Political infighting between Republicans and Democrats shifted into high gear on Tuesday as both sides sharpened their talking points in preparation for the swearing-in of the 112th Congress, which will return Republicans to power in the House of Representatives.
The opening salvo in the message war Tuesday came from President Barack Obama. During a surprise visit with the press pool traveling with him aboard Air Force One as he returned from Hawaii, Obama said: “My hope is that [new House Speaker] John Boehner and [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell will realize that there will be plenty of time to campaign for 2012 in 2012.”
Democratic pollster and Fox News commentator Douglas Schoen tells Newsmax the debate over which party is more partisan actually signals that the run-up to the 2012 campaign already has begun.
“Last year's election has apparently not resolved anything,” Schoen tells Newsmax, “and the battle for swing voters and independents has started anew.”
The president’s suggestion that those opposing his agenda would simply be playing partisan politics came even as the administration studies what to do about a Congress that won’t be nearly as malleable in 2011. Republicans will have a 241 to 194 advantage in the new House.
The administration has already employed executive orders, agency rule-making, and other maneuvers to advance the president’s agenda as if the historic landslide that handed Republicans control of the lower chamber had never happened.
Nor was Obama the only Democrat to advise Republican leaders how to conduct business in the new Congress. Earlier this week, Democratic senators sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, warning him not to try to repeal Obamacare.
“We urge you to consider the unintended consequences that the law’s repeal would have on a number of popular consumer protections that help middle-class Americans,” Democrats wrote.
That letter didn’t dissuade House Republicans, however, from setting Jan. 12 as the date when they plan to vote to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Although the repeal has virtually no chance of getting through the Democratic-controlled Senate, observers will watch closely to see how many Democrats cross over to the Republican side of the aisle to support repeal of the politically unpopular bill.
Rep. Dan Boren, D-Oklahoma, told Fox News he is “inclined to support the repeal.”
Two other Democrats, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois told The Hill they would repeal some aspects of the law, but not the entire legislation.
About a dozen Democrats in the new House voted against Obamacare last year.
House Republicans countered Tuesday afternoon with a Capitol Hill news conference featuring incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
Cantor announced the Pentagon budget will not be exempt from cuts as Republicans look for ways to fulfill their midterm pledge to rein in federal spending.
“Everybody is going to have to do more with less,” Cantor said. “That’s where the private sector is, that’s where families are and that’s where government is going to have to be.”
Cantor’s remarks indicate Republicans want budget cuts far beyond the president’s directive freezing some federal workers’ salaries. Look for Democrats and Republicans to argue in the weeks ahead over whether voters are really ready for austerity measures that have proved politically difficult in the past.
“The 2012 campaign has clearly already begun,” says Schoen. “Both sides have concluded that the midterm election was nothing more than a preliminary bout before the main event.”
Other signs the partisan wars in Washington are heating up:
- Tea Party Patriots national coordinator Mark Meckler told the DC Examiner he wants the new Congress to accomplish “nothing short of a nonviolent revolution” in the how Washington works. As that remark suggests, grass-roots conservatives plan to hold the GOP leadership’s collective feet to the fire on cutting the size of government.
- Incoming GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said the recent GOP ban on earmark requests is “only the beginning,” and many more changes should be expected. Outnumbered Republicans still face an uphill battle in the Senate, however.
- Republicans plan to cut their operating budgets by 5 percent in the 112th Congress, which will save an estimated $35 million. “To reverse Washington’s job-killing spending binge, sacrifices will be required throughout the federal government, and we are starting with ourselves,” Boehner said in a statement.
- Rep. Darrell Issa of California unveiled a list of probes that he is planning as chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Issa will have the power to subpoena members of the Obama administration, requiring them to answer questions about the president’s policies. The White House has been beefing up its legal staff to respond to the legal inquiries it expects to face.
This much is sure: The 112th Congress will have a make-up very different from the previous one. Ninety-six of the 435 members of the House were elected on Nov. 2.
One measure of the size of the GOP wave: 87 of those 96 incoming freshmen members are Republicans.
House Republicans will kick off the new legislative session Thursday with a complete reading of the U.S. Constitution. Republicans are expected to rail against the recent EPA announcement that it will establish carbon emissions from larger refineries and power plants -- measures the administration couldn’t squeeze through the U.S. Senate in the last Congress.
In the Senate, a major fight is brewing over Democratic efforts to change the filibuster rules so that a mere majority -- rather than the current 60 votes -- could bring a bill to the floor for a vote. A statement from the Senate Republican Policy Committee blasted the proposal as a “naked partisan power grab.”
Some Democratic senators are predicting fireworks on Wednesday over the filibuster rule. But Majority Leader Reid is expected to stall any vote on the issue for a few weeks, to give senators time to negotiate a compromise. One option would be the elimination of secret holds by senators, a move that would largely keep the current filibuster rules intact.
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