The splintered House Democratic Caucus that limped through the final days of the last Congress emerged to begin the new one fiercely unified, at least to start, accusing Republicans of hypocritical theater for pushing a health care repeal bill with no amendments and limited debate.
The near-unanimous denunciations of the GOP’s handling of the health care repeal bill, and the Republicans’ package of proposed rules giving them significant budgetary leeway, were a marked difference from the 111th Congress, when moderates and liberals rarely got on the same page.
Noting that the Senate has already made it clear that it will not take up the repeal bill, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said: “This repeal of health care by the Republicans is political theater. It is a Kabuki dance. ... The fact of the matter is, we’re not going to repeal health care. It is not going to happen.”
Rep. Henry Cuellar, a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, also dismissed the GOP’s health care reform efforts since much of the Republican health care agenda already is part of the law.
“This is something that we have already,” the Texas Democrat said, “but I guess this is an exercise we’ll be doing soon.”
Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen argued that the GOP’s rules package — which would not count potential deficit increases as a result of repealing the health care law, among other provisions — is the “kind of flimflam ... the American people came to expect the last time the Republicans were in charge.”
“They told the American people that they’d listened and learned, but in the rules package we’re going to see tomorrow, it’s going to be very clear that it’s back to the same old games,” the Maryland Democrat added.
House Democratic leaders were no less critical even as they were calling for bipartisan work on jobs creation, tax reform and other economic matters.
For instance, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said that while Democrats will oppose Republicans in a number of cases, they “do not intend to do so gratuitously. We intend to do so constructively.”
But the Maryland Democrat quickly pivoted into a fighting stance, accusing Republicans of immediately abandoning their campaign pledges to change the culture of the House.
Pointing to the GOP’s refusal to allow amendments to the health care repeal bill, Hoyer charged that while such a decision is “not inconsistent with past practice, [it is] certainly not consistent with the representation of open rules, transparency and allowing other points of view to be expressed here in the House.”
Even Senate Democrats were getting into the act, with Jon Summers, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), charging that the GOP is “laying the groundwork for Republicans’ extremist agenda of shutting down the government, raising taxes on small businesses and telling seniors they’re on their own by reopening the Medicare doughnut hole.”
At this point, Democrats appear to be sticking together, and although a handful will reportedly vote with the GOP on repeal, a mass exodus is unlikely.
“I’m not concerned about that,” Hoyer said Tuesday when asked about the possibility of defections.
Hoyer and other Democrats also warned that they will in many ways emulate the GOP during the last session and try to exploit instances where Republicans are unable to live up to their campaign pledges.
“We also intend to hold Republicans accountable for the representations they made to the American people. As they did us,” Hoyer warned.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), vice chairwoman of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, agreed, saying: “What we’re going to be watching for is Republican hypocrisies, where they continue their meaningless, empty campaign rhetoric, which when they get here — and they’re in charge now — they back up with either the opposite of what they campaigned on or simply hypocritical policies.”
“The Democratic yardstick that we will measure the Republican effort by will be the following: Does it create jobs? Does it strengthen America’s middle class? And does it reduce the deficit?” she added.
Republicans largely stayed above the fray, avoiding the kind the divisive partisan rhetoric that had been a signature of the 111th Congress, while trying to brush off Democratic complaints.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) pushed back against Democratic complaints about a lack of health care repeal amendments, saying: “This has been litigated in this last election. ... This is a bill that most Americans outside the Beltway — certainly most people inside the Beltway — know is something that is rejected by the majority of the people.”
But even Cantor bristled at one point during his first weekly press conference as Majority Leader. When asked about charges of hypocrisy by Democrats, Cantor icily responded, “When it comes to Leader Reid, [House Minority] Leader [Nancy] Pelosi and the statements they make, they clearly don’t understand what the public wants when it comes to health care.”
Anna Palmer contributed to this report.