Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 26, 2009

TAKING THE BAIT?.... The Obama White House and congressional Democrats have hardly been subtle about what they want from Republicans. As the president told donors at a party fundraiser last night, "To a bunch of the critics out there, I've already said, 'Show me your budget!' I'm happy to have that debate."

Dems have been asking, practically begging, Republicans to put up or shut up. Every single time the minority party attacks the administration's budget, Democrats respond, "At least we're governing. Republicans have no ideas of their own." The charge has started to stick, and GOP leaders haven't come up with a compelling retort.

This week, it seems the Republican Party is taking the bait.

House Republicans have begun unveiling detailed alternatives to President Barack Obama's policies -- a concerted effort to push back against Democratic efforts to label them "the Party of No."

On Wednesday, it was a housing plan. Thursday, it will be a big, TV-friendly stack of budget blueprints, "The Republican Road to Recovery." That's to match the president's own platitudinous budget title, "A New Era of Responsibility."

The House Republicans' budget document, provided to POLITICO ahead of its release, makes sure no one can miss the point: Each chapter begins "The Republican Plan," and each section is divided into "The President's Budget" and "Republicans' Solution."

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the housing proposal that he rolled out with eight other House Republicans on Tuesday was "in response to the administration -- and the president himself, who continues to say that Republicans don't have any ideas." ... The documents -- and the showmanship in releasing them -- are the result of frustration by GOP leaders who repeatedly hear on TV that they have no alternatives.

In other words, Republicans are letting the White House set the terms of the debate, and they're struggling to keep up.

Mike Pence (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Republican Conference, said at the news conference with Cantor, "Welcome to the next installment of the party of yes." It's the kind of comment that reflects playing defense -- Obama and his allies kept pushing Republicans to come up with some ideas of their own, so GOP leaders are doing what Democratic leaders have asked. Pence told reporters yesterday, "Contrary to the administration's straw man diversions, Republicans do have our own ideas," reinforcing the defensive nature of their approach.

As far as the larger strategy, this is exactly what Democrats wanted to see. Indeed, there's a reason the White House and Democratic leaders kept pushing to see the GOP's alternative budget, and it's not because the majority party was sincerely looking for good ideas to incorporate into the finished product.

Rather, there's two parts to this. The first is that Republicans defending their agenda have less time to attack the Democratic agenda. The second is that the Republican agenda is a series of old and ineffective cliches -- tax cuts, entitlement cuts, and drilling American coasts for oil. The Democratic plan looks pretty good, but it'll look especially good when compared to the GOP's proposal.

The White House team was likely worried that Republicans would forgo an alternative agenda and force the president and his allies to focus on controversial parts of the Obama budget. If the GOP is now worried about proving that they have their own ideas, and are prepared to debate them, those White House worries are no doubt dissipated.

Note to party activists everywhere: when your top rivals are begging you to do something, it's rarely a good idea to take their advice.

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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No wonder Cantor has time to go to a Britney Spears Concert.

Posted by: Former Dan on March 26, 2009 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

Have the Republicans submitted their plan yet to Rush Limbaugh to get his approval?

Posted by: HaroldinBuffalo on March 26, 2009 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

Just don't throw me in that briar patch, B'rer Bear...

Posted by: Dan on March 26, 2009 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

It's like John Candy in 'Stripes'. Go ahead! Bluff me!

Posted by: joejoejoe on March 26, 2009 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Time for another "rope-a-dope" moment. Obama is so good at this.

These GOP lemmings just don't get it. I guess Cantor had an epiphany while staring at Spears's boobs. He immediately thought about hills, then dales, then global warming. Brilliant and he'snot even Irish! Maybe that warm feeling he experienced was something else...

Posted by: stevio on March 26, 2009 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

On Wednesday, it was a housing plan. Thursday, it will be a big, TV-friendly stack of budget blueprints, "The Republican Road to Recovery."

HaHa! Is that road after the "Republican Road to Ruin"?

Apologies to The Ramones.

Posted by: Breezeblock on March 26, 2009 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

I thought the reason they weren't outlining their own budget was because they recognized what a position of power it was to be able to sit on the sidelines and throw grenades. Apparently that was just luck.

God, they're so stupid. Thanks for giving us something substantive to rip you on, morons!

Posted by: Roq on March 26, 2009 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, isn't there a third part? On any agenda item upon which GOP provides an alternative, the position of doing nothing has implicitly been taken off the table. This counters the "Obama is taking on too many issues". If the Republicans propose doing anything it validates doing something, whether Obama's plan or some compromise.

Posted by: Johnny Canuck on March 26, 2009 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

Look, the GOP doesn't know how to govern - they prove that every time they get in a position of power. Look at the states with Republican governors - they are totally fucked up. California, Texas, Minnesota, etc.

When a political party's main philosophy is "government is the problem", what do you expect?? It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Posted by: Sam Simple on March 26, 2009 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

Please tell me Cantor was taking his kid(s) to the Britney Spears "concert". I don't know too many (straight) middle-age men who would shell out the $ to see that semi-talented, lip-syncing, Madonna-wannabe.

On a different note, I read on one of the local news websites today that we are going to be lucky enough to experience one of those Tea Parties on the steps of our capitol here in Des Moines. It is being organized by a republican college student and the article quoted her saying something about "God given rights" and that "anytime our rights are infringed upon there will be an uprising" (paraphrasing). My sincere question is: what is she talking about? We have the Patriot Act - silence. Ridiculously unconstitutional warrentless wiretap program - silence. American citizens detained and held indefinitely - silence. But when a Democrat wins the White House and has to enact stimulus legislation and a budget to deal with a crap economic situation he inherited, these people start screaming about "rights and freedom being taken away" and organizing protests. I know these people's mental functions are at Palin-levels, but serioulsy, what are they talikng about?

Posted by: GiggsisGod on March 26, 2009 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Let's see Republicans, you want more for the rich and ultra-rich (cut those taxes), and less for the middle-class and poor (reduce help to those who need it). I guess that's not really true because we will all get 'more'; more pollution, risk of oil spills, environmental degradation, loss of species and habitat, disease (asthma/lung cancer/bronchitis), poverty, and sub-standard education. So really the RushPigLickers are all for MORE for working class families. Ah, but let's not forget the $0.1 cent reduction in the price at the pump that folks will have to pay 10 years by increased offshore drilling! Say, tell me again why 50 - 80 million acres of public land available to the gas/oil Corporations is sitting idle? Drill here, drill now? What the hell are they waiting for? C'mon big oil companies, and oil speculators, what's wrong here? Put the pressure on; Explore and 'Drill ba-aby drill' on lands with existing leases. Because surely we don’t need more fuel efficient cars, and we don’t need to conserve, right?. The magic solution, according to RushBallLickers, is to turn federal lands into giant oil drilling operations. Well, since it's part of master plan to save the U.S., drill away on the massive amounts of land you have....We're waiting. What's the matter?... Gas prices not high enough for you? Afraid you'll push down your $45.2 BILLION annual profits? Damn you.

Posted by: In what respect, Charlie? on March 26, 2009 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

It appears our current president actually went to class. No good lawyer asks a question for which he doesn't already know the answer.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on March 26, 2009 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

Between Howard Dean re-organizing and re-strategizing the DNC and President Obama and his administration running a strategically intelligent White House, the Republicans will retreat farther and farther into exile. Rachel will have fodder for her segment for as long as she wants to stay on the air.

Posted by: Michigoose on March 26, 2009 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

Why are we not surprised that it was prereleased to Politico?

Why are we not surprised that the Politico report is nothing but quotes from rethugs?

Why are we not surprised that other headlines on Politico include:
- Democrats vs. Democrats
- W.H. putting best face on budget battle
- What Obama said and what he meant

I especially liked the last article referenced. It must be nice to be a political hack for Politico and know that you can read the president's mind.

Posted by: SadOldVet on March 26, 2009 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK


"I don't know too many (straight) middle-age men who would shell out the $ to see that semi-talented, lip-syncing, Madonna-wannabe."

Cantor: "Hit Me, Baby, One More Time !"

Posted by: Joe Friday on March 26, 2009 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

Let me guess... tax cuts, deregulation, increased military spending, offshore drilling and opening up Alaska...

Didn't we have this debate, say, last year? And didn't the public weigh in in November?

If there are any real ideas, ideas that actually may work to the benefit of our society AS A WHOLE, I'd be very, very surprised.

Posted by: citizen_pain on March 26, 2009 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

"I especially liked the last article referenced. It must be nice to be a political hack for Politico and know that you can read the president's mind." - SadOldVet

I saw that too, and against my better judgment, I read it. They are still cleaning up my cubicle at work from my head exploding. Crap like that would be funny if it weren't so ridiculously pathetic.

Posted by: GiggsisGod on March 26, 2009 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

In an ideal world the loyal opposition is supposed to have counters to those policies of the ruling party that they disagree with or think are not as sufficient or as beneficial as the ones that the rulers propose. They are also supposed to be aware of the problems and willing to solve them in concert with the other legislators if that is what it takes.

Of course, in the real world power and ascendancy is much more important but that does not mean that each party can't contribute to the common good.

In this case the Republicans have not attended to the basic duty of legislative governing until now. At least they have an alternative - it certainly worked for them when Newt Gingrich was running things - and we will have a chance to compare and contrast.

If we learned one thing from the Bush/GOP dominance, it is that absolute power is not beneficial to the country in the long run. Compromise and thoughtful reflection on ideas will be helpful even if it is driven by selfish reasons. The Democrats, when they had the chance to act in a responsible opposition role on the Patriot Act and others, failed to do so and looked what happened. Now is the time for the Republicans to come to the aid of the country. If they are capable of doing so, that is.

So let's see what is being offered. If it is the same old thing, the GOP just blew their chance to make a difference. If it is thoughtful realistic alternatives that reveal the weaknesses of the Democratic offerings then the country is better off. If it is just more "gotcha" and mindless demagoguery, then that will be seen through fairly quickly.

The biggest problem that the GOP has is that they don't have a leader capable of matching the gravitas that President Obama seems to have gained over the past year or so. (And heaven knows that the Democrats, the party of weak willed lightweight ideologues, needs a strong leader.) If they can't find anyone better than Governor Palin or Governor Jindal to get the message across, they won't be very successful.

At this point the answers to our financial and other issues is not really in legislation but in leadership. A lot of things will be tried, some of which will be failures. If a strong party leader can offer an alternative that seems to have a chance to work once the first attempt fails, then that party might gain some political value from it too. If the alternative is a proven failure - like tax cuts for the rich in hard times - then the message will not be received by the voters.

Posted by: mikeyes on March 26, 2009 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

As an aside to the comment about the two Guvs, Palin and Jindal, above, did St Sarah have the guts to call Bobby and tell him how effective those early warning volcano monitors on Mr ReDoubt had been. Bobby should read about the devastating effects of no warning the last time that mountain became very angry, especially the commercial jet which, without warnings, flew into that spew. Yeah, Bobby, how would you like to be in a jet when it loses all of it's power and free falls?

Posted by: berttheclock on March 26, 2009 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

This will cost Obama, who benefited from not having anything to compare his budget to. He's a very intelligent man, so it's puzzling to see him dare the opposition to present a budget that will highlight the weak spots in his own. Every president's honeymoon period ends, but not usually as early as this. Why are his poll numbers dropping so soon?

Posted by: MatthewRQuarreler on March 26, 2009 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans had no choice. The charges that they are the "party of no" and had no plan of their own are true and they knew it. And worse for them, the majority of the public knows it and aren't falling for the BS anymore. So they had to come up with something.

As we all know, however, they really have nothing useful to say. The big difference is that now they have to acknowledge it publicly without the luxury of just sitting on the sideline throwing spitballs anymore.

Posted by: Curmudgeon on March 26, 2009 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

"Welcome to the next installment of the party of yes."

The "party of yes"?

Yes to what?

Posted by: Jinchi on March 26, 2009 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

"The Republican Road to Recovery."

Damn---I just finished lunch, and now all the laughing is gonna give me the hiccups! But wait; it gets better:

"Welcome to the next installment of the party of yes."

Shouldn't that be more along the lines of "Welcome to the next installment of yes we have no alternative?"

Posted by: Steve W. on March 26, 2009 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

Well, what are their plans?

Posted by: qwerty on March 26, 2009 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Politico did not provide that information. They just provided a string of quotes from rethugs.

I doubt that the rethugs want to publicize their 'alternative'. Probably, they just want to be able to say that they have an alternative.

If anyone believes there will be anything substantive and/or new in their plans, I have a bridge over the Mississippi that I would like to sell you. It would make a fortune as a toll bridge.

Posted by: SadOldVet on March 26, 2009 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

Interestingly enough today while televising Obama's Towne Hall meeting MSNBC switched over to listen to the Republicans budget announcement.

The host got a little perturbed when the usual suspects Boehner, Cantor, et al each took to the microphone to "announce" their plans would be revealed on Wednesday but not before complaining about Obama's budget calling it reckless and irresponsible. After two minutes they were cut off. LOL

Posted by: serena1313 on March 26, 2009 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

The most important thing to keep shooting down is ReRushlickin cuts to capital gains taxes. That move is a total fraud (since most CG is just trading around and not start-up capital) and needs to be quashed. I want to see a "give me back the money I subsidized to stock traders" "TEA party"!

Posted by: Neil B ♪ on March 26, 2009 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

....especially when any hint of a glimmer of a thought about trying to frame a counter-proposal which has some attraction to moderate Democrats and independents will immediately be hit with a flame thrower from Rush Limbaugh and his band of wingnut warriors.

The GOP is trapped with a failed ideology it cannot/will not abandon, no leadership, no candidates, and no clue.

Life is good!

Posted by: dweb on March 26, 2009 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

He actually meant, "Welcome to the next installment of the party of Yes."

While Fragile and Close to the Edge are indisputably classics, I personally think that claiming Ms. Spears as the logical culmination of the progressive rock tradition is something of a stretch.

Posted by: Rich on March 26, 2009 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

That goes double for Republican calls for nationalization.

Posted by: Scott F. on March 26, 2009 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans are letting the White House set the terms of the debate, and they're struggling to keep up.

Well that's a nice change. Maybe the Dems finally got around to reading George Lakoff's books.

Posted by: PattyP on March 26, 2009 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Why are we not surprised that the Republicans lied to us about delivering their own budget proposal today?

Posted by: freelunch on March 26, 2009 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK



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