Obama at GOP Retreat: Our Common Goal Should Be Good Policy

BY Quinn Bowman  January 29, 2010 at 4:08 PM EDT

In a nearly 90-minute televised appearance at a House Republicans retreat in Baltimore, President Obama implored the caucus, which has opposed much of his agenda, to define their political battles by what is best for the country, not what’s best for political gain.

“Keep your friends close, but visit the Republican caucus every few months,” the president joked at the top of his speech.

He challenged the GOP to work with him to create jobs and reform health care, saying no elected official should act as an obstructionist.

Watch some of his remarks (or the full event):

Republicans applauded and laughed at times during the president’s presentation, but many challenged his policies and his commitment to his promises. Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner of Ohio delivered the president a portfolio of Republican policy alternatives.

Mr. Obama highlighted some policies that his administration and the GOP caucus agree upon. He cited GOP support for additional troops in Afghanistan, an increase in the Veterans Affairs budget and a credit card bill of rights as evidence that it is possible for the Republicans and the Obama White House to work together.

But much of the appearance focused on contentious policy differences: stalled health care reform legislation, how to create jobs and deal with the growing budget deficit.

While President Obama asked Republicans to work with him on divisive issues, he spent a large portion of the appearance responding to lengthy pointed questions and explaining why he thought Republicans weren’t making good faith efforts to work with him.

He argued that when House Republicans demean him and his health care policies, they leave themselves little negotiating room.

“The fact of the matter is, many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable with your own base, with your own party, because what you’ve been telling your constituents is, ‘This guy’s doing all kinds of crazy stuff that’s going to destroy America.”’

Republican House leaders Boehner, Eric Cantor of Virginia and Mike Pence of Indiana shared the stage with the president.

Pence asked President Obama if he would support “across-the-board tax relief” advocated by presidents Kennedy and Reagan instead of “boutique tax cuts” in the 2009 stimulus bill, which House GOP members did not support. (Watch Pence’s PBS NewsHour interview after the State of the Union.)

In an exchange typical of the event, Mr. Obama defended the stimulus package as a common-sense approach to propping up a failing economy and said he would consider tax cut polices that weren’t designed to cut taxes for billionaires.

He repeatedly accused Republicans of voting against his stimulus bill but then attending ribbon cuttings in their districts for projects funded by stimulus money.

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the ranking GOP member of the House Budget Committee, challenged the president’s State of the Union proposal to freeze some federal discretionary spending next year.

“Why not freeze spending now?” Ryan asked, pointing out that the president’s proposed freeze would only account for a tiny part of the federal budget. He said he wants the president to support new line-item veto legislation supported by Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

Most spending increases in last year’s budget, Obama responded, weren’t because of policies initiated by the White House, but were included as economic stabilizers that kicked in during a recession.

On Thursday, senior correspondent Judy Woodruff wrote about Republican responses to the president’s call for bipartisanship in the State of the Union.