Democrats to GOP: Time to Put up or Shut Up

Mike Kelly and Anthony Weiner square off on Face The Nation.
CBS

Welcome to 2011. Let the partisan bickering begin.

Anyone wanting to know how newly empowered Republicans and newly minority-status House Democrats will behave should look no further than Sunday's "Face the Nation" here on CBS.

It was a rousing debate between conservative stalwart Michele Bachmann (R-MN), freshman Republican Mike Kelly (R-PA), and Democrats Anthony Weiner (D-NY) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). Democrats defended what they've done over the past few years and told Republicans that their days of sitting on the sidelines and finger-pointing are over now that the GOP has control of the House.

"I want to see what it is they're in favor of," said Weiner. "I mean, we've heard a lot about what they're against in this campaign. I don't know what they're in favor of. "

The soon-to-be-sworn-in Kelly, a car-dealer from Pennsylvania, said he was not impressed with Washington.

"I don't think -- for an average guy, the common guy who comes from the private sector, running something $14 trillion in the red is not impressive," he said. "If you run $14 trillion in the black, then I'm impressed."

Democrat Wasserman Schultz was quick to jump on this remark.

"What remains to be seen is whether members like Mike Kelly are going to be able to turn their essentially campaign rhetoric into some kind of reality," she said. "Because with all due respect to his response, there isn't any 'there' there. I mean, we haven't heard any concrete proposals. Anthony is absolutely right. We've only heard attacks on what they don't like."

Weiner added to that sentiment.

"It's their ship to run now," he said. "That's the responsibility."

For her part, Bachmann said that Republicans would bring back fiscal responsibility - despite the party's participation in a tax deal at the end of 2010 projected to add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit. "Well, it was fun when they had the credit card," she quipped about the Democrats.

Many Democrats have been quite bristled by this implicit suggestion that somehow all of the government's debt was accrued in the last two years. They were quick to point out that the Bush administration inherited a surplus and left with a record deficit, and that the last time the GOP took over the House, they shut the government down.

Bachmann responded: "Well, it's not good for anyone to shut the government down. It's not good for anyone. That's why I think it's important for the Democrats who are so willing to spend money to now be a part of trying to figure out how we can be responsible. "

Weiner took issue with this comment too, arguing Republicans "want to be in charge until you're actually in charge."

Kelly suggested the argument was a symptom of the problems of Washington.

"You know, this is what America loves," he said. "This is what America loves, both sides pointing the finger at the other saying, 'No, it's your fault.' 'No, it's your fault.'"

Wasserman Schultz shot back: "It's not about fault. What are you going to do?"

Kelly responded: "When we talk about having adult conversations, then we really have to start acting like adults. We've got a huge problem sitting in front of us right now. And it's very amusing to walk through this. And I've got to tell you, from being on the outside all my life, I don't know how in the world you folks go home and look these people in the eye and say, 'We've done a great job. We've done a great job. Your country's $14 trillion in debt.'"

"Well, you've got the opportunity. You've got the opportunity," said Wasserman Shultz.

Weiner was more blunt: "Let me saying something to Congressman Kelly here. First of all, the 'you folks' stuff -- now you are one of those folks. And it is your job in the majority party to govern."

This "average person"-versus-Washington didn't stop, of course - it's a significant theme for the Republicans, who have pledged to honor the wishes of the American people in how they govern. It also speaks to the fact that many career politicians were targeted in this election for being just that, long-term public servants. Many were beat by political newcomers like Kelly.

"I live in a real world where people actually have to use their own money to pay for things," Kelly said. "So this idea that you can keep doing this or doing that and I love this fact that we are going to pay for it. We are not paying for anything. Not we in Washington. The people, the American people payer pays for everything. And that's what bothers me. There's such a disconnect between this town and the rest of the world."

Weiner took umbrage at Kelly's comments. "This real world stuff is going to get old really fast. This is now your job. This is a serious business here," the New York Democrat said.

"I understand that," responded Kelly.

Weiner continued a welcome to Washington message for the newcomer. "This is a serious business here trying to figure out how to solve big problems. Social Security does have to be paid for. Medicare does have to be paid for. But this idea like the real world. I don't..."

Kelly jumped in: "You're very amusing. You're very amusing. You have never - in your life you have never done anything on your own with your own skin in the game. And I've got tell you something, while I respect the fact that you're an elected congressman I do not respect the fact."

Weiner's retort: "What do you mean 'I am.' 'We are.' You're part of this now."

"I'll become part of it on the 5th," said Kelly. "But I want to tell you something, this has got to stop being about who can blame who for what."

Weiner replied: "You're sounding us versus them."

For all the talk of bipartisanship, what was achieved in the post-election session of Congress, and what is hoped for, 2011 will be about those three words: "Us versus them." As the Republicans take power in the House this week and begin to try to repeal President Obama's health care reform and cut Washington spending, much of the talk will be about Republicans versus Democrats and Democrats versus Republicans.

Republicans will have the chance to govern and to show the American people (or at least those who voted for the GOP) that they will trim government, cut taxes, rebuild the economy, and get Washington out of their lives. For the Democrats, they are hoping to show the GOP's folly and prove to the American people that Republicans do a better job running campaigns than running the government.

Oh, and if you think 2011 is going to be a bad year for "us versus them" rhetoric - remember that the year is all lead up to the presidential election year of 2012.

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    Robert Hendin is senior producer for "Face the Nation" and a CBS News senior political producer.