Amid talk of bipartisanship, acrimony grows in Washington

Jon Ward Contributor
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The talk in Washington may be of bipartisanship, but the acrimony is increasing.

Democratic campaign organizations on Thursday increased the ferocity of their attacks on Republicans, doubling down on a strategy of political gamesmanship that President Obama himself has come out against.

The organization that grew out of the Obama campaign accused Republicans of spreading “lies” about health-care reform to “scare voters.”

The president himself decried Republican tactics to hold up his nominees that he said “enrage” the American people.

Senior citizens in four states, however, were probably the most enraged Thursday if they heard the attacks on the Republican party emanating from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).

“GOP draws up plan to kill Social Security,” screamed the headline of an e-mail from the DSCC, targeting Republicans running for Senate seats in four states.

The premise of the attack was to pin down the four candidates — each of them House Republicans running for Senate seats—– on whether they agreed with a budget proposal by a fellow member of the House, Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican.

But the charge that Ryan’s plan “kills” Social Security is at best a matter of opinion, and far from established fact.

Ryan’s plan, which he first proposed two years ago but has gained new relevance following the Democrats defeat in the Massachusetts Senate special election last month, does not change anything for Americans 55 and older. Even if they have not yet entered the Social Security or Medicare systems, when they do those entitlements will operate as they do know.

For Americans 54 and younger, Ryan’s plan creates a voucher system for Medicare, and would allow them to invest part of their federal income tax into personal savings accounts that Ryan argues would produce far greater yields than the one to two percent that Social Security now yields for current workers, a rate he argues that will drop below 1 percent in the future.

“Social Security’s mission must be fulfilled somehow,” says Ryan on his website.

Additionally, the DSCC attacks framed the end to Social Security as imminent. It went after the four Republicans – Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware, Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Rep. John Boozman of Arkansas, and Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois – with questions like, “Will Castle End Social Security For 113,885 Delawareans?”

“Anyone who currently benefits from the mentioned programs would have the risk and increased cost placed on them, rather than the federal government,” the DSCC said, contradicting the fact that Ryan’s plan would change nothing for current recipients of Social Security or Medicare.

DSCC spokeswoman Dierdre Murphy defended the attack.

“Whether or not it’s these particular seniors or the next generation of seniors, the Ryan plan would privatize Social Security and Medicare,” Murphy said. “He wants to kill social security.”

The DSCC attacks are an escalation of a concentrated round of fire directed at Ryan and his budget plan, which all began when the president praised Ryan during a question and answer session with House Republicans in Baltimore last month.

Obama labeled Ryan’s plan “a serious proposal” and called for “healthy debate” over portions of it that he said he disagreed with. The president condemned political attacks by either Republicans or Democrats on one another’s policy ideas that seek to “make the American people afraid of the other side.”

“I was thinking to myself, with my 6-year old sitting on my lap at the time, maybe this is an olive branch, maybe we’re going to start having a constructive dialogue on these issues in this country,” Ryan said in a recent overview.

But, he said, “that was followed up with nothing but the vilification, demagoguery and mischaracterization” of his proposal.

Democrats have unleashed many of their political attacks on Ryan since then to the point that it has become a big part of their main communications strategy.

Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the DSCC attacks smacked of desperation.

“The reality is that in all four of the states they’re targeting with this bizarre attack … it’s the Democrats who are trailing in the polls,” Walsh said.

Democrats were also on the attack regarding health care.

Organizing for America, the outfit that grew out of the Obama presidential campaign and works in tandem with the Democratic National Committee, accused Republicans of lying about what is in the Democrats’ health-care reform bills.

“For months, our opponents have spread lies about reform to scare voters away,” OFA Director Mitch Stewart said in an e-mail to supporters. He did not specify what the lies were.

Stewart also made one of the more frank admissions of any on the Democratic side since his party lost Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts, acknowledging that the party has “certainly faced setbacks” in their attempt to enact sweeping changes to the health care system.

But his e-mail asked OFA supporters to volunteer one million hours of advocacy on the part of the president’s plan to back up candidates this fall who continue to support Obama’s push for health-care reform.

Obama, for his part, won a battle on Thursday over nominees that he said showed the down and dirty nature of the Republican party. Republican senators released holds on 27 of his 63 “high-level nominees” for positions in the federal government, and the Senate confirmed all of them, but only after the president threatened to put them in place next week when Congress is out of session through recess appointments.

“In most cases, these holds have had nothing to do with the nominee’s qualifications or even political views, and these nominees have already received broad, bipartisan support in the committee process,” Obama said in a statement. “Instead, many holds were motivated by a desire to leverage projects for a senator’s state or simply to frustrate progress.”

“It is precisely these kinds of tactics that enrage the American people,” Obama said.

The president, however, maintained his normal serenity in the tone of his statement.

“While this is a good first step, there are still dozens of nominees on hold who deserve a similar vote, and I will be looking for action from the Senate when it returns from recess,” Obama said. “If they do not act, I reserve the right to use my recess appointment authority in the future.”

White House officials confirmed to The Daily Caller that Obama would not use his recess powers next week despite enormous pressure from big labor, meaning that he will not push through the nomination of former union lawyer Craig Becker onto the National Labor Relations Board, following Becker’s failure this week to gain a 60-vote majority.

The White House was clear that the use of recess appointments was not off the table in the future.