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GOP Split on Whether to Reach Out to Moderate Democrats in Budget Battle

House Minority Leader John Boehner and Minority Whip Eric Cantor stand by a copy of the stimulus bill in February in Washington. (Reuters Photo)

House Republican leaders appear to be split on whether to reach out to their moderate colleagues on the other side of the aisle to fight the Democratic agenda. 

While Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., held out an olive branch to moderate Democrats known as "Blue Dogs" Wednesday, calling on his "friends" to join the GOP in opposing the budget, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, slammed the group as "lap dogs." 

The split underscores the difficulty the Republican Party is having finding a way to fight President Obama's budget blueprint, endorsed Wednesday by the House Budget Committee. 

Ryan made a blunt appeal for Democratic allies this week. 

"I want to make a plea to a special select audience. I want to ask my friends, the Blue Dog Democrats, do you really want all this government? Do you want your fingerprints on this massive and unprecedented growth in our national debt? You hold the cards. You hold the votes that can make a difference in this," said Ryan, the senior Republican on the House Budget Committee, during a hearing on the 2010 budget Wednesday. 

Ryan's office went so far as to post his remarks to YouTube. And the Wisconsin congressman promoted the comments on his Twitter page.  

Meanwhile, Boehner, who has said multiple times at recent press conferences that he had no plans to reach out to moderate Democrats, has teased the coalition. 

"We'd love to have conservative Democrats join us. But every time they get a chance to do that, they always end up voting with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and the left," he told FOX News Thursday, ahead of a planned unveiling of the GOP alternative budget plan. 

He called the group "lap dogs" who refuse "to get off people's laps and actually do something," during a speech Wednesday, according to Politico.com. 

"They're not the force they used to be in terms of moving the Democrats to do something," Boehner reportedly told the Yale Club and Federal Policy group. 

The Blue Dogs, a coalition of 51 moderate House Democrats, include legislators from conservative districts who often cross the aisle to vote with Republicans on spending, gun control and social issues. A number of caucus members have been quoted in recent weeks expressing concerns about the size of Obama's budget. 

The mixed GOP message comes weeks after House Republicans declared that they had found their "voice" as the 187 members voted unanimously to oppose Obama's stimulus plan. 

However, the split message is the second example in a week of strife within the conference. Nearly half of House Republicans voted for a bill last week taxing the bonuses of AIG executives, with Ryan joining GOP Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., in supporting the legislation. Boehner and the rest of the Republicans voted no. 

Ryan made his plea Wednesday directly to Blue Dogs Co-Chairman Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La., during the budget markup hearing calling on the group of centrists to "join us to stop this fiscal train wreck." 

"We're asking our friends on the other side of the aisle ... to help us defeat this unprecedented taxing, borrowing and spending spree, and let's get back together and fix these fiscal problems in this country, which this budget exacerbates and makes much, much worse," Ryan added. 

GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence, R-Ind., also told reporters recently that he was hearing some "very interesting rumblings" coming from Blue Dogs on spending and envisioned a coalition with like-minded Democrats. 

For their part, Blue Dog leaders said Boehner should look in the mirror before accusing another caucus of being "lap dogs." 

"These statements come from the same individuals who wrote the president a blank check for eight years, driving spending to the highest levels in our country's history," Melancon said. 

"Rather than just saying 'no,' the Blue Dogs will continue working in a productive manner to moderate legislation and offer commonsense policy alternatives. We do not subscribe to the extreme philosophies of the far right or the far left, and we certainly do not take serious issues and use them for political gain," he added. 

A Blue Dog aide said that members of the caucus are still willing to work with GOP legislators but that Republicans have so far failed to make any effort to reach out to the group.