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January 3, 2007

Republicans say Democrats ignore voter message

Posted by David Postman at 11:29 AM

House Republican leaders met the press this morning in a basement hallway of the Capitol to complain about Democratic plans to push through legislation this week without a chance for meaningful Republican dissent.

As soon as it was over, there was another press conference, with mostly a different slate of Republicans, offering similar criticism. This is the Republican theme for the week, as expressd by Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Florida, chairman of the Republican Conference.

"We are disappointed at this point in the game that half of the Congress has been cut out of the process."

As I noted yesterday, Democrats have said they will push their first 100-hour agenda by shutting out most debate or opportunity for Republicans to offer alternatives. And that gave Republicans fuel for their fight today.

But there was something odd about their message. Republicans talked passionately about the meaning of the 2006 Congressional elections. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Viriginia, the chief deputy Republican whip, said:

"The message from the election was very, very clear: The American people spoke out and said they wanted Washington to change the way it does business."

Outgoing House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the election was a chance to "restart how we do business." He said this was a time for "real fiscal responsibility here."

But if there was a message of change, and there's little argument about that, it was a change from the way Republicans have done business for 12 years. It struck me that they might have a credibility problem with those voters who see how defeat gave Republicans a new-found appreciation for openness and inclusion.

I asked Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, about the credibility gap.

"There is a challenge with that, without a doubt."

Price appeared at the second GOP press conference of the day where members used a "minority bill of rights" proposed by Rep. Nancy Pelosi when she was minority leader, to craft legislation they say would now give them a meaningful role. None of the more than half dozen Republicans at the event said they had done anything to promote the plan when they were in the majority.

He said, though, that most of the members at Press Conference No. 2 today were newer members, not part of the old guard or leadership, and had always wanted more openness.

"The frustration the American people had, we had too," he said.

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-North Carolina, a sponsor of the new minority rights bill, took a similar approach in distancing himself from Republican leadership. And when asked why elected Republican leaders, like Boehner and others who had just finished their own press conference, did not join him, he said pointedly, "You'll have to ask them that."

Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, chuckled at what he called the Republicans "surprising, but welcome epiphany." He said he supports Pelosi's decision to limit debate during the early days of the Congress to put through a raise in the minimum wage and bills that he said Republicans have blocked for 12 years.

But Inslee said that won't work with more complicated issues, like energy policy or health-care reform:

"I do hope we have more open rules then."

And Inslee said he is confident they will.

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