Not a single House Republican crossed the aisle to vote for the stimulus package, and just three GOP senators made the leap. Last week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi brushed off calls for a bipartisan consensus as mere “process,” hardly relevant to the passage of the $800 billion-plus plan.
Democrats are carpet-bombing the districts of vulnerable Republicans with negative ads. At noon Wednesday, Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) stood outside the Speaker’s office and filmed a brief video in which he claimed “there are more shady deals going on behind closed doors.”
While no one expected Obama’s pledge to fix our “broken politics” would be met quickly or easily, the first month of the new administration has been marked by extreme polarization, with hints of more to come.
"They're not interested in building anything. Their only goal is seek and destroy. You can't have bipartisanship with only one side," said Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.). "Once we put them back in the minority, they've gone back to the Gingrich model."
“It doesn’t have to be this way, but Pelosi continues to operate in a narrow, partisan way,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.). “In the end, she’s undermining Obama’s pledge of bipartisanship.”
So despite Obama’s campaign call for an end to “the smallness of our politics” and his criticism of the “preference for scoring cheap political points,” that’s exactly what’s happened during the first big legislative test of his administration.
The tooth-and-nail scrapping among legislators makes clear that, Obama era or not, almost everyone in office is still considered fair game.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) charged Tuesday that House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wisc.) failed to divulge that his son Craig was lobbying him on the economic recovery package, while Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) offered a resolution calling on House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) to step down from his post while an ethics probe into his personal finances continues.
A day later, MoveOn.org, a liberal organization founded by two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who “shared deep frustration with the partisan warfare in Washington D.C. and the ridiculous waste of our nation's focus at the time of the impeachment mess,” weighed in with a radio ad nailing Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) for missing Monday’s cloture vote on the stimulus package.
"You’d think Senator John Cornyn would be fightin’ like hell for Texas. But just a month into a new term, Cornyn made it clear who he really works for," says the narrator. "On Monday instead of voting to save tens of thousands of jobs and billions in tax cuts for Texas, Senator Cornyn was in New York City toasting Wall Street donors and political insiders – the same people who got us into this mess. Cornyn said he didn’t show up, ‘cause his vote wouldn’t have made a difference. But when Wall Street needed a bailout, Cornyn was there and he voted to give them seven hundred billion dollars."
If anything, the stimulus debate suggests that the scope of that crisis and the amount of money required to revive the economy, when combined with the toxic environment on Capitol Hill, may make Obama’s bi-partisan—or post-partisan—goals unattainable.
"Their strategy,” concludes Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), “is to be obstructionist no matter how inclusive the process is."
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) put the shoe on the other foot, of course.
"Despite our repeated attempts to work with President Obama and the Democrat Majority, Speaker Pelosi has refused to meet with us, or even include us in key negotiations, choosing instead to stick with a pork-filled bil that even members of her own party do not support," he said in a statement.
While Obama himself has made highly-publicized overtures aimed at building broader support for the stimulus plan, when those failed to build Republican support he too has played the old politics, even while preaching a new brand.
In his first White House press conference Monday, Obama didn't hesitate to go on the offensive when discussing Republican objections to his spending plan.
“First of all, when I hear that from folks who presided over a doubling of the national debt, then I just want them to not engage in some revisionist history,” he said. “I inherited the deficit that we have right now, and the economic crisis that we have right now.”
But at the same news conference, Obama again sounded a post-partisan note, suggesting that even as the players around him had all but given up on a new approach, he still hadn't.
“[H]opefully the tone that I've taken, which has been consistently civil and respectful, will pay some dividends over the long term,” he said. “There are going to be areas where we disagree, and there are going to be areas where we agree.”