10/04/2013 02:27 pm ET Updated Oct 04, 2013

Behold The New GOP, Defender Of Social Programs


WASHINGTON -- Witness the new Republican Party, champion of feeding programs for the poor and federally funded medical research.

Conservatives are cheering the House Republicans’ new strategy of passing “mini” bills to reopen popular programs, while White House officials and their allies dismiss the tactic as a doomed GOP effort to escape blame for the ongoing government shutdown.

The GOP’s aim is to get House Democrats on record in votes “opposing” the restoration of spending for federal initiatives such as national parks, cancer research, veterans and National Guard programs, FEMA and the National Weather Service, the Food and Drug Administration, nutrition and feeding programs for pregnant mothers and infants, and Head Start. The strategy blithely ignores the party’s own recent history, which is one of antagonism to many such programs. Indeed, the GOP has been crowing about spending rules -- the result of the sequestration deal two years ago -- that squeeze funds for the very items the GOP now claims it wants to champion.

The mini-bill strategy is also not one the GOP employed the last time there was a major shutdown, in the winter of 1995-96, involving a Democratic president (Bill Clinton) and a Republican speaker (Newt Gingrich). But then again, social media didn't exist in the winter of 1995-96.

And, hey, we are in the middle of a furious spin war. The Republicans' idea is to gather TV ad fodder for 2014, or at least try to scare Democrats into thinking that such attacks might somehow work.

The House will stage votes on a host of measures during a rare Saturday session, coming on the fifth day of the shutdown that resulted Tuesday from Congress’ failure to pass a 2013-14 budget.

“This is just what Republicans need to be doing now,” said Grover Norquist, a key conservative strategist and head of Americans for Tax Reform. “You want to pile up these votes and put Democrats on record as opposing both the specific programs and the idea of compromise."

“The Democrats will have to defend those votes next year,” he added. “You can make a lot of effective advertising spots out of that stuff.”

Conservative strategist and author Craig Shirley, who is finishing a biography of former GOP Speaker Gingrich, agreed with Norquist and praised current GOP Speaker John Boehner for the tactic.

“It’s Boehner getting on offense for a change,” said Shirley.

Polls show why Boehner needs to do so. The latest CBS survey, for example, finds that an overwhelming 72 percent of the American public oppose the government shutdown and that 44 percent blame the Republicans in Congress for it -- compared with 35 percent who blame President Barack Obama and the Democrats.

The new mini-bill strategy won’t change that tilt, said White House Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri. “I really don’t think these fake votes will have any impact a year from now,” she said. “Or even if the election were this year."

“I mean, it’s not like the government won't eventually open," she added, or the "FDA and VA won’t get funded."

“Also, I just don’t think you can really affect a race the way you used to with negative ads on a fake vote.”


Conservatives Pointing Fingers
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