign of how far apart the president and the Republican leadership are, his job-credit proposal was the subject of GOP ridicule even before Obama showed up at the hotel ballroom in downtown Baltimore where the GOP met.
Republican leaders mocked the proposal as the “Jimmy Carter tax credit,” and said it wouldn’t work. Conference chairman Mike Pence of Indiana ridiculed the idea as a “boutique tax cut.”
“It may create a perverse incentive for business to wait to hire until the credit takes effect,” he said.
While Obama and some members who asked him questions squared off testily, he praised others for offering constructive solutions worth talking about.
He flat-out said he disagreed with some of the figures that Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas used in claiming that Obama and congressional Democrats were running up the deficit and national debt at a dangerous clip. But he praised Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, ranking Budget Committee member, for offering a proposal about gradually reining in Medicare costs.
“Paul has made a serious proposal. I’ve read it. Some I agree with,” Obama said.
And in a rarity for Obama, the president conceded he had made a mistake, He told Rep. Jason Chaffetz, of Utah that he should have done more to ensure that all deliberations about the now-stalled health care overhaul had been televised, as he promised in the campaign. “I take responsibility,” he said. “It’s a legitimate criticism.”
Obama called on Republicans to realize that they will not always get their way and must agree to compromise. “If there’s uniform opposition because the Republican caucus doesn’t get 100 percent or 80 percent of what you want, it’s going to be hard to get a deal done. That’s not how democracy works,” Obama said.
After Obama left, Minority Leader John A. Boehner said “I thought the dialogue went well … and we want to continue to try to find common ground.”
But he said Obama must get Pelosi and Reid on board. “The president’s willingness to work with us has never been translated in the House of Representatives.”
Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia said “I hope Pelosi and Minority Leader Hoyer will open their doors and have Republicans in for more discussions.”
Rank-and-file members said the ideological differences with Obama are vast and warned that discussions on the big issues probably won’t yield anything constructive.
Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee commented on Obama’s defense of his health care proposals. “When you describe this health care bill as centrist, we are coming from different directions,” Roe said.
Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina said he thought Obama’s responses showed “he was highly defensive. It seems as if he believes that simply by saying something it’s true, and he does it very artfully.”
Pence said he was glad that Obama acknowledged that Republicans had offered ideas. “We especially welcomed the acknowledgement that this talk of the ‘party of no’ can once and for all be banished from the political debate,” Pence said.
Before the president started speaking, Boehner presented him with a 27-point compilation of Republican proposals on major issues. “We don’t expect you to agree with us on everyone of these solutions but we hope you’ll consider them,” Boehner said.
By the way, if Obama is really serious about a new bi-partisanship, and changing the tone in Washington, maybe he should stop lying.