House Republicans: "We Are Feeling Pretty Relevant"
With each day passing, Republicans in the House seem more emboldened in their opposition to the stimulus package making its way through Congress. Part of their fortitude undoubtedly comes from internal polling shows their ideas for more small business tax cuts are popular.
More broadly, GOP leadership seem confident that they are winning the messaging wars against their Democratic brethren, forcing them to remove certain spending provisions from the stimulus package while still painting Speaker Nancy Pelosi as uncompromising. They are defying the adage that strength comes in numbers. As an astute reporter pointed out, it has been Republicans in the House, not the Senate, dominating the cable news circuit.
"We are feeling pretty relevant," said Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, when asked about the agenda for the upcoming GOP retreat.
"It wasn't like there was some big whip operation to whip members against the bill," said Minority Leader John Boehner. "It just happened."
But if the House GOP is getting a bit of swagger under its feet, it doesn't seem to be affecting the mood in the White House. Aides and allies to the president argue that in the long-term, even failed attempts at compromise on the stimulus will have positive effects.
"The President said throughout the campaign that our politics had grown too small to confront the challenges we face, and changing that starts with ending the game-playing and name-calling that's been so popular in Washington," one White House aide told the Huffington Post.
Certainly, Obama reserves the right to be less inclusive in the next set of negotiations should the House GOP not budge. The high ground has its perks.
"I'm sort of surprised that the House GOP led off [Tuesday's] meeting [with the president] by saying they would vote no even before Obama showed up," said Steve Elmendorf, a Hill veteran. "If you want to vote no, you meet with him and then say we are disappointed and won't vote for this bill because of X,Y, and Z. The big problem is they don't have an alternative theory... what is their plan? Republican economists say we need a big stimulus, the public says we need a big stimulus, what are these guys for?"
Indeed, to this point, the president has shown a willingness to compromise that others at the table have not. He put his thumb on Hill Democrats to drop money for the stimulus for family planning services and re-sodding the National Mall. But he hasn't found much company on the middle ground. Asked on Tuesday, what objectionable items the House GOP would be willing to agree to in the broader goal of forging a bipartisan consensus, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) refused to walk too far out on a political ledge.
"I think there is probably a broad spectrum of members in our conference who would support infrastructure projects that could be producing jobs within the next year of this bill," said the House Whip. "And I think there is certainly that in this proposal."