GOP wary of Obama's overtures
By Ben Pershing
It takes two to tango, and when it comes to President Obama's recent overtures toward bipartisanship, Republicans aren't sure yet whether they want to dance.
Obama will host a bipartisan, bicameral meeting of congressional leaders Tuesday at the White House, just as both Republicans and Democrats are still digesting the president's plan to bring them back in two weeks for a high-profile televised health-care summit. Neither side in the House quite knows what to make of Obama's idea. Roll Call says the proposal "was greeted with suspicion Monday by Congressional Republicans, who vowed to approach the televised Feb. 25 meeting with open minds even as they worried that the White House was using them as political 'props.' Hill Democrats were equally cautious. They welcomed the bicameral leadership gathering -- saying it was the type of presidential leadership that they've been looking for from Obama in their yearlong effort to enact health care reform legislation -- but they speculated it might be coming too late to make a difference." Going a step further, John Boehner and Eric Cantor "raised the prospect Monday night that they might refuse to participate ... if the White House chooses not to scrap the existing reform bills and start over," the Washington Post reports. Politico says "Democrats and Republicans made clear they have almost no expectation the half-day meeting can break a bitter yearlong standoff. The two parties are staking out positions that leave them completely at odds even before they sit down."
The Los Angeles Times writes that Obama's call for a summit "comes as his party unfolds a strategy to force Republicans to put policy ideas on the table that Democrats believe they can exploit in the fall elections. After a year of suffering GOP attacks on the president's plans for healthcare and the economy, the White House and congressional Democrats are gambling that voters will find Republican ideas to be even more unpopular." The New York Times looks at those proposals, finding "a fairly well-developed set of ideas intended to make health insurance more widely available and affordable, by emphasizing tax incentives and state innovations, with no new federal mandates and only a modest expansion of the federal safety net." Jonathan Cohn says the House GOP's plan "makes clear that it's not Democrats who seek massive, disruptive changes to [Medicare]. It's the Republicans. If the coming engagement between the Republicans and President Obama help the public to understand that reality, extending the debate might actually be worth it." The Wall Street Journal editorial board believes "the summit is intended to be a pseudo-event staged to rehabilitate a political agenda that is opposed by well over half the public. The pitch is that the President and Republicans will sit down, sort through the best and worst ideas, and hash out a bill. Ah, sweet bipartisanship. The true White House purpose is to create a Republican foil. ObamaCare has sunk under its own weight, so the idea is to revive it by suggesting that the choice is between it and GOP ideas."
The Washington Times says that "just two weeks after President Obama's State of the Union address, the window has closed on the areas of bipartisan cooperation he laid out, with Republicans saying his budget puts some ideas out of play and Democrats taking others off the table." Seeking to establish a contrast with Paul Ryan's broader budget blueprint, "House Democrats want to kick House Republicans where it hurts," TalkingPointsMemo reports, by forcing a floor vote on a resolution to "preserve Social Security." Daily Kos is excited by the idea: "A floor vote on Ryan's Republican budget could be the best thing that's happened for Democrats in months. It exposes the depths of Republican hypocrisy in the HCR debate and would force an extremely difficult political vote. What Republican wants to vote to slash Social Security and Medicare in an election year, other than Paul Ryan."
In the Senate, one specific source of partisan gridlock has come unstuck "Richard Shelby announced Monday he has dropped his holds on most Obama administration nominations, saying he has finally gotten attention on the issues that prompted" the move, CongressDaily reports. Though he released most of the holds, the Associated Press notes Shelby is still blocking three nominees related to the Air Force's aerial refueling tanker program. Even without a hold, the nominee scheduled for a Senate vote today faces trouble. "Ben Nelson announced Monday that he will oppose the nomination of Craig Becker to serve on the National Labor Relations Board, likely dooming the nominee's Senate confirmation," Roll Call reports. Politico notes "the move is likely to infuriate labor groups who have fought hard for Craig Becker's nomination to serve on the five-member NLRB. ... Republicans have tried to make Becker's nomination a referendum on the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier to unionize. In his statement, Nelson said Becker has made several statements that 'fly in the face of Nebraska's Right to Work laws.'" The Boston Herald is watching Scott Brown, as the vote on Becker "could be a litmus test for his independent streak."
In the House, lawmakers are mourning John Murtha, a towering old appropriations bull who died Monday after complications following gall bladder surgery. Congress won't see his likes again. David Rogers, who knew Murtha longer and better than any other reporter on the Hill, writes: "A Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, the 77-year-old Democrat won national fame for standing up against U.S. military involvement in Iraq. But in Congress itself, he also symbolized an old-school generation going back to Tip O'Neill and the Democratic heyday of the '70s, when the House was less divided by partisan ideology than by often regional interests. With his military credentials and conservative western Pennsylvania district, Murtha moved easily in this world. It was his house within the House, and he was forever 'Captain Jack' and the mayor of 'Murtha's Corner.' But behind the rough talk, vote swapping and pork barrel politics was a restless intellect, a shrewd man who read history and went home early to monitor BBC broadcasts when he wanted a different slant on American wars overseas. He loved birdhouses, fretted about his roses and bet early on Pelosi to become the first woman speaker in the history of the House. And when the time came, he stepped out of the backroom in 2005 as no one else could to forcefully challenge the war in Iraq and become a folk hero to anti-war liberals who had previously dismissed him as déclassé."
The Johnstown Tribune-Democrat has a host of stories memorializing the lawmaker who almost single-handedly kept the town's economy afloat. The Hill notes "Murtha has been credited with bringing economic development to his once-depressed district, an area rocked by the loss of steel and coal jobs over the last two decades. Johnstown, Pa., now has a Murtha airport, a Murtha highway and Murtha health centers." Murtha's proclivity for attracting earmarks helped ensnare him in a federal investigation of PMA, the former lobbying firm run by his ex-aides, and "the affair did nothing to dispel the impression that Mr. Murtha ran a busy political trading post," the New York Times writes. The Fix notes that Murtha's death "will set off a special election in his very competitive western Pennsylvania 12th district."
February 9, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
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