Senate Republicans launched political attacks Tuesday on a broad range of issues, assailing Democrats and the Obama administration for their handling of the economy, the Gulf oil spill cleanup, immigration, energy and health care.
Republicans said they did not specifically plan Tuesday as a day to kick off a broad offensive. Rather, aides and lawmakers said, they are taking advantage of opportunities provided by Democrats, ranging from lingering unhappiness with their health care bill to the majority’s inability to pass a popular package of tax breaks and unemployment insurance extenders.
“There are a lot of things to talk about,” Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) said, chalking up the controversies to problems within the administration and the ranks of House and Senate Democrats.
“There is some disarray, that’s for certain,” said Kyl, who argued that the GOP’s multifront attack on Democrats this week was not planned in advance. “There’s no plan.”
But clearly Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “have some problems in their conference” that have provided Republicans with opportunities, Kyl said.
“The administration has provided us with so many moving targets, it’s hard to focus on just one,” quipped Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), who is tasked with developing message for the Senate GOP.
While for most of the last 18 months both parties have been preoccupied with a series of big-ticket items such as the stimulus bill and comprehensive health care reform, the lack of a headline-dominating issue has now created a vacuum in the GOP’s messaging efforts.
While on an average Tuesday morning in November Republicans would have used their floor speeches to attack the latest draft of health care reform, this week they took turns banging on Democrats over a variety of issues.
[IMGCAP(1)]Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) kicked off the day for Republicans, focusing on debt and economic issues, while Alexander attacked Democrats for attempting to use the oil spill to push comprehensive energy reform. Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and John Barrasso (Wyo.) then held a colloquy on the floor attacking Democrats’ health care reform bill before Kyl joined McCain to talk illegal immigration.
Sen. George LeMieux (Fla.) then used floor time to harshly criticize the administration’s response to the BP oil spill, and Sen. Mike Enzi (Wyo.) criticized Democrats’ stalled extenders package and the rising national debt.
Similarly, McConnell and his leadership team used their weekly stakeout with reporters on Tuesday to hammer Democrats on the economy, Gulf Coast cleanup, the Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan, the controversy surrounding comments by Gen. Stanley McChrystal and other issues.
Although Republicans were still mapping out their messaging strategies at press time, aides said to expect more of the same today, with McConnell expected to continue his push on economic issues and to raise questions about Kagan. Barrasso was scheduled to speak on health care issues this morning.
A senior GOP aide familiar with the Conference’s messaging efforts argued that while Republicans have been putting together a series of consistent messaging themes — most of which have been linked to a broader critique of deficit spending by Democrats — most of their efforts now are dictated by Democrats.
“Fifty percent of this business is how stupid your opponent is, and they’re making a lot of mistakes,” the aide said.
If Republicans are aiming at a range of targets, so are Democrats. For instance, in his weekly radio address President Barack Obama ticked off a litany of issues Congress has been unable to address through legislation — including the oil spill crisis, unemployment insurance and tax breaks — and laid the blame squarely at the feet of Republicans.
“I was disappointed this week to see a dreary and familiar politics get in the way of our ability to move forward on a series of critical issues that have a direct impact on people’s lives,” Obama said. “If this obstruction continues, unemployed Americans will see their benefits stop. Teachers and firefighters will lose their jobs. Families will pay more for their first home.”
Reid echoed Obama’s broad criticisms of Republicans on Tuesday, arguing that “when Senators stand in the way of these good provisions becoming law, taxpayers suffer needlessly.”
Reid chided Republicans for focusing on economic issues while at the same time opposing the Democrats’ tax bill.
“I’m really happy to hear Republicans talk about the economy,” he said. “But this is a chance for them to join us and do something about the economy that’s positive.”
“It’s not enough for the Republicans to go on television and then go to the Senate floor and make the problem worse,” he added.
Democrats on Tuesday dismissed Republican attacks as little more that political bluster and argued they will use the GOP’s opposition to their agenda against them.
“Every day they block us from holding BP accountable, every day they defend Wall Street, every day they refuse to work with us to create jobs is another day we can illustrate to the American people who’s really on their side,” Reid spokesman Rodell Mollineau said.
“So we’re not worried about Republican rhetoric,” he added. “But they should be worried about their actions.”