President Obama, in the afterglow of his Osama bin Laden triumph, pleaded with congressional leaders at a dinner Monday night to preserve the warm courage of national unity.
“It is my fervent hope that we can harness some of that unity and some of that pride to confront the many challenges that we still face,” he said.
Right. Good luck with that, sir.
Thirteen hours later, Republicans answered Obama’s plea for bonhomie — with broadsides. “The command-and-control paranoia that we see in this administration is antithetical to everything that we understand about freedom in our country,” Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) declared on the Senate floor as the chamber began its first legislative day after a two-week vacation. “Individual responsibility and individual freedom and free markets and free enterprise: They’re attacking it on every front.”
House leaders emerged from their caucus meeting Tuesday morning with a similar response to the whole unity thing. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Tex.), chairman of the Republican caucus, reported his finding that the recession and slow recovery are “attributable to the president and the previous Congress.”
The Pax bin Ladenis is over before it really began. The first hours after the killing of al-Qaeda’s leader brought speculation about a new era of national purpose, like the one following the Sept. 11 attacks. It is a sign of how dysfunctional our politics have become that lawmakers are too preoccupied with their opponents to celebrate the demise of their common enemy.
Senate Democrats made clear that, after passing a ceremonial resolution about bin Laden’s end, they would return to skirmishing over oil company subsidies and judicial nominees. House Republicans signaled that they would proceed with divisive legislation on oil drilling, abortion and undoing health-care reform.
House GOP leaders decided against a resolution congratulating the U.S. military, citing a party rule against such resolutions. (Never mind that they have broken the rule before.) Republican presidential contenders, meanwhile, are proceeding with Thursday’s debate, which a spokesman for candidate Tim Pawlenty told The Post’s Chris Cillizza is an “opportunity to make the case against President Obama.”
What lull there was in partisan sniping lasted about half a day. At 12:44 Monday afternoon, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi’s office issued a news release titled “Head in the Sand: GOP Continue to Defend Budget to End Medicare As We Know It.” But that was just testing the water before Tuesday’s return to full-on partisanship. House Democrats were up first with a news conference accusing Republicans of a desire to throw old people into the streets.
“The GOP is proposing an end to Medicare as we know it!” warned Rep. Kathy Castor (Fla.). She piled adverbs atop adjectives — “very radical path . . . very cynical . . . draconian, drastic cuts” — before vowing: “They have a fight on their hands.”
An hour later, Republican leaders answered with a rival news conference, blaming Democrats for everything from the debt to gasoline prices. “The president,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said, “would like us to just go ahead and increase the nation’s credit limit without making any changes. . . . And if it’s necessary for us to tell the president that is dead on arrival in the House, I believe that we can do that.”
Standing with Cantor, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) even allowed herself to get worked up over luminescence. “Democrat energy solutions have basically been a lot like those newfangled curlicue light bulbs,” she complained, calling the doggone things “too expensive.”
With that promising prelude, it was time for the two chambers to be called to order, or, in this case, disorder. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, began with a complaint that every time he tries to move small-business legislation, “another Republican raises their head.”
DeMint followed a few minutes later by stating his heartfelt belief that “the administration, I believe, is acting like thugs that you might see in a Third World country trying to bully and intimidate.”
Before long, bicameral barbs were flying. “The Tea Party Republican Majority has voted to end Medicare and to cut taxes for the richest Americans,” Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) said on the House floor.
On the Senate floor, John Cornyn (R-Tex.) vowed to fight one of Obama’s judicial nominees “with every tool at our disposal.”
“Slush fund!” “Abomination!” “Demagoguery!” Insults and accusations ricocheted. When Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) came to the press gallery late in the day to complain about the Democrats’ yet-to-be-
released budget, he was asked what had become of the “spirit of unity.”
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having it out,” Sessions replied: “I say, let’s have it out!”