By Steve Holland - Analysis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Can Republicans ride all the way to Election Day in November by opposing most of President Barack Obama’s major policies? So far they are sticking with this strategy.
After voting solidly against Obama’s healthcare overhaul, Republicans are also poised to oppose other big-ticket items on the Democrats’ agenda, including energy legislation and a rewriting of immigration laws.
Their opposition is helping feed accusations from Democrats that Republicans are standing in the way of progress as the “party of No.”
“We can’t stall our progress because of political decisions that have been made by one party or the other that we’re going to try and shut the whole process down,” said Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, on NBC’s “Today” show.
Republicans, on the other hand, are content with their strategy and believe their opposition to the healthcare bill is justified and is borne out by polls showing Americans are divided about the legislation.
“It’s not a strategy to say ‘No’ to everything,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. “It’s a strategy of saying ‘No’ to things that our constituents don’t want and that jack up the debt.”
He and other Republicans say Americans would ultimately pay higher costs, pointing to announcements by several large companies, such as John Deere and Caterpillar, that healthcare reform would cost each of them in excess of $100 million.
“We don’t want to be labeled ‘the party of No,’” Louisiana’s Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, wrote in The Wall Street Journal. “As it pertains to this bill, how about ‘Hell, no?’”
Republicans are poised to pick up seats in November congressional elections in which all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and more than a third of the 100-member Senate are at stake.
Voters in these so-called off-year elections, in which a presidential election is not being held, are often overwhelmingly from the base of each party, meaning conservatives for the Republicans and liberals for the Democrats.
And conservatives, if nothing else, are energized to turn out and vote.
“For the Republican base, which is energized, saying ‘No’ is plenty,” said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political science professor.
The healthcare victory was a boost for Democratic morale but not enough to reverse the momentum of an election that will see Republican gains, said David Wasserman, a political analyst at the non-partisan Cook Political Report.
“I see this development as a momentary political victory for Democrats that can’t do much to erase the enthusiasm gap between the parties. However, if healthcare had failed, I think Democratic morale would’ve gone off the cliff,” he said.
One prominent conservative created a stir in Republican circles this week by arguing that election gains are one thing, but that the party should have gotten involved in healthcare negotiations with Democrats so that the ultimate product would reflect more of their beliefs.
David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, wrote in a blog on Monday that even with big gains in November: “So what? Legislative majorities come and go. This healthcare bill is forever. A win in November is very poor compensation for this debacle now.”
Frum was roundly denounced by other conservatives, who argued that Republicans offered their ideas for healthcare but were largely kept out of the negotiations.
Still, Republicans are aware they have to offer more than just opposition. Republican strategist Karl Rove said they should twin their opposition with an optimistic vision of the country and alternatives to Democratic proposals.
“It’s got to be measured and reasonable dissent from Obama, criticism based on the facts and hard evidence and not just hard rhetoric, matched with a positive and optimistic agenda,” said Rove, architect of President George W. Bush’s two election victories.
“They can’t be content to surf the wave of discontent with Democrats through the fall,” he said.
Editing by Doina Chiacu