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Obama Steals GOP Rhetoric

In a Vulnerable Spot, President Adopts Talking Points to Disarm Opponents

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

The White House has been co-opting talking points and policy ideas from the GOP as President Barack Obama attempts to deflect attacks on his record heading into a tough re-election dogfight.

It's not a new practice but one the administration seems to be using more and more with the president vulnerable on a host of issues from high gas prices to the deficit ó and it's a trend people in both parties expect will continue in Tuesday night's State of the Union address.

Even as they anticipate the president will take aim at Congressional dysfunction, Democrats and Republicans alike also expect Obama to roll out moderate-sounding initiatives and rhetoric that echo some GOP positions on energy, taxes, spending and regulations. But they disagree on how sincere the White House effort will be.

Republicans note that the president has been trying to co-opt GOP themes on those issues for much of the past year but argue his words do not match his record.

They bristled last week when Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline and his spokesman, Jay Carney, repeatedly contended that the president has an "all-of-the-above" approach to energy ó a line Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made a staple of his presidential stump speech in 2008.

"Paging Orwell," tweeted Brendan Buck, spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), to Carney's comment last week that Obama was "firm" in his support for oil and gas development despite the Keystone decision.

Carney and other Democrats have used the "all-of-the-above" line before, even as the administration has continued to resist a host of House Republican proposals for more oil drilling on land and offshore.

Republicans pointed out that in 2009 a strategy memo from a Democratic polling firm and the think tank Third Way urged Democrats to embrace the GOP's "all of the above" phrase.

A week earlier, Obama himself sounded like any Republican presidential candidate as he railed against the byzantine bureaucracy under his command and proposed new presidential "consolidation authority" to fast-track bills shrinking the government.

"The government we have is not the government we need," Obama said.

That announcement actually built on Obama's pledge in last year's State of the Union address to seek ways to make government agencies and regulations more efficient and less onerous.

Obama also has repeatedly pointed to elements of his American Jobs Act ó which will get a mention Tuesday night ó that have previously received GOP support, and he has spent the better part of the past three months beating up Republicans for stalling on the payroll tax cut and nixing his small-business tax cut proposal.

Co-opting the opposition's rhetoric in an era of divided government is straight out of President Bill Clinton's playbook, when he declared in his 1996 State of the Union address, "The era of big government is over."

But the Democratic and Republican camps differ over just how successful ó or not ó the strategy will prove to be.

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