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GOP Stakes Its Claim With Stimulus Vote
Still, Republicans sought to avoid a confrontation with Obama, praising the new president as "gracious" and "sincere" for his outreach efforts and instead blaming congressional Democrats for mucking up the bill with favored projects that would not stimulate the economy.
"The president's call for bipartisanship has been completely ignored by the House Democrats," Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the No. 3 man in the GOP House leadership, said on the eve of Wednesday night's stimulus vote.
Republicans highlighted questionable provisions, such as extra funding for pregnancy prevention that was later taken out at Obama's urging.
"People got the impression it was a lot of spending," said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) "The $200 million for the National Mall, even though it got taken out, once people realize that it's in there, they can sink their teeth into it."
He added: "There is a bailout fatigue, a spending fatigue that set in."
That fatigue is threatening to cross the aisle, as some Senate Democrats from conservative-leaning states have begun to echo Republican questions about spending in the legislation.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who remains undecided about the bill, said he opposes money going to research projects at the National Institutes of Health and about $13 billion for Pell grants that help students pay for college. Nelson says the measures are worthy but do not belong in legislation designed to stimulate the economy.
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Budget Committee, said he agreed with Republican critiques that the bill does not do anything to alleviate the collapsed housing market, the underlying cause of the economic crisis. Conrad said he supports cutting funding for programs that won't help the economy in favor of diverting that money to help mitigate home foreclosures.
"I've had conversations with a growing number of colleagues who are concerned," Conrad added.
At the same time, several GOP senators, including Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), have signaled they will back the stimulus bill. And Republicans acknowledge they remain a party in trouble. In a speech to Republican National Committee members yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned that "the Republican Party seems to be slipping into a position of being more of a regional party than a national one."
"We need to recognize where we are," McConnell said. "Over the past two elections, we've lost 13 Senate seats and 51 House seats."
Some Democrats attacked the GOP yesterday for being too partisan and warned that voters would punish them for opposing Obama's economic vision. MoveOn.org and other liberal groups started running ads advocating the stimulus package in states such as New Hampshire and Maine that have GOP senators but voted heavily for Obama.
"We have reached out to the Republicans all along the way. And they know it," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) "They just didn't have the ideas that had the support of the majority of the people in the Congress."