BALTIMORE — President Barack Obama on Friday accused Republicans of portraying health care reform as a "Bolshevik plot" and telling their constituents that he’s "doing all kinds of crazy stuff that's going to destroy America."
Speaking to House Republicans at their annual policy retreat here, Obama said that over-the-top GOP attacks on him and his agenda have made it virtually impossible for Republicans to address the nation’s problems in a bipartisan way.
“What happens is that you guys don’t have a lot of room to negotiate with me,” Obama said, silencing the smattering of Republicans who had applauded when he said “Bolshevik plot.” "The fact of the matter is, many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable with your own base, with your own party because what you've been telling your constituents is, ‘This guy's doing all kinds of crazy stuff that's going to destroy America.' ''
Obama’s comments came in the midst of an extraordinary back-and-forth with Republican House members – a scene straight out of the House of Commons that played out live on cable TV.
Republicans invited Obama to appear at their annual conference; the president surprised them by accepting – and then by asking that cameras and reporters be allowed into the room.
Republicans immediately agreed to the request, but they may be regretting it now.
Obama was clearly energized by the exchange – and again and again, he turned the Republicans questions against the GOP, accusing the party of obstructing legislation for political purposes and offering solutions that won’t work.
"I've read your legislation. I take a look at this stuff. And the good ideas we take," Obama said. "It can't be all or nothing, one way or the other … If we put together a stimulus package in which a third of it is tax cuts that normally you guys would support, and support for states and the unemployed and helping people stay on COBRA, that certainly your governors would support … and maybe there are some things in there, with respect to infrastructure, that you don't like … If there's uniform opposition because the Republican caucus doesn't get 100 percent or 80 percent of what you want, then it's going to be difficult to get a deal done, because that's not how democracy works."
After Obama made opening remarks, House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) asked him whether he’d embrace “across the board” tax cuts as a way to revive the economy, and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) asked him to support a line-item veto to help achieve a balanced budget.
Obama pushed back backed hard, accusing Republicans of putting party before principle and voting against his 2009 stimulus plan but then attending “ribbon cuttings” for stimulus projects in their own districts.
If Republicans believe in both across-the-board tax cuts and a balanced budget, Obama said he’d like to see their math.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) began the session by handing Obama a stack of Republican alternatives to his policies. The president then began speaking in a conciliatory tone telling the Republicans that he expects them to challenge his ideas – and that he understands that there are sometimes fundamental policy differences between the parties.
"Having differences of opinion, having a real debate about matters of domestic policy and national security, that's something that's not only good for our country, it's absolutely essential,” he said.
But he also criticized the Republicans for reflexively opposing his policies – even when, he said, they were in line with GOP principles. And the encounter got progressively more raucous from there.
Obama urged Republicans to come to the table and work with him on policy compromises, saying Americans "didn't send us to Washington to fight each other in some political steel cage match."
What voters don’t want, he said, is "for Washington to continue being so Washington-like."
The president asked the Republicans to support his proposal to provide small businesses with a $500 tax credit for each new employee they add — an idea Republicans panned before he even made the offer. He also asked them to support his plan to freeze non-military discretionary spending for three years.
"Join me," Obama asked. "Nothing in this proposal that runs contrary to the ideological predisposition of this caucus."
"We have seen some party-line votes that have been disappointing," he said, recalling the stimulus fight. "I didn't understand then, and I still don't understand, why we got opposition in this caucus for almost $300 billion in badly needed tax cuts for the American people" and other assistance and infrastructure projects.
Obama jabbed: "Let's face it, some of you have been at the ribbon-cuttings for some of these important projects in your communities."
Continuing on a confrontational tack, Obama defended key components of his agenda, including the proposed fee on bailed-out banks – telling Boehner: "If you listen to the American people, John, they’ll tell you they want their money back."
At the end of his remarks – before taking questions – Obama told Republicans it's time to make a choice between aiming for "success at the polls" or "lasting success" for the country. "Just think about it for a while," he said. "We don't have to put it up for a vote today."
Freshman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) went after the president harder, accusing him of breaking promising about transparency, lobbyists and partisanship.
“I can look you in the eye and tell you we have not been obstructionists,” he said.
Obama acknowleged that Chaffetz had a “legitimate complaint” about not putting health care negotiations on C-SPAN – as the president had vowed they would be – but he also asked Chaffetz what he was doing within his own caucus to make sure that Republicans were working with him in bipartisan way.
Mid-way through the questions and answers, Pence said that there would be just a few more questions.
Obama said he wasn’t in any hurry to leave.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Obama rumbles with House GOP
In the January 29, 2010 Politico article "Obama rumbles with House GOP," Patrick O'Connor and Tim Grieve report on the verbal sparring between President Barack Obama and the House Republicans that invited him to their policy retreat: