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Roll Call

GOP Looks to Divide Democrats

House Republicans on Wednesday sought to implement a strategy designed to weaken Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) by painting her as an obstacle to President Barack Obama’s bipartisan agenda.

Republicans, fighting with a minority of just 177, spent the day after Obama’s star-studded inauguration attacking House Democrats for excluding them from early negotiations on a massive economic stimulus plan. At every turn, GOP Members charged the Democratic leadership with abandoning the bipartisanship embraced so forcefully by the new president.

Republicans are hoping to foment divisions in the Democratic ranks and force a clear wedge between Pelosi and Obama.

The GOP tactic came into full view during a House Appropriations Committee markup, where Republicans complained for hours about the lack of subcommittee hearings on the Democrats’ economic plan.

“I was very enthusiastic yesterday. It was inspiring,” Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) said of Obama’s Tuesday inauguration. “Wouldn’t it be nice if Washington could quit being Washington?

“The words are still reverberating off the buildings in this town, but unfortunately they didn’t penetrate this one.”

Kingston argued that Democrats were running “roughshod” over Republicans and said that unless changes are made, the package probably won’t get a single GOP vote.

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), the ranking member on the Appropriations panel, appealed directly to Obama to include Republicans after complaining about the size and priorities of the $825 billion Democratic package.

“Mr. President, the challenges we face transcend partisan politics. ... I appeal to you, Mr. President, to include us in this process.”

Republican after Republican complained that they had barely been consulted about the makeup of the plan, and argued that key pieces needed more vetting and time to consider. In nearly every instance, they charged Democrats with neglecting their input, and called on Obama to bring them to the table.

Whether the GOP tactic will work is unclear, but Obama already has agreed to a meeting with Republican lawmakers next week.

However, Democrats aren’t taking the GOP attacks lightly. Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said Republicans have only themselves to blame if they feel left out of the process. He called the economic stimulus package “the product of discussions over two months with literally anybody who would pick up the phone to talk to us.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) slammed Republicans as a “very frustrated group of individuals that are flailing about trying to communicate their positions and are obsessing on process.”

She added that efforts to split Obama from Democratic leaders wouldn’t work. “This is Obama’s economic recovery package. We worked on it together. Leading up to this meeting, they had every chance to have input. They have chosen to check themselves out of this process. They need to grab the bipartisan hand that has been extended to them, and so far they’ve just slapped it.”

While outside the Appropriations hearing the GOP criticism was less fiery, the sentiment was the same — that Obama was opening doors at the White House while House Democrats were slamming them shut.

“We are encouraged that President Obama recognizes this is not the time to be raising taxes and that he’s included significant tax relief in his proposal, but we are concerned as we are moving through the process that House Democrats have yet to ask for our input,” Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) argued.

“I think the president really challenged us not to find a Republican solution or a Democrat solution but an American solution, and that has not happened regrettably in these early days,” Ways and Means ranking member Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said.

That rhetoric notwithstanding, at least one prominent Republican downplayed the strategy to alienate Pelosi and Democratic leaders. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), responding to a reporter’s question on Wednesday, said: “I think you are reading a lot more into this then what it is. The president asked for our input, and we are going to supply him with our input — it’s as simple as that.”

But Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami pointed to the committee markups on the stimulus as evidence that the Speaker, like Obama, is committed to the bipartisan vetting of the bill.

“The Republicans are participating in committee markup of the legislation and some of their ideas have already been incorporated in the plan,” he argued. “The Speaker welcomes Republican input and is committed to bipartisanship because the challenges ahead are just too great and the American people demand results.”

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