Today, Rep. Mike Pence and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the Chair and Vice Chair of the House Republican Conference, led a blogger conference call. The representatives stayed on point throughout the call:
- On the economy generally and on the Democrats’ budget proposal specifically, they repeatedly said the Democrats are spending, borrowing and taxing too much.
- They hammered on the Democrats’ proposal as bad for families and small businesses, including family farms. They emphasized the role of small businesses in job creation.
- They said they believed in free markets, fiscal restraint and tax relief as the keys to growth.
- To that effect, they said Senate and House Republicans would be cooperating closely to promote those messages over the next several weeks and then unveil an alternative budget proposal of their own, which they promise will be a bold, clear contrast with that of the Democrats.
I expected something along these lines, and I don’t object to the sentiment or disagree with their diagnosis of the Democrats' budget. They’ve identified what’s wrong with the Democrats’ plan, they’ve developed a strategy for responding with their own alternative, and they want to get everyone on record as either supporting the Democrats’ messy bill or the ideal Republican vision.
The first question went to Quin Hillyer over at AmSpec, who asked how unified we can expect the GOP response to be if a Republican leader like Lamar Alexander broke to vote for the omnibus spending bill. Pence acknowledged that he and Sen. Alexander had a difference of opinion on that one, but hastened to add that Sen. Alexander had voted for all the limiting amendments and had voted against the stimulus, etc.
For my part, I asked the representatives why, in light of Republicans’ so-far unsuccessful attempts to bring “clean” Republican versions of bills to the floor for debate, their alternative budget would be different.
Rep. Pence answered that Republicans would be given the opportunity on this one. The Republican House leadership is working closely with the budget committee, and specifically with Rep. Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican on that committee. There are some limitations on how quickly they can move their alternative and get a CBO estimate done on it, but they’re going to use the interim to expose problems with the Democrats’ budget before unveiling their alternative.
Rep. Morris Rodgers said that it was important that it goes to the House floor for debate, and that they wanted the difference in approach to be clear to the American people, too.
As I said earlier, this is about what I expected – when your party is some 70 seats down in the House and retains only the most meager leverage in the Senate, having lost all credibility, you need to remind people that you at least remember what a conservative is supposed to want.
I just hope that’s not all they have in their playbook. It’s much easier to present a principled image when you’re out of power and have no sway over whether a given bill will pass.
Assurances that the GOP will remain so principled when they regain a measure of power won’t carry a lot of weight without some kind of binding commitments – changing the structure and practices of the party rather than the short-term tactics. After all, misbehavior that receded smoothly when the majority last changed hands can come back just as readily. Easy come, easy go.