Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), who recently declined a shot at the Senate against Democratic incumbent Evan Bayh, appeared on MS-NBC’s Morning Joe today with a question that many asked after last night’s State of the Union speech: Where was the pivot? Supposedly, Barack Obama was going to “fight,” but also pivot away from the big-government health-care overhaul and focus on stimulating real growth and employment. Even where Pence agrees with Obama, it shows the disconnect between rhetoric and reality:
Here’s a partial transcript provided by the House Republican Conference press office:
MSNBC Host Scarborough: So you think that the Republicans may take over the House in 2010. And I think you may be right. And of course, it’s always possible that a Republican candidate can come forward and win the White House in 2012. If that happens, would you like the Republican agenda of tax cuts, and more freedom, and a stronger military, or whatever you think it is, would you like that to be stopped at every turn by 41 Democrats filibustering every single bill? Or does the Republican Party actually have a responsibility in Washington, D.C. to allow some of Barack Obama’s agenda items to at least be voted on up or down?
Congressman Pence: Well, look, I think it is kind of amazing that you’ve had the death of democracy in a Democratic Congress in the last three years, Joe. It’s a very different place than when you served here, whether it’s spending bills, appropriations or otherwise. Republicans have been shut out of the legislative process almost entirely on the floor, and substantively in negotiations. We’re going to welcome the president to our House Republican Conference retreat tomorrow in Baltimore. The president last night, you know, said if you all have ideas on how we can lower the cost of health insurance, better ideas, bring them to us. I guarantee you, tomorrow House Republicans are going to take advantage of the president’s attendance and we’re going to hear him out. We’re also going to make sure he knows our alternatives on health care, energy, budget, economic stimulus, which we offered last year, as you know, but they were summarily rejected by the administration and by Democrats.
The Congress is, in fact, intended to be a place of give-and-take. You allow the democratic process, the legislature to work its will. We absolutely need to get back to that. And when Republicans take the majority in 2010, we’re going to re-open that process and turn on the daylight and let the legislature work its will.
MSNBC Host Zuckerman: What kind of things would you like to see in that jobs bill that would involve Republican support for it?
Congressman Pence: Well, let me say, Mort, when you look at the Republican alternative to the economic stimulus last year, our proposal was about $350 billion in fast-acting tax relief that would have cost, by definition, half as much as the stimulus bill and using their economic models, it would have created twice as many jobs. The disappointing thing about last night to many of us on the Republican side of the aisle was, we were asking: “Where was the pivot?” We were told over and over the administration was going to “pivot” to jobs, “pivot” to fiscal discipline. And while there was a nod to that, all we heard in the president’s call for a new jobs bill, his defense of the failed economic stimulus bill of last year, was just more of the same old same old. We just need new ideas, across-the-board tax relief that takes effect now, fiscal discipline that takes effect now, that is what will get the economy moving.
MSBNC Host Barnicle: Can you give us this morning, two or three things mentioned last night, that you, the Republicans, could agree with the president on, right now, today?
Congressman Pence: Yeah. Absolutely. I think the president’s call for supporting our troops, both down range in harm’s way and when they come home, are things that Republicans have supported the president on, beyond politics, and we will continue to do that. I also think the president’s call for fundamental earmark reform and transparency was welcomed, Mike. You know, we were battling among our own back when we were in the majority on that issue and that was welcomed indeed. The call for a spending freeze. I personally urged the president, in the cabinet room in December, to veto last year’s omnibus spending bill and send us a continuing resolution that would freeze spending at current levels, this year. He didn’t do that. We welcome the call for a spending freeze.
It’s frustrating to hear the president say, here is all this new spending we are going to do, we are going to do health care, we want our climate change bill, and starting in 2011 we are going to have a spending freeze. That had to be frustrating to millions of Americans. But we still welcome the president’s call for fiscal discipline and we will work in good faith.
Obama certainly pivoted to jobs as an issue. He devoted about a quarter of his time talking about the economy and unemployment, although his emphasis on a second stimulus package that looks a lot like the one that flopped last year didn’t pivot on the issue itself. Obama finally recognized that people not only questioned his leadership but also his common sense in drifting since last February on economic revival.
As for an overall pivot to the center, no one could have seriously believed that Obama would do that after just one lost Senate seat. Even Bill Clinton didn’t wake up and smell the coffee until after a disastrous midterm, after which a Republican Congress forced him to pivot and “triangulate” by co-opting the most popular parts of the GOP agenda. He has all year to cajole Democrats into committing political suicide by backing his expansive, statist agenda and see how much of it Obama can salvage. The full pivot will wait until Obama gets a beating in the midterms — and that’s assuming he’s as astute a politician as Bill Clinton was in 1995. So far, we haven’t seen much evidence of it.
At the beginning, Pence, explains why he declined to run for the Senate, which was consistent with his announcement of the decision.