By Russell Berman - 01/05/11 01:52 AM EST
House Republicans pledged to run “a cut-and-grow majority” in the 112th Congress that begins Wednesday, arguing they can expand the economy while reducing government spending.
The twin initiatives form the cornerstone of how Republicans hope to define themselves after a midterm election framed by GOP arguments that government had overreached under congressional Democrats and the Obama administration.
The House will first vote to cut its budget by 5 percent Thursday before holding a healthcare repeal vote next week. After that, Cantor said, the GOP majority will move swiftly to fulfill its commitment to cutting spending back to 2008 levels.
As a second part of the majority’s opening act, Cantor said the GOP would target “job-killing” regulations across the federal government. The goal is to lay down a clear marker before Obama addresses the new Congress in his annual State of the Union speech, which is expected to take place the final week of January.
Repealing the healthcare law will be the centerpiece of the three-pronged opening act in the weeks leading up to President Obama’s State of the Union address.
“It is a cut-and-grow majority,” Cantor, the second-ranking House Republican, said during his first press briefing in his new office suite. Several dozen reporters packed Cantor’s Capitol conference room to the brim as he outlined the Republican agenda.
“This is going to be a results-driven Congress,” he later declared.
Despite that statement, with Democrats controlling the Senate and Obama in the White House, the GOP agenda has little hope of becoming law, at least initially.
Acknowledging the political reality, Cantor delivered a warning shot to the upper chamber. “The Senate can serve as a cul-de-sac if that’s what it wants to be. But they’ll have to answer to the American people,” he said.
The GOP’s decision to hold an immediate healthcare repeal vote prompted an outcry from Democratic leaders, who said it would hurt the economy and grow the deficit.
“Every minute wasted on trying to repeal healthcare reform fruitlessly is one less minute the Republicans will spend on job creation and turning this economy around,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), a newly designated spokeswoman for House Democrats.
Cantor fired back that Democratic leaders “clearly don’t understand what Americans want when it comes to healthcare.”
He signaled the majority would not allow Democratic amendments to the two-page healthcare repeal bill, saying the issue had already been “litigated” over the past year and had “certainly been through enough discussion in this House.”
“I think the American people are expecting quick action on the part of the new Republican majority as far as this healthcare bill is concerned,” Cantor said. “We expect to take this to the floor as soon as possible and deliver on our commitment that we made in our ‘Pledge to America.’ ”
Few if any Democrats are expected to support repeal, and Senate Democrats have already pledged to block the bill from coming to the floor if it scrapped certain key provisions of the new law.
The House will also vote on a resolution instructing committees to draft replacement legislation, and Cantor said both the public and the Democratic minority would have input then. “That process will be one of openness,” he said.
Pelosi and other Democratic leaders used their final press conference before the transfer of power to trot out a litany of arguments to combat the GOP repeal effort. The party has signaled it wants to seize the debate over repeal as a second opportunity to build support for a law that has never gained popularity with the public.
Yet during the 45-minute briefing, it was clear that Pelosi and her top lieutenants had yet to settle on a single message.
First, they argued, a full repeal would scrap even the most popular reforms in the law, like the ban on denial of coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
Wasserman Schultz said some of her constituents could lose coverage if the law were ended. “Plain and simple, repealing healthcare reform would hurt millions of Americans,” she said.
Next, Democrats said the repeal push would waste valuable time that should be spent on job creation. Wasserman Schultz said the focus on healthcare would “jeopardize our fragile economic recovery by spending countless hours trying to repeal healthcare reform rather than focusing on jobs, the economy and deficit reduction.”
Yet another argument from Democrats: Taking the healthcare law off the books would explode the already staggering budget gap, given projections by the Congressional Budget Office that the law lowers the deficit. “To say we’re going to repeal it,” Pelosi said, “is to do very serious violence to the national debt and deficit.”
Finally, after six House Democrats issued warnings about the impact a repeal of the healthcare law would have, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) stepped to the microphone and offered what appeared to be a reality check for her colleagues.
“The fact of the matter is, we’re not going to repeal healthcare. It is not going to happen,” she said, calling the GOP effort “a kabuki dance.” “They are not going to repeal. It’s disingenuous. It’s nothing but political theater. And we need to continue to point that out to the American public.”
With the legislative outcome of the repeal effort appearing to be a foregone conclusion, the political messaging war is taking on greater significance, particularly for rank-and-file House Democrats who say the party did a lousy job selling the legislation to the public.
Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) is leading an effort to propose amendments to the repeal bill that would force Republicans to vote on the most popular elements of the new law, such as the pre-existing conditions provisions and the requirement that insurance companies allow adult children to stay on their parents’ coverage until age 26.
“Our goal is to focus specific attention on the real-world meaning of repealing healthcare and how it will be a hammer to the middle class in this country,” Welch said. “By making this specific, you get away from rhetoric like ObamaCare, which means a million different things to a million different people.
“The challenge here,” he added, “is to have this debate go from the political to the real, the rhetorical to the real.”