President Obama clashed with House Republicans Friday in a face-to-face meeting that was designed to improve bipartisan cooperation but quickly devolved into a series of accusations from both sides.
Obama criticized Republicans for portraying his health-care plan as “some Bolshevik plot” and telling the public that he is “doing all sorts of crazy stuff that is going to destroy America.”
“I am not an idealogue. I’m not,” Obama said.
“There were chuckles in the room when he said that,” Rep. Tom Price said afterward, “because I don’t think the American people believe that.”
Despite the contentious tone of the more than hour-long forum (transcript here), Republican leaders were positive afterward.
“It was the kind of discussion, frankly, that we need to have more of,” said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.
“I give the president an enormous amount of credit, because I’m sure that there wasn’t a person in the room that’s been elected that hasn’t had to go in to an adversarial setting, and be heavily outnumbered and yet stay that long and take those questions,” Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, Michigan Republican and chair of the GOP’s policy committee, told The Daily Caller.
Cantor used the occasion to call on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, to “follow the president’s lead and begin to open their doors, and invite Republicans to participate in a discussion like we just had.”
Despite plaudits from some Republicans, there was little actual agreement on matters of policy.
Obama said that Republican proposals on health care have been mostly comprised of “political assertions that aren’t substantiated.”
At one point, the president read from a summary GOP ideas booklet, and said many of the Republican claims on how GOP legislation would work were “not true.”
Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, shot back that the ideas were “backed up precisely by the kind of detailed legislation that Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and your administration have been busy ignoring for 12 months.”
Obama said several times that he has read Republican proposals but that, more often than not, he has been unable to find credible evidence supporting their efficacy.
“I couldn’t find credible economists who could back up the claims,” Obama told Pence, referring to the GOP’s counter proposal for the stimulus a year ago.
Price, a Georgia Republican, said in an interview that Obama is only paying attention to experts “who believe in leftist policies for the nation.”
“He is not interested in solutions other than those that come from the farthest left of the political spectrum,” Price said.
Obama also implied that Republican criticism of the $787 billion stimulus passed last year was hypocritical.
“A lot of you have gone to appear at ribbon-cuttings for the same projects you voted against,” Obama said.
Rep. Peter Roskam, Illinois Republican, said that the GOP has “really been stiff-armed by speaker Pelosi … there really is this dynamic of frankly being shut out.”
“We have not been obstructionists. The Democrats have the House and the Senate and the presidency,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican.
Obama did admit to “failure” on two counts. He said he had not lived up to his pledge to televise health care negotiations on C-SPAN.
“What is true, there’s no doubt about it, is that once it got through the committee process and there were now a series of meetings taking place all over the Capitol trying to figure out how to get the thing together — that was a messy process. And I take responsibility for not having structured it in a way where it was all taking place in one place that could be filmed,” he said.
And Obama said he needed to do a better job at keeping Democrats and Republicans in Congress talking to one another.
“What I can do maybe to help is to try to bring Republican and Democratic leadership together on a more regular basis with me. That’s, I think, a failure on my part, is to try to foster better communications even if there’s disagreement,” he said. “And I will try to see if we can do more of that this year.”