Dems balking at spending demands from WH, leadership

One might think that Democrats in Congress would take advantage of the opportunity presented by media coverage of the Gulf oil spill disaster to quietly pass the remaining big spending bills pending on Capitol Hill.  However, numerous press reports show Democrats facing angry voters in the midterm elections balking at the Nancy Pelosi/Harry Reid spending agenda.  The first victim may be the $50 billion state bailout package, according to Roll Call (subscription required):

President Barack Obama’s latest push for a $50 billion local aid package is sparking a backlash from Hill Democrats who say they got no notice of the plan and have no means to pay for it — a clash that puts on full display a growing lack of coordination between the White House and Congress.

In an unusually timed letter that went out Saturday night, Obama urged Congressional leaders in both parties to pass a sweeping emergency aid package — $23 billion to stem teacher layoffs and $25 billion for state Medicaid assistance — to help the economy get back on track, saying it is “a critical juncture in our nation’s recovery.”

But aides to several leading House and Senate Democrats are criticizing the White House’s handling of the $50 billion request — not on policy grounds, but because the administration didn’t coordinate with them first and seemed to have hastily thrown the plan together with no follow-through.

“They are not doing themselves any good by not reaching out and trying to coordinate a unified push with Congress on something of this importance,” a House Democratic leadership aide said.

The aide grumbled that the move is just another example of the White House taking the House for granted and said Obama can no longer rely on Democrats approving his proposals without a more thoughtful messaging strategy, given the shift in Members’ psyche, concerns about the deficit and fears about losses in November.

The grumbling on a lack of messaging assistance comes from Democrats belatedly getting the message from their constituents.  Free-spending Democrats have not only failed to keep their 2006 and 2008 promises of fiscal responsibility, they have also failed to adhere to their own Pay-Go law, signed by Barack Obama in February.  The $50 billion bailout for the states will have to come from new borrowing, as will almost all of the pending big-ticket legislation on the floors of the House and Senate.

Instead of working with Capitol Hill leadership, the White House has begun dictating positions through press releases, and their colleagues don’t appreciate it.  In fact, they wonder whether the White House has any idea what Congress has been doing all along.  The $50 billion request includes the $23 billion bailout ostensibly aimed at teachers that Congress considered last month.  The White House didn’t lift a finger to support it at that time, when Tom Harkin tried getting it approved in the Senate.  Rather than provide leadership at that time, when it may have helped, Obama and his team decided to “drop a bulls*** letter” on a Saturday night.

The Daily Caller’s Jon Ward also questions the timing:

With the nation focused on the spill in the Gulf and hearings with oil executives this week, Democrats in Congress have a tiny amount of breathing room to try to move two enormous spending bills through.

However, Republicans say the votes are still not there for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a sign of the growing public discomfort with exploding budget deficits and national debt. A Reid spokesman blamed Republican obstruction, though it is not at all clear that all 57 Democrats and the two Independents who caucus with the Democrats are currently on board.

Reid, a Nevada Democrat, moved Monday to end debate on a $115 billion grab bag of extensions on unemployment insurance, Medicaid assistance to states, payouts to physicians who take Medicare patients, tax exemptions for certain industries, as well as a series of new taxes on corporations and investors.

This legislation, which would increase the budget deficit by about $79 billion, has been batted around Congress since March, with lawmakers passing short-term extensions in the interim. The House passed a scaled down version late last month that has since been beefed back up by the Senate. Republicans have pushed Democrats to pay for the spending with money from the $862 billion stimulus bill, an idea that has gained traction but continues to be resisted by Reid, a Nevada Democrat.

The Gulf disaster won’t be enough of a distraction to get 60 votes, Ward quotes one Republican staffer, because “deficits matter again”:

Despite the fact that the national spotlight has moved for the moment off of the Senate’s deliberations and on to the oil fiasco — which has taken center stage this week largely due to hearings with executives Tuesday and Wednesday as well as Obama’s two-day trip to the region and Oval Office address to the nation Tuesday night – Reid is still searching for ways to pass the extenders package.

“He doesn’t have 60 (deficits matter again). He’ll need spending cuts and deficit reduction to lubricate votes, not oil,” said a senior Senate Republican leadership aide.

The narrative has finally turned on the Democrats, and it has put spending and deficits squarely in the spotlight.  They can thank themselves for that, both by running up record increases in federal spending and in their hypocritical celebrations over Pay-Go.  Every billion dollars of deficit spending brings a new Republican majority in the House ever closer, and even the Senate may change hands if Democrats keep insisting on spending big.