If you repeat something often enough, it becomes conventional wisdom. Republicans insist they are not simply the Party of No. They are the Party of Plans, which they press with gusto upon anyone who will pay attention.
Walk slowly through the halls of the Capitol and you’ll have a Republican come up and whisper a bullet point in your ear, a little like the saleswoman who waylays you with a spritz of perfume at Bloomingdale’s. At presidential addresses, Republicans hold up sheets of paper with their plans. At House Republicans’ session with President Barack Obama last week at their retreat in Baltimore, every other question was about their unappreciated plans.
To their surprise, Obama recited some of their so-called plans back to them, such a disturbing turn of events that Fox News cut away to resume its regularly scheduled programming.
Obama observed that the plans fall well short of action items. You can’t just wish something into being, like the heading in their “No-Cost Jobs Plan” that reads, “Tear Down Self-Imposed Obstacles to Economic Growth.” In other words: clear-cut pesky regulations about mine safety and meat packing. We might die, but we’ll be more competitive.
Or let’s look at “The Rapid Economic Recovery Plan” pressed by House Minority Leader John Boehner at the start of Obama’s term. Boehner touted it as cheaper, simpler, and easier than the president’s stimulus plan.
It’s certainly simple, full of bromides that would be at home on a needlepoint pillow. With no specifics or legislative language, it offered points including, “Halt Any Proposed Rule or Regulation Expected to Have an Economic Cost,” “Keep American Jobs at Home,” “Give Working Families Tax Relief,” “Rebuild 401(k)s and Spur Investment Through a Zero Capital Gains Tax.”
My Beach House
This is a plan like my plan to get a house on the beach. Every spring, at the first hint of warm weather to come, I tell my daughter about my plan. “What a great idea,” she says. It’s how we celebrate the arrival of spring.
Like me, the Republicans have ideas with few details, no course of action, no way to pay for what they propose. Lower taxes and fewer regulations were the mantra of the Bush years, which saw economic dips and downturns culminating in the financial meltdown of 2008, plus a $1.3 trillion deficit.
Because their stimulus plan didn’t get the respect it deserved, Republicans voted en masse against the one that was translated into legislation through the sausage grinder of committee hearings and floor debate.
When that $787 billion bill passed a year ago, Republicans trashed it, not just refusing to acknowledge that it averted a depression but claiming it hadn’t saved or created one job. Boehner, in particular, claimed there hadn’t been any projects in his home state of Ohio -- until his hometown newspaper uncovered $52 million.
The Sheriff Speaks
Embarrassingly, a Republican sheriff from Boehner’s own district went on CNN to declare his gratitude: “The stimulus is working for me here in Butler County because I am keeping my deputies and I am not having to lay them off.”
At the Baltimore Q&A, with some dramatic flair, Republicans presented Obama with all their various proposals combined in a booklet designed to show they weren’t the “party of opposition” but the party of “Better Solutions.” Problem is, the Better Solutions aren’t.
Rather, the booklet is a smorgasbord of more broad, diffuse language that can’t be analyzed by experts, work as advertised or translate into legislation. The financial reform plan is one the banks love. It does not reform much of anything.
Five of the 13 items were already in the GOP health-care alternative, previously considered by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The CBO, which Republicans swear by, said this Republican alternative would have helped only 3 million people secure coverage and cut costs by only $68 billion over 10 years.
The Democratic bill, flyspecked by multiple committees and a flock of analysts and experts, covers 36 million more people, trims the uninsured population to 4 percent of Americans and narrows the deficit by $104 billion.
The Republicans proposed a budget, meantime, that relies on yet more tax cuts, including eliminating for good the expired estate tax.
Republicans under Bush reached tax nirvana by gradually phasing out the estate tax to the point where, last month, it reached zero. Without action, it reverts to pre-Bush levels in 2011, though Democrats will likely resurrect it this year. Ferocious tax-cutters though they be, even Republicans are likely to make any reinstatement retroactive, lest government incentivize pulling the plug on people while the tax is off.
A year ago Obama promised to reach out to Republicans. He had a huge majority but wanted to govern across the aisle, as he said in his visit to the lion’s den last week. He had them over to the White House for our secular sacrament of watching the Super Bowl. He followed up with small cocktail parties. One of his rare nights out was to dinner with conservative columnists at George Will’s house.
He appointed Republicans to his cabinet and gave Republican senators a chance to put forward their proposals in the health-care bill by way of the so-called Gang of Six. Many of their concerns were accommodated, resulting in a bill so ugly in places even proponents have to hold their noses. Yet Democrats got not one Republican vote for their trouble.
When Obama was elected, Republicans wondered if it would be the end of them. If anything, they should thank the president for their resuscitation by making them so relevant in his quest for bipartisanship.
We’ll know soon if he’s going to keep trying. The Super Bowl is just three days away.
(Margaret Carlson, author of “Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made It to the White House” and former White House correspondent for Time magazine, is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)
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