House Republicans have been lining up one after the other this week to attack President Barack Obama and his budget, a clear shift from their previous strategy of directing their fire squarely at Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Congressional Democrats.
At a closed-door meeting of the House Republican Conference on Wednesday, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) — while cautioning against acting disrespectful — urged his colleagues to freely criticize the president on his budget proposal, according to sources in the room.
“There’s no point in ‘triangulation’ when it comes to this budget. It’s the president’s budget. His name is on it,” Boehner told Republicans. “It’s a bad budget, and we have a responsibility to tell the country that. We can do it respectfully — but we can do it, and we must.”
Likewise, at a press conference after the meeting, Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) seized on a comment made by Obama on Tuesday in which he compared the stock market’s fluctuation to that of a political tracking poll.
“The fact of the matter is, it is not about political polls. The stock market is not a tracking poll; it’s about real money,” Cantor argued, repeating the phrase again later.
While focused on the budget, Boehner’s instructions to Members to take the gloves off on Obama is a clear strategic shift. In the six weeks since Obama took office, the GOP Conference has shied away from criticizing the popular president and and instead attacked Pelosi and Congressional Democrats.
Obama’s approval levels are hovering around 60 percent, according to Wednesday’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Some 29 percent of those surveyed said they thought the partisanship in Washington, D.C., was because of the unwillingness of Republicans to cooperate with Democrats. Fifty-six percent said Congressional Republicans are opposing Obama’s policies simply to try to gain political advantage.
Still, Republicans say they are convinced that voters will ultimately side with them when they realize how much the government is spending and see how that spending affects their daily lives.
“My view always has been do the right thing for the American people and the polls will take care of themselves. We are going to hold this president responsible regardless of the polls,” GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) said.
But the comments made Wednesday by Boehner, Pence, and Cantor were not the first indicator that Republicans are pursuing a more adversarial relationship with Obama. The Republican Study Committee started attacking Obama for “wrong-headed” budgetary policies several weeks ago, according to Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.).
And on Tuesday, the House Republican Conference began what will be a series of releases tilted “Obama vs. Obama: A Tale of Two Presidents,” aimed at contrasting the president’s promises with what his policies will do.
“President Obama promises not a dime’s worth of new taxes yet proposes a massive tax increase on all energy consumers,” the bold sub-headline on one release said.
Pence contended that the GOP strategy hasn’t been altered, but rather, is developing.
“I think it’s an evolving strategy … we understand that Democrats on Capitol Hill were the driving force behind the so-called stimulus bill and the omnibus bill. It was clear that House Democrats completely ignored the president’s call for bipartisan input on that legislation,” Pence said in an interview. “But now we have the president’s budget, an Obama administration budget, and so there’s an opportunity to debate that in a way that’s vigorous but respectful before us now.”