Some senior Republican strategists and party veterans are beginning to fret that the party's refusal to work with President Obama, even when he crosses onto their own philosophical turf, could ultimately erode some of the political gains they've made this past year.
Over the past two weeks, Republicans in Congress have united in nearly unanimous opposition to a series of ideologically conservative policy suggestions, starting with a commission to reduce the deficit, a pay-go provision that would limit new expenditures, and a spending freeze on non-military programs.
Opposition has usually been based on specific policy concerns or complaints that the measures aren't going far enough. But the message being sent is that the GOP's sole mission is presidential destruction.
Now, some in the party are beginning to worry.
"I can't tell you why they are taking this approach," said Jim Kolbe, a former member of Congress and longtime fiscal hawk from Arizona. "I have doubts about some of them myself but I think that certainly the pay-go and the commission have some merit and we should be supporting those. I don't have an answer to this. Whether this is just part of them being philosophically opposed or are they just being obstructionists, I don't know?
"I do think there is that worry [that we come off as obstructionists]," Kolbe added. "I think this thing can turn around just as fast as it turned against the Democrats, it can turn the other way if the Republican don't respond with serious proposals here."
In the past, Republicans have supported similar proposals. Four Republican Senators who in 2006 backed a pay-go measure that would require Congress to offset every dollar spent with other funds voted against the measure in 2010. The cap on discretionary, non-military spending that had members of Obama's own party howling in horror was pulled from Republican John McCain's own presidential campaign platform -- and yet, the Arizona Republican said this past week that the president now wasn't going far enough. Five GOP Senators who co-sponsored a debt commission bill that would recommend deficit-cutting measures for Congress to vote on then rejected the idea when it came up for a vote this week.
"I think the bottom line is you have to look at them bill by bill," said Ed Rollins, a long time Republican strategist. "The reality is the things where consistently the Republicans have been in the past, like pay as you go, I think we should be supportive of. That is the place where we should go.
"You should be able to find common ground. If you engage on things that are basically consistent with your ideology, it will give you more credibility in arguing things that aren't," Rollins added. "The drill can't be to just make Obama look bad. The stimulus bill was legitimate to oppose. But if the next jobs bill is really something that will create jobs and benefit America then I think there will be a lot of Republicans supportive of it. And there should be.
"If the president was smart," Rolllins said, "he would keep putting these things into individual bills without poison pill ad ons and make Republicans vote."
Some Republicans objections, of course, are not solely based in Obama-rejection. Grover Norquist's group, Americans For Tax Reform, for example, has put out several policy papers imploring Republicans to vote against the debt commission out of fear that it would lead to tax increases. Kolbe called the idea of a spending cap "useless" because of the insignificant dent it would actually make on the debt.
But the rejection of measures that would limit government spending - especially at a time when the Republican Party is trying sidle up closer to the anti-government spending tea party movement -- could be politically damaging. So in the long run, the Republican Party could hurt itself by not meeting Obama part way.
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