“Quite Clear”? The Democrats’ Leadership On The Budget Is Anything But

March 9, 2011

Growing Chorus of Critics Calls Out Democrats’ Dishonest Budget Maneuvering and their Failure to Lead


Responding to wide-ranging criticism that President Obama is not showing leadership in the budget debate, White House press secretary Jay Carney claimed that Obama’s leadership is “quite clear”:


CARNEY: Obama’s “leadership and seriousness about the need to live within our means, cut spending where … we can is quite clear.” (Matt Negrin, “White House v. Manchin,” Politico, 3/8/2011)


Oh? The comments from Carney come just as the Congressional Budget Office downgraded Harry Reid’s already paltry proposal for budget cuts by another 25 percent, from $6.5 billion to only $4.7 billion:


“The Congressional Budget Office this week said that the Senate Democrats’ bill offers $4.7 billion in spending cuts — not the $6.5 billion that President Obama and congressional Democrats said.” (Jake Tapper and Matthew Jaffe, “CBO: Democrats’ ‘$6.5 Billion’ in Spending Cuts Actually $4.7 Billion,” ABC News, 3/8/2011)


Indeed, the Democrats’ maneuvering to portray their proposal for $6.5 billion in cuts as meeting the GOP’s $61 billion in cuts “halfway” earned them “three Pinocchios” for dishonesty from The Washington Post:


The Democrats’ posturing that they have met Republicans ‘halfway’ on budget cuts does them no credit. Either they should take a stand and say they won’t accept any further cuts, or they should begin a real negotiation that leads to a higher number. Obama signaled he was willing to deal when he said he was ‘prepared to do more.’ But the persistent claims of going ‘halfway’ when in fact Democrats have done little to engage Republicans on the issue will only hurt their credibility in the long run.” (Glen Kessler, “Obama and the White House’s ‘Halfway’ Fixation With the Budget,” The Washington Post, 3/8/2011)


In fact, even several senators from Obama’s own party are backing down from their own budget proposal, instead variously criticizing Obama for “fail[ing] to lead,” not “join[ing] the fray,” and proposing cuts that “are not large enough”:


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): “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?’…


“‘Respectfully,’ Manchin will say, ‘I am asking President Obama to take this challenge head on and propose a compromise plan for dealing with the our nation’s fiscal challenges.'” (Jennifer Epstein, “Freshman Democrat Joe Manchin: Obama Has ‘Failed to Lead’ On Budget,” Politico, 3/8/2011)


SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D-MO): “Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said Monday she was unsure of whether she’d vote for her party’s bill. ‘I feel 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,’ she said. ‘But I know it doesn’t go as far as we need to go.'”(Jennifer Epstein, “Freshman Democrat Joe Manchin: Obama Has ‘Failed to Lead’ On Budget,”Politico, 3/8/2011)


SEN. MARK UDALL (D-NM): “Neil, I am still on mission in my way to get our fiscal house in order here. I do think the President has to join the fray. I think the White House’s concern is if they lay out a negotiating position initially, then they are at a disadvantage. But, at some point, the President can make a real difference.” (Remarks from Sen. Mark Udall, Fox News’ “Your World With Cavuto”, 3/8/11)


SEN. DIANE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): “The President needs to play a much greater role in these negotiations…


The President doesn’t want to engage in this fight because it’s really, really hard, because we’re up against a government shutdown and we can’t keep funding the government with these stop-gap measures.” (Susan Crabtree, “Senior Democratic Senators To Obama: Please Engage On Budget Talks,” Talking Points Memo Blog, 3/9/11)


SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D-MI): “I would very much like to see the President engage a little more loudly.” (Susan Crabtree, “Senior Democratic Senators To Obama: Please Engage On Budget Talks,” Talking Points Memo Blog, 3/9/11)


Despite these long-simmering frustrations, the blame game between the White House and Senate Democrats persists, with each looking to the other side for leadership:


NBC’s CHUCK TODD: “But the White House will argue the Senate Democrats come up with just one plan. House Republicans have come up with two. Come up with one plan. They want the Senate Democrats to own the plan.” (Remarks from Chuck Todd, MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown”, 3/9/11)


NATIONAL JOURNAL’s MAJOR GARRETT: “Yes, but the Senate Democrats have a lingering fear that whatever they come up with, the White House will say, okay, you’re there and the House Republicans are here, and we’re going to get right down the middle. We’ll be the cavalry on our terms. So what this is partially about is a lack of trust in a sense of whose side the White House is on.” (Remarks from Major Garrett, MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown”, 3/9/11)


This shirking of responsibility led even like-minded observers to criticize Obama’s “Where’s Waldo presidency?”:


WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST RUTH MARCUS: “For a man who won office talking about change we can believe in, Barack Obama can be a strangely passive president. There are a startling number of occasions in which the president has been missing in action – unwilling, reluctant or late to weigh in on the issue of the moment. He is, too often, more reactive than inspirational, more cautious than forceful…


“Yet the dots connect to form an unsettling portrait of a “Where’s Waldo?” presidency: You frequently have to squint to find the White House amid the larger landscape.” (Ruth Marcus, “Obama’s ‘Where’s Waldo?’ Presidency,” The Washington Post, 3/2/2011)


MORE MARCUS: “They don’t call him the ‘mediator’ of the free world, they call him the ‘leader’ of the free world.”(Remarks from Ruth Marcus, The Daily Rundown on MSNBC, 3/3/2011)


Not that Senate Democrats are much better themselves—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the floor yesterday to lambast “mean-spirited” Republicans for, of all things, voting to cut spending on “cowboy poetry” festivals in rural Nevada:


” ‘The mean-spirited bill, H.R. 1 … eliminates the National Endowment of the Humanities, National Endowment of the Arts,’ said Reid. ‘These programs create jobs. The National Endowment of the Humanities is the reason we have in northern Nevada every January a cowboy poetry festival. Had that program not been around, the tens of thousands of people who come there every year would not exist.'” (Shira Toeplitz, “Reid: Save Federal Funding for the Cowboy Poets!”,Politico, 3/8/2011)


It’s little wonder polling shows the public is on the GOP’s side, with new numbers out today finding 62 percent of voters agree with Republicans that “we need to cut significant federal spending through the rest of this fiscal year,” while only 28 percent side with Democrats. House Republicans have been the only adults in the room, already passing two bills to cut spending and avoid a government shutdown:


Voters believe we should start cutting federal spending now, not wait until the end of the fiscal year. By more than a two-to-one margin, 62 to 28 percent, voters agree with ‘Republicans who say we need to cut significant federal spending through the rest of this fiscal year,’ rather than ‘Democrats who say we should continue federal spending at close to the current level through the rest of this fiscal year.’ Independents agree with the Republicans who want significant cuts now by 68 to 21 percent.” (“Voters to Congress: Cut Federal Spending Now,” Resurgent Republic, 3/9/2011)


But after Democrats failed to pass a budget in 2010 and voted against reasonable spending cuts in the FY 2011 budget, perhaps we can’t expect any better from them:


House Democrats will not pass a budget blueprint in 2010, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) will confirm in a speech on Tuesday…


“The House has never failed to pass an annual budget resolution since the current budget rules were put into place in 1974.” (Jared Allen, “Dems won’t pass budget in 2010,” The Hill, 6/21/2010)


ZERO HOUSE DEMS VOTE FOR SPENDING CUTS IN FY 2011 BUDGET: Final Vote: 235-189 (Roll Call Vote 147, 2/19/2011)


PELOSI, 84 OTHER DEMS VOTE AGAINST STOPGAP MEASURE: Final Roll Call: 335-91 (Roll Call 154, Clerk of U.S. House)