Ever since his Inaugural Address, President Obama has accused the Republicans of being the “Party of ‘No’.” First he accused unnamed critics of peddling “stale arguments” but soon he started pointing the finger directly at the GOP, contending that they lacked anything constructive to offer.
It was a natural tactic for someone who ran as the Agent of Change against Washington, where good ideas “go to die,” as he put it during the campaign. And he kept that drumbeat up during the stimulus plan debate, accusing his opponents of wanting to “do nothing.” He continues to deride the Republicans as lacking ideas.
But the reality is quite different. ABC’s Jake Tapper tied up White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in verbal knots recently by pointing out that Minority Whip Eric Cantor handed the president a list of suggestions while the stimulus was being drafted, but the president didn’t seem to adopt many (any?) of these.
Now Republicans see an opening. The president is reeling under the AIG bonus scandal. And more Democrats are taking issue with his gargantuan budget. Politico reports:
There is rising doubt among Democrats — particularly moderates already concerned about the big costs and deficits called for in Obama’s budget — that either Obama or Washington have enough bandwidth this year to stimulate the economy, overhaul the failed financial sector, and move on to a far-reaching domestic agenda. “From the standpoint of the Congress, there’s only so much that we can absorb and do at one time,” Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, told Politico Tuesday. “To maintain a schedule like the one we’ve got at this moment, throughout the year, I don’t know if it will be healthy.”
So the Republicans have decided the time is right to rebut the president directly. Their message: the GOP may be the party of no — to bad ideas — but they also have many good ones to offer as alternatives to the Democrats’ spending, taxing, and borrowing bonanza.
Minority Leader John Boehner has a new video out listing a number of Republican themes and promising a Republican alternative budget from reformer Rep. Paul Ryan. The themes are simple: lower taxes, restrain the growth of government, a market-based health care plan, domestic energy development, and ending bailout mania. Boehner’s video does not have many details, but its core message is clear: Republicans are tired of being the punching bag for an administration that wishes to paint itself as the only source of ideas capable of solving the country’s problems.
Truth be told, for months, Republicans inside and outside of government have been throwing out ideas on how to revive the economy. Americans for Tax Reform has ten ideas to help small business. Newt Gingrich has twelve ideas to promote job growth and recovery. And budget draftsman Paul Ryan has had “A Road Map for America’s Future” for some time. But the mainstream media is uninterested in reading through all of this, much of the conservative blogosphere is too invested in carping about the shortcomings of elected leaders and in fighting among themselves, and the president, of course, has made a habit of disparaging his opposition’s lack of creative ideas.
So the Republicans have their work cut out for themselves to get Americans to focus on their alternatives. Or do they? The task here is not to actually get a Republican budget passed. That’s not happening until one or both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue changes hands. Rather, the task here is to capture the public’s dissatisfaction with the Democrats’ bailout and pork-laden approach to governance and remind voters that Republicans in fact do have ideas — ones that favor lower taxes and less spending.
And the Republicans’ job just got considerably easier, thanks to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and AIG. Democrats in Congress (with the encouragement of the Treasury Department) actively blocked a measure that would have prevented AIG from awarding exorbitant bonuses. As ABC News reported:
Last month, the Senate unanimously approved an amendment to the stimulus bill aimed at restricting bonuses over $100,000 at any company receiving federal bailout funds. The measure, which was drafted by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., applied these restrictions retroactively to bonuses received or promised in 2008 and onward.
But then. …
The provision was stripped out during the closed-door conference negotiations involving House and Senate leaders and the White House. A measure by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., to limit executive compensation replaced it. But Dodd’s measure explicitly exempted bonuses agreed to prior to the passage of the stimulus bill. Here’s the exact language from Dodd’s measure in the stimulus: “The prohibition required under clause (i) shall not be construed to prohibit any bonus payment required to be paid pursuant to a written employment contract executed on or before February 11, 2009. …”
So two of the best “ideas” that Republicans can tout now are: don’t allow midnight, closed-door drafting sessions, and get the miscreant corporations off the public payroll. Sure enough, Boehner has a proposal to force the Treasury Department to come up with an “exit strategy” to end the government bailouts. And few doubt that bailout mania is one area where the public thinks a strongly worded “No!” is a perfectly acceptable response to the Bush-Obama scheme of corporate socialism.
Now, no one should expect that the president will stop hurling barbs at the Republicans or acknowledge that his opponents really have plenty of ideas. But Congressional Republicans will try to make it more and more difficult for Obama’s straw man argument to remain standing.
Given the swiftly changing mood around the country, the Republicans might just convince the public that, at the very least, the GOP is the party of “ideas not as awful as the other guys’.”