GOP grumbles about jobs plan
House Republicans may pass bits and pieces of President Barack Obama’s jobs plan, but behind the scenes, some Republicans are becoming worried about giving Obama any victories — even on issues the GOP has supported in the past.
And despite public declarations about finding common ground with Obama, some Republicans are privately grumbling that their leaders are being too accommodating with the president.
“Obama is on the ropes; why do we appear ready to hand him a win?” said one senior House Republican aide who requested anonymity to discuss the matter freely. “I just don’t want to co-own the economy by having to tout that we passed a jobs bill that won’t work or at least won’t do enough.”
Even with the presence of so many GOP-friendly provisions in Obama’s plan — like trade agreements and small-business tax relief — some senior lawmakers are pulling back, wondering how the president will ensure his initiatives will not add to the nation’s debt.
“To assume that we’re naturally for these things because we’ve been for them does not mean we will be for them if they cause debt, if they [have] tax increases and if they take money from the free-enterprise sector, which creates jobs,” said Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, who heads up the House Republican campaign arm.
So as they try to grab smaller, passable measures from Obama’s jobs package, Republicans are also trying to strike their own balance between appearing open to bipartisan solutions and not giving the president an easy legislative victory that could tether them to his ownership of a bad economy.
Immediately after Obama’s speech on Thursday, Republican lawmakers said they liked some of what they heard in the president’s plan — identifying and eliminating unnecessary federal regulations and the free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, which have been front and center on the Republican agenda for several months.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said at an event at a cement mixing plant in Henrico, Va., that there were “lots of things” in Obama’s speech that “reflect the kind of things” that House Republicans want to pass. Cantor singled out small-business tax relief, certain infrastructure spending projects and trade deals.
“All [of] these are things we can work together [on] to build consensus,” Cantor said.
But that feeling wasn’t universal.
“I have great respect for everybody in Republican leadership,” Sessions said. “I found what the president said to be out of balance; … It’s fair to give any [proposal by the] president [a chance] out of respect to him, but also we need to look at the substance.”
Sessions, noting the president’s dismal approval ratings on the economy, said that he didn’t get the sense over the August recess that voters were frustrated with both parties’ efforts to revamp the economy. Of course, Congress enjoys even worse approval ratings than the president — but many Republicans are still placing their electoral bets on the public placing ownership of the economy squarely on the president in 2012.
“I know how to read,” Sessions said, referring to the polls, “but my sense is that I’m unhappy with us also, with the way we work together, the House and Senate. We’re not on a pro-growth agenda; we’re on a pro-tax and spend agenda. … The American people will judge us [on] the aggregate, not [on] specifics.”
Moving individual pieces of the jobs bill isn’t all Republican leadership is aiming to do. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) are also embarking on a 10-week crusade to cut federal regulation. During his appearance in Henrico last week, Cantor talked about helping construction companies by cutting regulations on cement and the regulation that forces companies who do business with the federal government to withhold 3 percent. Cantor said he wants the Obama administration to return to a “reasonable regulatory posture.”
“Of course, there’s skepticism; there’s healthy skepticism on behalf of our constituents who have said what we need to do is get government out of the way,” said Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn. But Blackburn and other Republicans are taking a page out of the president’s playbook — insisting that job creation is an issue too sacred to befall the typical trappings of Washington partisanship. Die-hards, like Iowa Rep. Steve King, insist that it’s merely an earnest philosophical disagreement.
“This is Keynesianism, and I have been critical of his approach since the beginning,” King said, adding that he found nothing GOP friendly about the president’s tax-cut-heavy plan. “The difficulty I might have had would be if he had actually offered a proposal that took us back to free markets and back to real serious tax reform and real reduction of regulation.”
But even some of his most conservative colleagues, like tea party freshman Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, made the case that they are willing to work for a bipartisan agreement, pointing to former President Bill Clinton as a model.
“Take a page from Clinton — when you’re willing to come to the Hill and work with Republicans, it actually makes both sides look better. What he said [in his speech] was all or nothing,” Labrador said. “If he says all or nothing, we won’t be able to work together. But if he takes those things we’re willing to work on, we could have a breakthrough, and it would be good for him and his reelection.”
Illinois Republican Rep. Bobby Schilling agreed: “His demand of pass this bill now wasn’t taken very well, because how can you pass a bill when you don’t know what it’s got?”
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