GOP Looks to Escalate Attacks on Obama

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, center, says the GOP will go more directly after President Obama, shown speaking with Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer.
House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, center, says the GOP will go more directly after President Obama, shown speaking with Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer. (Charles Dharapak -- Associated Press)
By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 8, 2009

Last month, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) repeatedly excoriated House Democrats for what he considered flaws in the economic stimulus plan, rarely mentioning President Obama, one of the chief architects of the bill.

But as Congress considers a bill to fund federal agencies, legislation largely hashed out last year before Obama was elected, Boehner has shifted his aim from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other.

"He is the president of United States; it takes the signature of the president for this to become law," Boehner said, referring to a provision that includes thousands of congressionally mandated projects, or earmarks, that Obama criticized during his campaign. "So the president ought to keep his campaign promise."

During the president's first few weeks in office, many congressional Republicans avoided sharp criticism of him, instead condemning Democratic congressional leaders, particularly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), while praising Obama for reaching out to the GOP. But in the past week, Republicans have increasingly taken on Obama: criticizing a letter he wrote to Russian leaders asking for their help in stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons, a move the GOP characterized as unwise; knocking his remark comparing the stock market's fluctuations to political polls; and denouncing his proposals to fix the economy that Republicans say amount to a federal "spending spree."

And with Obama looking to push his budget proposal through Congress over the next few weeks, the Republicans are promising to directly confront the new president on his proposals, even as party members acknowledge the risk of taking on a man whose favorability rating in a recent poll was 42 points higher than that of the Republican Party.

"There is no point in triangulation when it comes to his budget," Boehner told a group of his House members last week in a closed-door meeting, referring to the previous strategy of trying to isolate congressional Democrats from Obama. "It's the president's budget. His name is on it."

Republicans are on the offensive against the popular chief executive at a point when they lack a chief spokesman and remain divided among figures offering competing visions for the party's future, including radio personality Rush Limbaugh and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele. But the party has unified around the theme of limiting increases in government spending.

"It's risky because the president is popular and because of his charisma," said Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.). "And when you don't have a single spokesman, it's hard to communicate. But there is a sharp philosophical divide."

GOP officials said they would avoid personal attacks against Obama. "It has to be about the policies," said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.).

Obama spokesman Bill Burton said the White House is eager to work with Republicans and that bitter partisan politics have been rejected by the American people.

"We're looking to work with folks on both sides of the aisle," he said. "If someone wants to be constructive or has a good idea to share, we want to talk."

Some Republicans said they will look to work with Obama on issues on which they can reach agreement with him.

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