GOP Stakes Its Claim With Stimulus Vote
Small Government Returns as Maxim
Friday, January 30, 2009; Page A04
The unanimous vote by House Republicans against President Obama's stimulus plan provided an early indication that the GOP hopes to regain power by becoming the champion of small government, a reputation many felt slipped away during the high-spending Bush years.
The bill passed easily despite the opposition of all 177 Republican House members, but party leaders delighted in what they considered a victory after two straight electoral drubbings and much soul-searching about what the party stands for.
"How about those House Republicans?" cheered Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a vocal small-government advocate, at a Heritage Foundation appearance yesterday.
"House Republicans said we would stand up for American taxpayers at this time of economic hardship for our nation. And last night, standing together, that's exactly what we did," House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) wrote yesterday in a memo to his colleagues that was released to reporters. "I am proud of our team."
Republicans credited their leadership team for keeping them united in the demand for more tax cuts and less spending in the bill, providing a boost for Boehner, who three months ago faced questions about whether he could retain his position as House Republicans were headed for another election marked by heavy losses.
As the vote on the bill neared, Republicans expected overwhelming opposition, but party leaders also anticipated at least a handful of defections.
Conservative talk show hosts whipped up opposition to the bill, and Republicans said they received dozens of e-mails and phone calls about it, almost all voicing opposition. In a meeting with congressional leaders, Obama warned against following the lead of conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh. But on the day of the vote, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was on Limbaugh's show, laughing as the host referred to the "porkulus" bill.
Obama also gave Republicans incentive to oppose his bill, according to GOP aides who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly about internal party deliberations. In his private appearance with House Republicans on Tuesday, the new president acknowledged that the House version of the bill contained too much spending and indicated he was open to more tax breaks for small businesses. Obama suggested that fixes would be made in the Senate and during a House-Senate conference to work out differences between versions of the bill.
Aides said Obama's signal that the final version would be more to their liking provided an incentive for wavering Republicans to vote against the bill, thereby winning kudos from conservatives while leaving them the option of voting for the final product.
Republican aides also said Boehner implored wavering members to vote against the bill, arguing that a unified opposition would force Democrats to make more concessions.
The night before the vote, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel lobbied a dozen of his former House colleagues, almost all moderates from liberal-leaning districts, but by then many had already begun looking past the version of the bill they were about to vote on.
"This sets the stage for the future," Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said after the meeting, suggesting he could support the final legislation.