Defending himself before House Republicans Friday, a sometimes-angry President Obama said he has already incorporated their ideas into his proposals and made it clear he doesn’t think his administration is to blame for the lack of bipartisanship in Washington.
Mr. Obama, speaking to the House Republican caucus at their annual retreat in Baltimore, said he is not an ideologue and urged Republicans — most of whom have voted against every major piece of his agenda — to set aside politics and help him find common ground.
“I’m not suggesting we’re going to agree on everything,” Mr. Obama said. “But if the way these issues are being presented by Republicans is that this is some wild-eyed plot to impose huge government in every aspect of our lives, what happens is you guys then don’t have a lot of room to negotiate with me.”
At one point, Mr. Obama said congressional Republicans were characterizing even moderate, centrist proposals for health care reform as “some kind of Bolshevik plot.”
But some Republicans in the question-and-answer session after his address said Mr. Obama and his fellow Democrats were to blame for shutting out the minority’s ideas, falsely accusing them of not offering any solutions or alternate proposals on major issues.
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Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, was one of several GOP lawmakers who challenged Mr. Obama directly, chiding Mr. Obama for breaking several campaign promises.
“When you stood up before the American people multiple times and said you would broadcast the health care debates on C-SPAN, you didn’t. I was disappointed, and I think a lot of Americans were disappointed,” he said.
“I can look you in the eye and tell you, we have not been obstructionist,” Mr. Chaffetz added. “The Democrats have the House and Senate and the presidency.”
Having seen his party’s filibuster-proof majority in the Senate slip away earlier this month, Mr. Obama is no longer able to power his plans through Congress solely with Democratic votes. Combined with his State of the Union address on Wednesday, the president seems to be staking out a strategy of calling out minority Republicans in hopes of getting some support for his agenda.
Mr. Obama highlighted a few areas where the GOP has supported him, including the troop surge in Afghanistan, but took on a lecturing tone as he called Republican opposition to his stimulus and health care bills “disappointing.”
On health care, he argued that he has listened to Republican ideas such as allowing children to remain on their parents’ insurance longer and letting people pool together to buy policies across state lines. He also noted that the stimulus included tax cuts.
“From the start, I sought out and supported ideas from the Republicans. I even talked about an issue that has been a holy grail for a lot of you, which was tort reform, and said that I’d be willing to work together as part of a comprehensive package to deal with it. I just didn’t get a lot of nibbles,” he said.
Following his speech, Mr. Obama took several questions from lawmakers, including one from GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana, who asked whether the president would support across-the-board tax cuts. Mr. Obama said he could not back relief for the wealthiest individuals.
Earlier on Friday, Mr. Obama announced a tax credit he says would encourage small businesses to hire more workers. Under the proposal, businesses would be eligible for a $5,000 tax credit for every new hire this year, a plan the White House says would benefit 1 million firms. The total amount of credits would be limited to $500,000 per company.
But the House Republican conference immediately branded the proposal a “return of the Jimmy Carter tax credit” — a reference to a 1977 policy they say failed to reduce unemployment over the long-term. Republicans argue the credit would function as a temporary subsidy and that a permanent cut in tax rates would be more likely to spur economic growth.
During the question-and-answer session with Mr.Obama, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan urged the president to encourage his party to allow a vote on a bipartisan proposal to bring back a constitutional version of the line-item veto.
“You’ve also said that you want to take a scalpel to the budget and go through it line by line. We want to give you that scalpel,” Mr. Ryan said of his plan, co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.
Decrying the problem of congressional earmarks, Mr. Obama said he is “willing to have a serious discussion on the line-item veto issue.”
Mr. Obama shot back that most of the debate was in fact on television because it took place during committee hearings. But he took responsibility for what happened after the bill was sent to the floors of the House and Senate.
“What is true, there’s no doubt about it, is that once it got through the committee process and there were now a series of meetings taking place all over the Capitol trying to figure out how to get the thing together, that was a messy process. And I
take responsibility for not having structured it in a way where it was all taking place in one place that could be filmed,” he said.
House Republicans presented Mr. Obama with a binder of proposals, which he promised to examine.
“When Democrats took control of Washington, House Republicans pledged to the American people that we would be the party of better solutions. House Republicans have kept our word,” said Mr. Pence. “I urge the president to give our proposals the consideration they deserve, so we can begin the work that is necessary to fix our economy and get our fiscal house in order.”