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GOP Expresses Doubt on Obama Outreach

Republicans who made the trek to President Barack Obama’s bipartisan summit on the economy Monday remained openly skeptical that the cooperative message promoted inside the White House would translate into actual policy under the Dome.

Several Members and their aides also pointed to the lack of inclusion on the construction and passage of the stimulus bill, which many Republicans believed they were completely locked out of by Congressional Democrats, despite White House outreach.

“If they are willing to listen to us and back off some of these tax increases, we might enjoy real success on the policy front and on behalf of American families,” Ways and Means ranking member Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said. “However, if this goes the way of the stimulus package — and railroading is preferred to compromising — then I have my doubts about the viability of any reform, let alone reforms large enough to tackle health care costs, Social Security, taxes and the federal debt.”

Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.) said that while the tone of the summit was constructive, the fight over the stimulus package doesn’t give Republicans much cause for optimism.

“That’s the only example we have to go on,” Price said, adding that it would take time to see if partisanship returns.

“We’ll wait and see if this leads to a real positive product,” he said.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) expressed his doubt during a question-and-answer session with Obama following the summit and asked that the president make his wish for compromise and bipartisanship clear to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

“If this is all we do, it’s a sterile step,” Barton said.

Obama responded, “On one hand, the majority has to be inclusive, on the other hand the minority has to be constructive.”

Barton was hardly alone in his hesitance to fully embrace Obama’s message at the first fiscal responsibility summit, which included House and Senate Republicans as well as a number of representatives from a variety of outside interest groups and stakeholders.

“We appreciate the effort if he’s sincere about bipartisanship, but, as we saw during the stimulus, talk of bipartisanship may remain just that — talk,” said a Senate GOP aide. “We hope this is a return to hope.”

Some GOP aides predicted the summit would amount to an all-day photo op and that little would come out of it. One aide said the talks were less bipartisan after the camera lights turned off.

“Apparently, the Democrats were more focused on bashing the policies of the Bush administration than addressing a way forward that includes Congressional Republicans,” the aide said. “They complained about Bush-era policies behind closed doors and then smiled for the cameras and talked bipartisanship. … It’s disingenuous at best, but not at all surprising.”

Not all the attendees lost hope. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in a statement that the summit reaffirmed that Obama wanted to put party differences aside.

“Since Republicans met with President Obama in early January, we have been working every day to create the common-sense solutions our nation requires,” he said. “Today was the continuation of a national discussion surrounding serious policy proposals that we must enact to create jobs, empower our small businesses and reduce our deficit.”

Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) also sounded an upbeat note. “Overall, any time you can get people focused on fiscal responsibility, it’s a good thing,” he said.

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