Dick Durbin may think that cutting $10.5 billion from a $3700 billion budget is the upper limit of what Democrats can do, but not everyone in his caucus agrees. Two of his colleagues heaped scorn on the paltry effort from the White House and Democratic leadership, going public in their criticism. Not surprisingly, both come from red states where voters will decide whether to send them back to Washington in 2012.
First, Claire McCaskill of Missouri says she wants deeper cuts before she’ll cast a vote for the Reid-Obama plan:
“I feel strongly that the cuts are not large enough, but there are some cuts, so I don’t know whether I’ll be for it or against it,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told reporters Monday night. “But I know it doesn’t go as far as we need to go.”
After House Republicans passed a bill calling for $61 billion in cuts below current spending, Senate Democrats countered Friday with their own spending proposal that included only $10.5 billion in cuts. Both proposals will get a vote in the Senate this week, although neither is expected to have enough support to pass the upper chamber.
However, the Democratic caucus is not unified behind their party’s proposal – at least not yet. Several moderate Democrats in the Senate – many of whom are up for reelection in 2012 — told POLITICO that they were not sure yet how they would vote.
West Virginia’s Joe Manchin was a little more blunt — and will put the blame squarely on the White House:
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who plans to vote against both the Republican and Democratic versions of a long-term continuing resolution, will deliver a floor speech today in which he says President Barack Obama has failed to lead and needs to step up to the negotiating table. “[B]oth our options are extremely partisan and unrealistic. And neither one will pass. The first is a Democratic proposal that doesn’t go nearly far enough. This proposal, which calls for $6.5 billion in new cuts, utterly ignores our fiscal reality … Or, we could choose a second, even more flawed measure: a GOP proposal that blindly hacks the budget with no sense of our priorities or of our values as a country,” he plans to say. “Why are we doing all this when the most powerful person in these negotiations – our president – has failed to lead this debate or offer a serious proposal for spending and cuts that he would be willing to fight for? … This debate will be decided when the president leads these tough negotiations. And, right now – that is not happening. … The bottom line is this – the president is the leader of this great nation, and when it comes to an issue of significant national importance, the president must lead. Not the majority leader or speaker, but the president.
Manchin’s trying to play coy by hammering Republicans for cutting too deeply and his own party for not cutting enough. However, the GOP’s cuts only amount to 1.6% of the total budget, which hardly amounts to trimming the fat, let alone the meat or bone. Even if only discretionary spending is considered, the $61 billion from $1.3 trillion means a reduction of just 4.7%, hardly noticeable after the runup of discretionary spending by Democrats over the last four years by 24%. It’s less than 8% of Obama’s stimulus package from 2009, hardly a “draconian” cut by any measure except in Beltwayese.
Ben Nelson also hasn’t decided which way he’ll go on the budget, and other red-state Democrats might be riding the fence. Assuming Reid loses Nelson, McCaskill, and Manchin, then he’s down to 50 votes and can’t afford to lose anyone else. What will Jon Tester (D-MT) do? For that matter, how about Jim Webb, who has already announced his retirement after just a single term in office? Those votes may not swing to the Republican plan — Manchin apparently is too frightened to cut more than 1% of the federal budget — but clearly the ridiculous effort from the White House and Senate Democratic leadership is in serious trouble, and it doesn’t appear that Reid’s caucus wants to go to the mattresses in defense of a plan that keeps 99.72% of federal spending in place.