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The GOP's New Up-and-Down Vote Strategy

February 24, 2009

During the height of the battle over judicial nominees in 2005, the Republican Party debuted its short-lived "up or down vote" talking point. Of course, after being reduced to minority status in the 2006 midterms, the GOP was quick to abandon that gambit, instead easily shattering the record for filibusters in the Senate. But in the aftermath of the passage of President Obama's $787 billion stimulus package, Republicans hoping to have it both ways have introduced the sound bite's successor, the "Up and Down vote."
As it turns out, the Republicans' new deceit itself has two flavors. While Congressional Republicans are using one variant to claim credit for legislation they opposed, some GOP governors are trying to selectively oppose elements of the recovery package they support overall.
The Reverse Up and Down Vote. For obstructionist Capitol Hill Republicans fearful of President Obama's overwhelming popularity with the American public, this fraud represents the cynical perfection of John Kerry's "for it before I was against it" disaster. Despite the inconvenient fact that no Republicans in the House and just three in the Senate voted for the economic recovery package (three RNC chairman Michael Steele is targetng for retribution), a growing legion of GOP Senators and Representatives is nevertheless taking credit for bringing home the bacon.
As ThinkProgress, ABC, McClatchy and others documented, the list of born-again Obama backers among the Congressional GOP is long and growing. Don Young (AK), John Mica (FL), Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO) and Leonard Lance (NJ) are just some of the ex-post facto converts. Michigan's Pete Hoekstra twittered, "If you know of someone thinking of buying first home, now may be the time...Stimulus incentive is very generous! Up to 8k! Check it out." For his part, Missouri Senator Kit Bond issued a press release touting an amendment which will "save more than 700 housing units and create 3,000 new jobs in Missouri." With no sense of irony, Bond offered a pure statement of his reverse up and down vote:

"This is the type of emergency stimulus spending we should be supporting - programs that will create jobs now and help families."

Up and Down Vote a la Carte. If spineless Republicans in Washington want credit for a stimulus package they rejected, GOP governors with presidential ambitions want to be seen opposing piecemeal fractions of the federal money their states badly need.
Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, who will give the Republican response to President Obama's address to Congress Tuesday, has been at the forefront. Recycling washed up 1990's GOP talking points about "unfunded mandates," Jindal has said he'll turn down $98 million for extended unemployment benefits out of the total $3.9 billion his state will receive.
Not to be outdone, Mississippi's Haley Barbour and South Carolina's Mark Sanford have similarly tried to please the Republican base. But as White House hopeful Sanford made clear, he'll take the money (or at least, most of it) and run. As TPM noted last week:

But Sanford now says his opposition "doesn't preclude taking the money," and he'll be looking over the plan to decide which parts of it will help his state.

Not all Republican governors are playing the game, however. Florida's Charlie Crist, California's Arnold Schwarzennegger and Utah's John Huntsman supported the Obama plan and will take the cash. Republicans who do otherwise, Huntsman suggested, are engaging in "gratuitous political griping."
For their part, Democratic leaders in Congress have had about enough of the GOP governors' posturing. House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) protested, "It seems to me like Governor Jindal is bluffing," adding, "The incentives in the economic recovery package to help states cover more unemployed workers will not cause states to increase taxes." New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer wrote to Obama's OMB director Peter Orzag, requesting the administration make clear that the governors can't choose from an a la carte stimulus menu, and instead must take it or leave it.
At his Fiscal Responsibility Summit on Monday, President Obama called out the GOP's grandstanding, claiming it was "sounding more like politics" and noting "there's going to be ample time for campaigns down the road." Sadly, that request will fall on deaf ears in a Republican Party determined to execute its latest, completely unprincipled strategy, the up and down vote.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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