Even before Barack Obama double-dared them to cough up their own budget, House Republican leaders were quietly drafting a set of conservative budget principles to convince voters – and their own rank-and-file – that they aren’t just The Party of No.
Minority Leader John Boehner, Minority Whip Eric Cantor, GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence and Rep. Paul Ryan worked for weeks on a plan, staffers say, without any serious philosophical disagreements.
But over time, Cantor-Ryan and Boehner-Pence camps split over questions of tactics and timing.
Pence, with Boehner’s blessing, wanted to unveil an abbreviated “blueprint” Thursday to counter Obama’s criticism and arm members with new talking points heading into this weekend – even if it meant that their plan wouldn’t have much in the way of details.
Cantor and Ryan wanted to wait until Ryan’s staff produced a fully-fleshed-out alternative to Obama’s $3.6 trillion spending plan, with specific numbers on spending and tax cuts – even if it meant waiting a few more days to get it out.
Cantor and Ryan ultimately caved in, and what they got was the worst of both worlds: a thin, glossy “blueprint” that was ridiculed by Democrats and cable news anchors, and a nasty internecine scrap that culminated with one GOP aide telling POLITICO that Pence had thrown Ryan “under the bus” in an “egocentric rush” to grab the spotlight.
Privately, some Republicans are worried that the split over the budget blueprint portends the kind of internal squabbling that afflicted the party during the height of its power at the beginning of the Bush administration.
“It was an unmitigated disaster,” said one House GOP aide of the Thursday roll-out. “We’ve got to figure out why this happened — and fix things fast.”
Thursday’s four-car pile-up wasn’t the first for the four GOP leaders. Six weeks ago, they were able to hold their conference together in two unanimous votes against the Democrats’ $787 billion stimulus package six weeks ago. But last week, the Boehner-Pence and Cantor-Ryan camps split publicly over publicly over the Democratic bill imposing a 90 percent tax on bonuses paid to executives at AIG and other bailed-out firms.
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Despite crushing defeats in the last two elections, Senate Republicans have new “energy and enthusiasm” for winning back the majority, according to their leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
“President Bush had become extremely unpopular, and politically he was sort of a millstone around our necks in both ’06 and ’08,” McConnell told reporters Friday. “We now have the opportunity to be on offense, offer our own ideas and we will win some.”
Many of those ideas get presented as amendments to Democratic bills, and even though they’re usually defeated, they can draw attention to GOP policy alternatives and force Democrats to take difficult votes.
“They become the way you chart the course for a comeback, which, in this country, always happens at some point,” McConnell said. “The pendulum swings.”
McConnell said many of the ideas for amendments come from conservative think tanks and other Republican thinkers off Capitol Hill.
“Newt Gingrich, for example, has an idea a minute. Many of those are quite good. Many of those become amendments,” he said.
McConnell also said he doesn’t mind the “party of no” label Congressional Democrats and the White House give Republicans.