A growing number of Senate Democrats are anxious about the lack of a Democratic budget and the unusually slow legislative agenda, creating another headache for Majority Leader Harry Reid as he tries to protect his majority ahead of a daunting election year.
“On the budget front, I’m not a happy camper around here,” California Sen. Dianne Feinstein told POLITICO. “I think we need to have a budget that we stand by.”
“In the states, you can’t do this in the states — you’ve got to move,” said West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a former governor up for reelection next year. “We’re hoping we will.”
The lack of political gumption, in contrast to House Republicans who’ve been willing to take the heat for their own budget, is striking. As the Politico report observes, “The concerns may amount to just grumbling among the rank and file, but they point to the catch-22 for Reid: If he’s too ambitious, he’ll force Democrats to take tough votes that could backfire in 2012. But now that he’s taken on a decidedly thin agenda, some Democrats are getting restless.”
Why this belated realization that refusing to do their job may be injurious to their political health? (Unsurprisingly, the realization has registered most strongly with those like Manchin who are in competitive races in 2012.) Well, the economic numbers have underlined the Republicans’ assertion that the failure of leadership by Senate Democrats and the White House is increasing uncertainty and worsening our economic situation.
No Republican has been driving this message more consistently than Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). In remarks to be delivered today he will once again hit Democrats on their slothful conduct:
“Our fast-rising debt, and our inability to adopt a credible budget plan, is shattering economic confidence and jeopardizing our future. Yet Senate Democrats refuse to put forward such a budget plan or to confront the debt that they themselves have surged. The Democrat-led Senate hasn’t passed a budget in 770 days ((as of wednesday))... Instead of stonewalling a budget, Senate Democrats should be working with Republicans to produce a budget that makes our economy as robust and dynamic as possible.
To put America back to work the Senate needs to get back to work. Blocking a budget under these economic circumstances is simply unthinkable.”
Likewise, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been turning up the heat on Democrats. His communications director Don Stewart told me last night, “There is growing bipartisan concern over the Democrats’ failure to produce a budget, a plan or even a schedule to address the fiscal crisis we can all see coming. While Republicans have been sounding the alarm and offering proposals to turn things around, far too many Democrats have been sitting on their hands, waiting for the next election.” But now it seems Democrats are second-guessing that strategy. Voters may very well agree with Stewart that in perilous economic times shirking one’s job “isn’t going to cut it.”
The latest excuse for Democrats: They need to defer to deficit talks led by Vice President Joe Biden. (Reid spokesman Jon Summers is quoted: (“There’s broad consensus among our caucus that we [should] do nothing to undermine or distract from that.”) Of course, for nearly half a year before those talks began the Senate Democrats refused to act on their own.
With the prospects of a Biden deal low and concern in the country rising about the flagging economy, Senate Democrats are right to be nervous. In 2010 Democrats followed the White House over the political cliff on ObamaCare; now they risk doing the same on their leaders’ refusal to address the debt and the economy more generally. At some point you would think Democrats would figure out that the Obama-Reid strategy is designed to deflect blame at the expense of those facing the voters.