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No Regrets for Senator Gregg

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Sen. Judd Gregg has become a vocal critic of President Barack Obama in the year since he withdrew from consideration for Commerce secretary.

It’s been a year since Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) nearly joined President Barack Obama’s Cabinet as Commerce secretary. And while he continues to work across the aisle on some key issues, he has also emerged as one of the Republican Party’s most ardent and effective White House critics.

Gregg, 62, is retiring this year after having served 18 years in the Senate and three decades in public office. But that hasn’t stopped the New Hampshire Republican and ranking member on the Budget Committee from waging a war against some of Obama’s top priorities. From the president’s $787 billion economic stimulus package to health care reform to the 2011 budget blueprint, Gregg hasn’t minced words while helping to lead the opposition of a determined Senate minority.

But even as he accuses Obama and the Democrats of proposing “a government takeover of health care” and “leading our nation into a position of insolvency,” Gregg still works closely with Senate Democratic leaders and the White House on several controversial issues.

There appear to be two sides of Gregg, and that may explain both Obama’s decision to nominate him for the Commerce job in the first place and why Gregg abruptly decided to withdraw from consideration.

In an interview Wednesday morning in his office in the Russell Senate Office Building, Gregg laughed as he described his memory of the nomination as a “trauma.” He said he has no regrets about removing himself from consideration but was contrite about the public embarrassment his waffling caused the White House. Essentially, Gregg said he should have known better.

“On reflection — especially as I watched the stimulus evolve, I realized what was coming on the budget side — I recognized that it would be very hard to be supportive of the administration’s positions on fiscal policy if they were going to go into this massive expansion of the government, which it’s pretty obvious they were going to do,” Gregg said. “And of course with the health care package it would have been impossible because I think that’s a disaster fiscally and I think it’s a disaster from the standpoint of the quality of health care in this country.”

Gregg described his relationship with Obama these days as professionally courteous, saying that the two have had limited interaction but that the president has always been respectful and listened to his ideas. Gregg has long been a go-to guy in the GOP Conference on budget and tax issues, but his decision to stay in the Senate earned him even greater respect from his colleagues, who at the time were reeling from heavy losses in the 2008 elections.

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