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GOP lawmakers optimistic about 'no' votes
Congressional Democrats and the White House "are trying to deal with these other issues when there is only one issue in the room: jobs and the economy," said David Winston, a Republican pollster.
The opposition has left Democrats fuming. They say Republicans complain that Congress should focus more on the economy but oppose every measure Democrats take up to create jobs. In the Democratic view, the GOP is cynically blocking measures to reduce unemployment so they ensure an angry electorate this fall who will want to vote out incumbents, most of whom are Democrats.
"They want to blame us for failing to get things done that they themselves have blocked us from getting done," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The Republican opposition itself is not new. Urged by party leaders, every Republican House member opposed last year's stimulus, and every GOP member of Congress voted against the health-care legislation.
But after the health-care debate, Democrats intentionally played down major pushes on more polarizing issues, such as climate change, and looked for bills that would be easier to get through Congress.
Some of that has been successful. Senate Republicans backed down from a full-scale blockage of the financial overhaul and have backed some of the smaller job-creation measures. But even on the financial regulation bill, Republicans repeatedly delayed its passage and forced changes that some Democrats felt weakened the legislation. In the end, only six Republicans in Congress backed it.
In the Senate, the Republicans, joining with a few conservative Democrats, have blocked measures that would offer summer jobs to teenagers, give aid to states to prevent layoffs of teachers and other state employees, and expand funding of Pell grants -- arguing that all would raise the budget deficit.
The opposition to the unemployment benefits was the most striking; polls show widespread support for the extension. In a recent Gallup survey, 22 percent of people suggested "jobs/unemployment" was the most important issue facing the country, while 6 percent said the national debt and deficit.
But GOP leaders, who had been blindsided by Bunning's move in February, said they were prepared for the issue and believe the public mood has shifted in their direction.
"We think the American people agree with our argument," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the architect of the GOP's opposition in Congress. "The spending issue is resonating."
There has been little public criticism within GOP ranks of the continued opposition. At the same time, some Republicans would like the "no" votes combined with more discussion of the party's positive vision. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said last week that Republicans were reluctant to adopt his comprehensive plan to bring down the federal deficit and reform Social Security and Medicare because "they are talking to their pollsters."
The GOP leaders emphasize that the party will put out its own governing agenda well before the election.
Democrats think that the GOP's governing plan and its ardent opposition will help turn the election into a choice between the two parties' visions, and that voters will favor Democrats. Republicans say they see little evidence that will happen.
"Legislative accomplishments and political popularity are very different things," said Cole. "They are racking up victories, but they're not building up political capital. We know we are going to win seats, they know they are going to lose seats."