WASHINGTON — To many Republicans, President Barack Obama's first hundred days have been a period of apocalyptic agony.
"The most harmful budget in American history," a "GOP Leader Alert" from Republicans in the House of Representatives declared recently.
House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana called the Democrats' global warming proposals, "legislation that could change the complexion and economic fortunes of the heartland of this country for generations."
Analysts said that such rhetoric is typical of a political party or movement that feels it's not being heard and is growing increasingly frustrated.
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"They're floundering, and when you get your two seconds in front of a microphone, you have to go for the Hail Mary pass," said Tobe Berkovitz, an expert on political advertising at Boston University.
Republicans in Washington haven't been this outnumbered since the early 1990s. The Democrats have a 78-seat House majority and, with Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter's defection Tuesday from the GOP, they'll control 59 Senate seats, one shy of the 60 that are needed to limit debate under Senate rules. They'll get the 60th seat if Minnesota Democrat Al Franken is seated after a protracted post-election legal battle.
Since the 111th Congress convened on Jan. 6, the GOP already has been largely shut out of negotiations over Obama's $787 billion stimulus package, as well as the fiscal 2010 budget.
Republican lawmakers have been complaining nonstop, but in recent weeks, their rhetoric has grown more extreme, especially from the top.
Earlier this month, House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio dubbed the Democrats' plan "the Bernie Madoff budget," a reference to the New York businessman who last month pleaded guilty to swindling billions from investors.
"They tinkered and hid all of the really serious proposals that they all have in mind to do," Boehner said of the Democrats. "You know they've talked about their cap and trade, their national energy tax, but you can't see it in here and let's just call it what it is — the Bernie Madoff budget."
The Democrats' plan makes it easier to consider climate change legislation, but congressional committees will hash out details of that legislation in coming months.
When those details emerge, said Pence on his blog, the plan is likely to cost every American household at least $3,100, a figure that many experts dispute. Still, Pence insisted that Democrats will be "further depleting the taxpayer's bank account, but also causing even job loss."
If that's not scary enough, as votes on the budget neared this week, Republicans kept pushing the notion that the $3.5 trillion blueprint, with its trillion-dollar-plus federal deficits, is the worst since George Washington's administration put numbers on parchment.
"What we see before us is a budget resolution that is nothing short of the most audacious move to a big socialist government in Washington, D.C., than anything I could have ever dreamed about before I ran for Congress, or for that matter, anytime over the last 18 years that I've been here," Boehner said Wednesday.
Not only that, added Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, but Democrats also are adopting tactics used by Venezuela's left-wing President Hugo Chavez, who recently warmly greeted Obama.
"I can understand shaking Hugo Chavez's hand," Gregg said of Obama, "but I can't understand embracing his politics."
Not all Republicans are comfortable with that kind of rhetoric.
Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del., a moderate, said the tone "probably" hurts the party. People understand, he said, that "I'm not an expert on everything that's in the budget. Nobody is."
The Democrats are hardly hyperbole-free, other Republicans point out.
"This president probably confronted as great a crisis as any American since Abraham Lincoln," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Tuesday as he reviewed the beginning of Obama's term. Franklin Roosevelt inherited the Great Depression, he said, but in his first term FDR didn't initially face the national security issues that confront Obama.
On Wednesday, the GOP was at it again, this time with a new Internet ad released just before the president's news conference.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee ad shows Obama saying, "I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear," then lists Cabinet nominees who had income tax problems before segueing into Chavez hollering, "Go to hell 100 times." At the same time, the viewer sees pictures of Obama and Chavez warmly greeting each other.
"And that's just the first 100 days," the ad says.
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