Obama steps up bipartisan efforts -- but will Republicans accept?

Don't look for him to necessarily get it.

Wednesday's 9 p.m. speech probably won't be met with the antipathy demonstrated last year, when U.S. Rep Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted, "You lie!" during Obama's speech on health care, the last time the president spoke to Congress.

But emboldened by their dramatic win in last week's Massachusetts Senate race, Republicans aren't exactly clamoring to accept Obama's latest attempts at bipartisanship.

Georgia's congressional Republicans are right at the forefront.

As Obama was preparing his speech Tuesday, members of the GOP Doctors Caucus, led by U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey of Marietta, were holding a press conference blasting the White House and Democrats for dwelling on health care reform instead of jobs.

"This administration and this Democratic majority has been totally tone deaf," Gingrey said.

Added U.S. Rep. Tom Price of Roswell, a member of the doctors caucus and head of the conservative Republican Study Committee: "Those currently in charge put long-time ideological goals ahead of the American people and this, I believe, is why we're seeing this remarkable rebellion across this land."

To be sure, the Obama administration is signaling that it has heard the message from Massachusetts that it needs to move more toward the political center and make peace with Republicans.

Tuesday, the White House announced Obama plans to propose a freeze in discretionary, non-defense spending programs, an idea that should appeal to fiscally conservative Republicans.

Obama also backed a proposal in the Senate Tuesday that would have created a bipartisan committee to explore ways to reduce the federal deficit.

And in perhaps the most stunning development to Washington political circles, the White House announced Tuesday that Obama had accepted an invitation to speak to congressional Republicans at their annual policy retreat in Baltimore later this week.

Obama will join Republican icons Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker from Atlanta, and Richard Armey, the former House majority leader who now runs the conservative FreedomWorks activist group, in keynoting the retreat.

Some Republicans say the sudden whirlwind of White House bipartisanship smacks of hypocrisy.

"It will be real interesting to hear what the president has to say in the State of the Union address," Gingrey said. "I doubt if anybody is going to yell out ‘You lie' but it might be appropriate to say [something about] the hypocrisy of all of this."

One measure of the challenges Obama faces in any new push for bipartisanship played out in the Senate Tuesday.

Senators voted 53-46 to reject the attempt to create a bipartisan committee to explore how to reduce the deficit.

Republicans had signaled they would be against the idea because of potential tax increases and because of fears of too much control by the White House, even though many -- including Georgia's two Republican senators -- voted for the proposal. Some Democrats, meanwhile, balked at letting Republicans have a bigger seat at the negotiating table when it comes to deficit controls.

Bipartisanship "is at a very low ebb," Republican U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia's senior senator, said after the vote. "I'm not blaming one side or the other. Both sides are at fault."

University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock agreed.

"It's been a long time since the two parties have been as much at each others throats as they are now," he said.

Gingrey, for one, said he'd welcome opportunities to work with Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress, if they're genuine.

"We will not reject good policy for the sake of politics," Gingrey said. "Yes, we'll work with the president."

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.