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In Obama's First 100 Days, GOP Transitions to Super-Minority

In Obama's First 100 Days, GOP Transitions to Super-Minority

By Kyle Trygstad - April 29, 2009

On January 27, the day before House Republicans unanimously opposed the House version of the economic stimulus package, President Barack Obama visited the Capitol to discuss the bill with Republicans in both chambers. It was an attempt by the president to build both bipartisan support for the current bill, as well as goodwill with the opposing party for future legislation.

 As House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence recalled on Monday, Obama continued to imply during the hour-long meeting with GOP House members that negotiations on the bill had taken place between the two parties.

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"Toward the end of the meeting, I said: Mr. President, you’ve used the phrase 'the bill negotiated in the House,' but I hate to say to you, with the greatest respect, there was no bill negotiated in the House."

 Such has been the ongoing argument of congressional Republicans during Obama’s first 100 days in office. After two dreadful election cycles in the House and Senate, and a loss of the White House by 7 points in the popular vote and 192 electoral votes, Republicans have aggressively -- if not successfully -- sought legislative influence their party no longer has.

 For the first time since 1994, Republicans are the minority party in Congress while a Democrat runs the White House, and the transition has not been easy. Despite a mostly-unified party on both sides of the Capitol, Republicans’ message of fiscal restraint and bipartisanship amidst a flurry of government spending over the last three months has not resonated with the general public.

 Along with Obama’s 62.1 percent RealClearPolitics Job Approval Average, a recent Gallup survey found that 66 percent of Americans think Obama is making a sincere effort to work with members of the opposing party to find bipartisan solutions, while just 38 percent believe Republicans in Congress are doing the same.

Similarly, an Associated Press-GfK survey found that 53 percent believe Obama is doing about the right amount to cooperate with Republicans to solve the country’s economic problems, while 65 percent said Republicans are not doing enough.

 While Pence and other Republicans argue that the reality is actually opposite (Pence said “bi-partisanship means more than stopping by” and that there is a “total lack of bipartisanship by Democrats in the House and Senate”) they would probably agree that Republicans suffer from a message-delivery disadvantage.

"The presidency is a force of nature, and President Obama is a gifted communicator," Pence said. "And so it should come as no surprise that what the president has said about working with Republicans has reached the American people."

 The president’s message is apparently reaching the American people across the political spectrum, while Republicans in Congress are having trouble reaching once-reliable voters in their own party.

 Tellingly, a recent CBS News-New York Times poll found that seven in 10 think Republicans opposed the economic stimulus bill for mostly political reasons. Along with most of the Democrats polled, this total included two-thirds of independents and nearly half of Republicans surveyed.

 With a new administration and facing an economic crisis, Congress was remarkably active over the last three months, despite a lack of bipartisan cooperation. With little Republican support, and little need for it, Democrats passed a $787 billion economic stimulus package, a $410 billion omnibus appropriations bill, and this week will likely give final approval to a $3.5 trillion budget.

 The lack of GOP support on these bills is a sign of the "undeniable" polarization among the parties in Congress, said Thomas Mann, a Brookings Institution congressional scholar, during a speech last week.

 "Obama’s overtures to the opposition party have been unsuccessful to date because Republicans reject the central components of his agenda, including his economic recovery program,” Mann said. “In less polarized times, the seriousness of the crisis and decisive nature of the Democratic electoral victory would have produced a significant number of Republican votes for the fiscal stimulus."

 Other bills moved through Congress that Obama has signed include the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program; the Omnibus Public Lands Act; and the Serve America Act, which expands the size of AmeriCorps and promotes volunteering around the country.

"This is, I think, the most active Congress that I have served in in the first 100 days," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said yesterday. "I don't think any Congress, in my service, has acted so decisively in the first 100 days of an administration."

 For Republicans, the near future appears as dim as the present. In the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans currently trail Democrats by 6 points in polls tracking the generic congressional vote, according to the RealClearPolitics average. In the Senate, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter’s defection yesterday to the Democratic Party adds one more seat to the lot likely to switch next year.

 Republicans in the meantime are hoping to increase their influence on legislation over the next 100 days, and say they remain willing to work with both Obama and congressional Democrats.

 "I hope the president redoubles his efforts to reach out," said Pence. "Because as I said, the door is always open at the House Republican Conference."

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Kyle Trygstad is a Washington correspondent for RealClearPolitics. Email him at: kyle@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @KyleTrygstad.

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