The Republicans perhaps envision a rehash of the stimulus fight, where they successfully painted the Democrats as profligate spenders. But there is again a difference between being on offense and being on defense. When you're trying to pass something, like a mammoth spending bill, you invariably present any number of targets from which the opposition can cherry-pick egregious examples. While Obama may have made a case for new spending, Republican control of the House meant that he was really laying out the lines for a defense against the coming GOP cutting frenzy. McConnell has been around long enough to remember the last time a Democratic president got to so define a spending fight. Bill Clinton brought the so-called 1994 Republican Revolution to a crashing halt by highlighting Republican slashing of popular programs. [See editorial cartoons about the GOP.]
Despite GOP talking points, the public hasn't developed much more of a taste for spending cuts in specific programs. According to a January 26 Gallup poll, Americans oppose cuts to the arts and sciences by 46 to 52 percent and cuts to anti-poverty programs by 39 to 55. The area they least want to see touched? Only 32 percent support pruning education while 67 percent oppose such a move.
House Democrats launched the first salvo last week—radio ads, calls, and E-mails—targeting 19 GOPers, 17 in districts Obama carried in 2008. The Republicans support "a plan in Congress that would cut education by 40 percent," one ad says. "And [the GOP] plan would cut science and technology research by 40 percent, too. Research and development is how we get the new products that create new jobs."
By all means, GOP, please stay focused on healthcare repeal and spending cuts.