A failed effort by Republican lawmakers to unite behind the defeat of health care legislation has done little to dissuade GOP leadership from offering unbending opposition to the president's agenda.
In a brief interview with the Huffington Post following the House's passage of the health care reform bill, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Cali.) scoffed at the idea that his party misstepped by going all in against Obama's health care proposal. Asked about a widely circulated column by former Bush speechwriter David Frum, which argued that the GOP would have benefited in the long run by having traded support for more conservative legislative language, the California Republican attacked the messenger.
"A former staffer, and you're calling it credible?" Issa said. "We have an obligation to vote, at the end of the day, based on whether we believe it's the right direction, the wrong direction, not withstanding some former Bush staffer. Remember, President Bush was the administration that got us voted out of office. They were the big spenders. So the credibility of the Bush administration on domestic economic policy ain't so good, period. And this is an unaccountable person."
"When you are a staffer, you're unaccountable," Issa went on. "When you're a former staffer, you're really unaccountable. The way it's supposed to work, and the way it does work, when it works, is if you make a good suggestion in the form of an amendment, it is adopted. Good ideas by the controlling party should be incorporated because they're good for America. And to say 'I will only incorporate your good idea if you vote for the bill' is logrolling. It's a quid pro quo, and is tantamount to a bribe. Is that what you're asking for?"
The debate over how the Republican Party should handle the passage of health care legislation has, indeed, been a relatively one-sided affair in the hours since the House voted 219 to 212 on Sunday to put the Senate's version of reform into law. From the halls of Congress to the airwaves of cable news, the GOP has spun a narrative in which they emerge as the big beneficiaries of the Democrats' victory. Even as the debate was happening, members of the Republican Party were placing fliers on the seats of Democratic lawmakers, warning them that they'd be booted from office in 2010. Once the tally became clear, the unwillingness to compromise seemed cemented even further.
"I completely disagree that we played this wrong," Rep. John Campbell (R-Cali.) told the Huffington Post. "What they proposed was just directionally opposite of where we want to go. If you think you ought to go south... and someone is dragging you north, going halfway north instead of all the way north doesn't get you where you need to go."
Instead of self-reflection, the Republican conversation immediately turned to just how forcefully they would and should push for repeal of the bill. A seemingly distraught Frum took to the pages of CNN.com to ask: "What the hell do we Republicans do now?... Do Republicans write a one-sentence bill declaring that the whole thing is repealed?"
Actually, yes. On Monday, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who just days ago urged Tea Party protesters to launch a Velvet Revolution-like protest to shut down D.C., introduced a bill that totaled all of 40 words. "Effective as of the enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," it read, "such Act is repealed, and the provisions of law amended or repealed by such Act are restored or revived as if such Act had not been enacted."
Betting the farm on opposing Obama has been the GOP blueprint for the past year. And it will be going forward. Appearing on a local radio station in his home state of Arizona, Sen. John McCain defined the party ethos quite clearly.
"There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year," he said. "They have poisoned the well in what they've done and how they've done it."
Democratic staffers on the Hill were both amused and aghast. There will, of course, be legislation that earns Republican votes in the near future (just like the recent jobs bill). But for the 2008 Republican nominee -- whose career was once defined by a talent for bipartisan compromise and patriotism -- to be so publicly antagonistic towards reaching across the aisle was a bit jarring, even for the most jaded political observers.
Perhaps sensing that public sentiment was moving its way, the White House didn't push back particularly hard. Instead, aides to the president mustered up mostly perfunctory statements of disappointment.
"If the strategy on the other side is regardless of what the president proposes, to say no, then bipartisanship is going to be difficult," Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said on Monday. "I think instead of being frustrated about a process, there were many avenues with which to become active in the legislative problem-solving part of the process that I think many wish they might have taken up."
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