Senate Democrats Turn On White House’s Budget Leadership
After yesterday’s passage of the short-term CR, House Republicans have now sent two funding resolutions, including a long-term CR, to the Senate. But you wouldn’t know it listening to House Democrats complain yesterday about short-term budgeting.
When searching for whom to blame, House Democrats should have pointed their fingers at their Senate colleagues, who were busy blaming the White House for “not being more engaged” on FY2011 spending.
Nine Senate Democrats Spent Considerable Time “Whacking The White House For Not Being More Engaged” On Spending Negotiations. “At a closed-door session on the budget, nine Democratic senators spent parts of the 30-minute meeting whacking the White House for not being more engaged, according to people who were present.” (Manu Raju, “Democrats: Barack Obama Must Lead On Budget,” Politico, 3/1/11)
Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad: “If there is a plan, people here deserve to have some sense of what it is.” (Manu Raju, “Democrats: Barack Obama Must Lead On Budget,” Politico, 3/1/11)
- “At One Point, Conrad Questioned Whether The White House Has A ‘Secret Plan’ Before Another Senator Interjected.” (Manu Raju, “Democrats: Barack Obama Must Lead On Budget,” Politico, 3/1/11)
Sen. Conrad Also Criticized Fellow Democrats Who Have Hesitated To Embrace Deep Spending Cuts. “And some of the members didn’t hold back their criticism against Democrats hesitant to embrace deeper cuts. ‘Some on our side, I’m very afraid, are fighting yesterday’s war,’ Conrad reportedly said.” (Manu Raju, “Democrats: Barack Obama Must Lead On Budget,” Politico, 3/1/11)
Dems: Obama Must Lead On Budget
March 1, 2011
Democratic senators are frustrated with the low-profile President Barack Obama has kept during the rancorous spending debate dominating Capitol Hill, urging him Tuesday to take an assertive role or risk strengthening the Republicans’ hand in the next round of negotiations.
“Well, I think they should be involved more, and I think they will be,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Tuesday, when asked about the White House.
At a closed-door session on the budget, nine Democratic senators spent parts of the 30-minute meeting whacking the White House for not being more engaged, according to people who were present.
The open irritation with the White House comes just as Reid announced support for the Republican-led bill which passed in the House Tuesday and funds the government for another two weeks, while slashing $4 billion. Senate Democrats’ call for Obama to step it up is a precursor to two looming fights: one over a bill to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year, and another on whether to raise the national debt limit.
Without a clear strategy from the top, Democrats fear their party risks splintering even further. And absent a plan, Democratic senators worry they’ll be forced to cast politically treacherous votes that may be rendered meaningless if the White House and Republican leaders ultimately reach a bipartisan deal, nullifying whatever action the Senate takes.
“If there is a plan, people here deserve to have some sense of what it is,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said at the meeting, according to sources familiar with his remarks.
At one point, Conrad questioned whether the White House has a “secret plan” before another senator interjected.
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet said without a strategy from the White House, Democrats are latching onto a hodge-podge of different proposals aimed at portraying their commitment to spending cuts without projecting a unified voice, attendees said.
And some of the members didn’t hold back their criticism against Democrats hesitant to embrace deeper cuts.
“Some on our side, I’m very afraid, are fighting yesterday’s war,” Conrad reportedly said.
The frank assessment came in the Capitol during a regular meeting held by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who invites moderate Senate Democrats to discuss legislative business of the day. The meeting – which also included Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin – focused on a number of budget issues, and several of the attendees praised some of the White House’s 2012 budget proposals.
But the immediate fight over 2011 spending consumed the attention of many in the room, sources said.
Asked about the White House’s posture, Coons later told POLITICO: “Many of us are eager to see progress on a bigger picture resolution. Fighting over two-week extensions isn’t going to solve the very real financial problems facing our country. And I’d welcome active engagement by the president.”
In an interview, Conrad didn’t deny his comments but downplayed the disagreements, saying that he understood why the White House was taking its quiet approach. Conrad said if the White House came out and proactively pushed a plan, there would be “knee-jerk opposition” from the GOP.
“If they go first, the House Republicans – as poisoned as the atmosphere is there – would just use it as an opportunity to attack the position,” he said. “I understand why [White House officials] are doing what they’re doing, and they may well be right.”
The White House, of course, faces a tricky political situation. The administration doesn’t want to get steamrolled by the GOP by putting forth its own proposal only to see it dramatically changed. At the same time, the White House wants bipartisan buy-in from their adversaries – and is also wary of irking members of its own party who want to see their ideas included in a final bill.
The careful positioning was on display at the White House Tuesday, where spokesman Jay Carney wouldn’t detail what the administration’s bottom-line is on spending legislation for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
Carney said the administration is “obviously engaged at various levels, including at the presidential level,” referring to a 10-12 minute phone call between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner earlier Tuesday. “We believe some progress has been made. We believe that there is a focus in Congress now on cuts that we all can agree on. The president, as you know, is committed to reducing spending. As he made clear with his 2012 budget proposal and as he has made clear in these negotiations on the continuing resolution that he is committed to spending cuts. We can agree on those.”
Like many Senate Democrats, Carney raised concerns about pushing forward repeated two-week continuing resolutions, saying that a long-term bipartisan deal is the goal in the end.
“So without getting into what is acceptable or unacceptable, our goal here is that we get a continuing resolution that is clean, that deals with the spending cuts we can agree on,” Carney said.
The White House jumped into the fray last night by floating the idea of extending funding levels for 30 days in order to buy more time for a longer-term deal, but Republicans rejected that approach and pushed forward their two-week stop-gap resolution Tuesday.
If they are forced to pass another two-week extension when the current proposal runs out, Democrats could face another round of politically treacherous votes and internal sniping. But at that point, Democrats hope, the White House will become more actively engaged to lead their party in the next round over spending.
“Well, he’s going to become more engaged, as he’s indicated he will — and I know he will,” Reid said, referring to Obama. “He has — he has the bully pulpit in the White House which is very important.”