WASHINGTON -- Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), increasingly a voice of reason and moderation within his own GOP, gave President Obama credit on Sunday for reaching out to Republicans, breaking with the party-line criticisms that the administration is not listening at all to the opposition. He also warned his colleagues against becoming the "party of no," saying that voters will start to hold Republicans accountable if they don't offer actual solutions.
"Now, I think since the election, my understanding is that the meetings that President Obama has had have certainly had an element of reaching out," Lugar told Candy Crowley on CNN's "State of the Union." "And I think that has been appreciated. And as I indicated earlier, I think that perhaps Sen. McConnell, our Republican leader, and the president may see more eye to eye on how we ought to wind up this lame duck session than maybe do others in this situation."
Lugar agreed with Crowley's assertion that McConnell is "dealing with sort of a rebellious conservative side of his own party," saying, "Of course, because many would say -- and have said -- that why do anything President Obama wants? It simply gives him a victory. And therefore we're the party of no. Now, I think some of us said no, we are not the party of no. We must never be the party of no."
Indeed, there have been seeds of disagreements already becoming public between McConnell and some of his colleagues, especially on the House side. For example, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) recently told The Huffington Post that he disagrees with McConnell's assertion that repealing health care reform is not possible with Obama in office. "I wouldn't deign to question the evaluation of any peer, but oftentimes people leave the American people out of the equation," he replied.
Lugar also said that Republicans must have real solutions or voters will become angry and kick them out of office:
I think a good number of people understand what I'm saying, probably agree, sometimes overtly, maybe more often covertly. They understand eventually, the American people, angry as they are with the Democrats, with the tsunami that came in the election, are finally going to say to Republicans: 'OK, now, what are you guys going to do? What in fact is your program?'
Our program is to stop Obama, some would say. It's to defeat Obama. That it's a two-stage process. You defeat the Democrats, first of all, in the Congress; then you defeat Obama. Then we'll come out and we'll tell you.
Well, that's not going to work. And at some point there really have to be constructive Republican programs.
Lugar is increasingly become a target of right-wing activists' ire for supporting passage of the START Treaty, expressing an openness to considering the DREAM Act and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal and voting for the confirmation of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Tea Party activists are looking to target him in 2012.
"If Dick Lugar, having served five terms in the U.S. Senate and being the most respected person in the Senate and the leading authority on foreign policy, is seriously challenged by anybody in the Republican Party, we have gone so far overboard that we are beyond redemption," said John C. Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri.
Many progressives have been frustrated with Obama's willingness to accommodate Republican demands -- without getting much in return.
But a White House official told The Huffington Post that at a meeting on Saturday, "The president told Democratic congressional leaders ... that he was open to compromise, but he would oppose even a temporary extension of the Bush tax cuts if it did not include an extension of benefits for the unemployed and extensions of the other tax cuts that benefit middle-class families. Without them, taxes would still rise for 95 percent of Americans." The comments were, as Sam Stein reported, "one of the clearest signs that the president is not only done ceding any more policy turf to the GOP with respect to tax cut negotiations but willing to let rates expire if Republican don't temper their demands."