The New York Times
Obama, House Republicans Debate Their Divisions
By PETER BAKER AND CARL HULSE
President Obama addressed a group of Republican lawmakers on Friday in Baltimore as Representative Mike Pence of Indiana looked on.
BALTIMORE – President Obama challenged Republicans in Congress to work together with him on the economy, health care and other issues as he tried to jumpstart a stalled legislative agenda after a year of partisan gridlock.
Trying to break through the logjam that has stymied much of his legislative agenda and reposition himself again as a leader who wants to cross party lines, Mr. Obama visited a gathering of the House Republican conference and promoted his ideas while promising to consider theirs.
“I don’t believe the American people want us to focus on our job security. They want us to focus on their job security,” he said, drawing applause from the Republicans. “I don’t think they want more gridlock. I don’t think they want more partisanship. I don’t think they want more obstruction. They didn’t send us to Washington to fight each other in some sort of steel-cage match to see who comes out alive.”
Mr. Obama complained to the Republicans about their opposition to his economic stimulus plan last year, noting that it included hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks as well as spending for infrastructure and other programs. He chided them in particular for, in some cases, showing up for ribbon-cutting ceremonies for projects funded by the stimulus package that they had voted against. And he complained that a bipartisan budget commission was killed in the Senate.
But he said he has adopted some Republican ideas in the health care legislation and would listen to others. “I want us to have a constructive debate,” Mr. Obama said. “The only thing I don’t want – and here I am listening to the American people and I don’t think they want it either – is for Washington to keep being so Washington-like.”
Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, tried to get the jump on the president before his speech by pointing out that the opposition party has supported Mr. Obama over the last year when it thought he was right, naming Iraq as one example, and produced alternative ideas when it did not. He then handed Mr. Obama a booklet collating a variety of Republican ideas on various issues that he said the president had ignored or resisted over the last year.
“I’m pleased today to present you with a copy of our better solutions,” Mr. Boehner said. “We don’t expect you to agree with us on every one of our solutions but we do hope that you and your administration will consider them.”
The Republicans were itching to quiz the president and present their policy ideas rather than listen to another lofty presidential address. “House Republicans welcome any opportunity to present our better solutions,” said Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, the No. 3 House Republican and the organizer of the House retreat.
Mr. Pence promised the president would get an earful in only his second meeting with House Republicans, whose main goal this year is to take back control of the House in the November elections and force the president to contend with them as a more equal partner next year.
Republicans have not been won over by the administration’s State of the Union overtures as Mr. Pence ripped the Obama administration’s emerging job-creating tax-credit proposal as a reprise of a failed Jimmy Carter approach. “We don’t need to play small ball when it comes to the economy,” he said.
The economy threw a wrinkle in the Republican plans and message, however, as the strong economic growth in the last quarter gave the president some bragging rights when he arrived.
Mr. Pence was of no mind to attribute the gains to anything to do with the White House or its policies, which he implied might even be counterproductive. “I believe the American economy will continue to recover despite the prescriptions of the physician,” Mr. Pence said.
In an illustration of the maneuvering going on between the Republicans and the White House, Republican officials said a question-and-answer session with the president that was originally to be closed would be opened to the press.
Such sessions are typically closed and Republicans said they initially assumed the White House would want to continue that practice. But after an exchange with the White House, Republicans decided to allow press coverage rather than be portrayed as trying to keep the meeting behind closed doors.