Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 4, 2009

HERDING CATS.... It all seemed so encouraging. President Obama delivered a national address before both houses of Congress, outlining an ambitious and fundamental change to the way the government operates. Americans loved it. The White House then unveiled a budget blueprint that not only mirrors the campaign agenda endorsed by the electorate last year, but also takes the country in precisely the right direction.

The president is riding high; he enjoys a national mandate; his party controls both the House and Senate; Republicans can't filibuster budget reconciliations; and the public finally trusts the Democrats to do what's right on the economy. There was ample reason for optimism.

And yet, the old Will Rogers adage about Democrats rings true for a reason.

Moderate and conservative Democrats in the Senate are starting to choke over the massive spending and tax increases in President Barack Obama's budget plans and have begun plotting to increase their influence over the agenda of a president who is turning out to be much more liberal than they are.

A group of 14 Senate Democrats and one independent huddled behind closed doors on Tuesday, discussing how centrists in that chamber can assert more leverage on the major policy debates that will dominate this Congress.

Afterward, some in attendance made plain that they are getting jitters over the cost and expansive reach of Obama's $3.6 trillion budget proposal.

Asked when he'd reach his breaking point, Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, said: "Right now. I'm concerned about the amount that's being offered in [Obama's] budget."

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is uncomfortable with the spending levels. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) is uncomfortable with the tax increases on the wealthy, and wants to see the federal government cut back during an economic crisis. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) wants to see investments cut off after a year. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), apparently talking about spending increases, asked, "At what point of time do you say enough is enough?"

We've reached the point at which Evan Bayh has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, complaining about earmarks and taxes, which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) liked so much, he entered it into the congressional record this morning.

I can appreciate Democratic lawmakers wanting to have an influence over the budget process. Obviously, they're not rubber-stamps for the White House, nor should they be.

But based on the concerns they've raised, it sounds like far too many "centrist" Democrats aren't able to shake the mindset that's dominated politics for the last 30 years. They're uncomfortable about going too fast. They're burdened by fears and timidity. Ambition is bad. Change is fine, just so long as it's slow.

They're going to need a push.

Steve Benen 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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Comments

Okay...let's push!!!

Posted by: jess on March 4, 2009 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

All those times recently when Obama was talking about how there are entrenched interests in Washington who are going to have to be challenged in order to get things done?

He wasn't just talking about Republicans.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on March 4, 2009 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

progressives slog thru mud ceaselessly -- the moderate dems, the will rogers syndrome, etc.

just as every real progressive advance is built on a mtn of failures...

if the obama white house is smart, they arent surprised at wanker-of-the day's wsj editorial. if they are smart, its intended effect and those of other such slow-downs are already anticipated and neutralized.

Posted by: neill on March 4, 2009 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

Can we get a list of these 14 DEM senators so we can contact them if necessary. I'm assuming Schumer is not on there but what about Gillibrand in NY? Also, since I recently had residency in CO, I can probably contact them as well. Again, I'm assuming Udall isn't on that list but what about Bennett?

Posted by: Augie on March 4, 2009 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

None of the states mentioned is a strong candidate for progressive identification. What Obama is doing is in the best interests of ALL Americans, and to a lesser degree, the whole world. I would not be concerned about people from LA, IN, etc. grousing about the speed and direction of Obama's push. Let them catch up on their own timetable. As for me, let's move forward with all due speed, and support our President, with critical thinking as part of the mix.

I am committed to Oneness through Justice and Transformation
peace,
st john

Posted by: st john on March 4, 2009 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

They're going to need a push.

Can that push be out the fucking door?

Posted by: ckelly on March 4, 2009 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

Moderate and conservative Democrats in the Senate ... have begun plotting to increase their influence over the agenda of a president who is turning out to be much more liberal than they are.

And a deal of a lot more popular, and a veteran of Chicago politics into the bargain. This guy has prevailed over Hillary Clinton and McCain; now Landrieu and Bayh -- whose state voted for Obama this time! -- want to take him on? Lotsa luck, guys.

Posted by: Gregory on March 4, 2009 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

"A group of 14 Senate Democrats and one independent"

One independent, eh? Gee, I wonder who that could be. [roll-eyes]

Posted by: Jurgan on March 4, 2009 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

To paraphrase Will Rogers, the first year of the presidency is the hardest, then comes the second year, then the third, then the fourth, and so on.

Posted by: Brojo on March 4, 2009 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

If they want to cut back, fine. First they should propose what spending or program in their state or district can be cut. Farm programs in Indiana? Fine. Flood control in LA? Fine. But instead of cutting in some other state, start at home first.

Posted by: Tigershark on March 4, 2009 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

my memory must be slipping. wasn't there an election recently? and didn't some guy named obama win handily by pushing a more progressive agenda?

Posted by: just bill on March 4, 2009 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans have enough advantage getting their talking points repeated ad nauseum across the TeeVee, without democrats jumping on board.

These assholes all talk about trillion this and trillion that, and act shocked by the number. According to Wiki "As of 2009, the United States government is spending about $1 trillion annually on defense-related purposes." We spend almost as much as the rest of the world combined on defense spending.

Since 1980, We've spent 11.5 Trillion on the military. That's just requested spending, not even actual spending, and does not include Iraq or Afghanistan expenses.

So if you spent 5.75 BILLION DOLLARS every day since Jesus was born.............

Posted by: palinoscopy on March 4, 2009 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

it sounds like far too many "centrist" Democrats aren't able to shake the mindset that's dominated politics for the last 30 years. They're uncomfortable about going too fast. They're burdened by fears and timidity. Ambition is bad. Change is fine, just so long as it's slow.

So that's who Brooks was aiming his bullshit column at.

I can't entirely blame the likes of Bayh and Landrieu; the so-called "liberal media" shares the same Republican-tilted mindset that's dominated politics for the last 30 years to the point that NPR got rid of Kevin Phillips -- an honest conservative and, therefore, Bush critic -- and just has Cokie Roberts supply the Republican Beltway conventional wisdom. It's rich that the national political media will be among the last to figure out that the rules of the game have changed, but probably not before joining the Republican Party in feckless irrelevance. Feh.

Posted by: Gregory on March 4, 2009 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Why is anyone surprised? Of course, every elected representative is going wants to score some points. Centrists always want to go slow.

Barack Obama has proven to be a pretty good fighter so far. i wouldn't bet against him. There will be compromises, but I think the broad outline will hang together.

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 4, 2009 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

5.75 [MILLION] DOLLARS since Jesus was born

Fixed.

Posted by: palinoscopy on March 4, 2009 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) is uncomfortable with the tax increases on the wealthy

In the name of fiscal conservatism, who would he prefer the victims be?

Posted by: Danp on March 4, 2009 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Any fool can see that this "recession" is rapidly becoming a full-scale depression, and unfortunately these moderates are worse than fools. But the dire situation will likely radically realign American politics just three months from now. The moderates will be under a lot of pressure to become radicals, albeit after the damage is already done.

Posted by: g. powell on March 4, 2009 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

This is hardly suprising. Of course they're going to need some convincing! I'm quite sure Obama has planned for this. If these moderate dems don't go all "rogue" and jump in bed with the gop, then we will be a stonger party for it.

Obama has a very ambitious agenda. Interparty discussions and debate are healthy as long as Obama exhibits the leadership qualities that he has shown thus far.

Do not make a mountain out of this predictable milehill, if it's done right the dems will come out looking stronger and more diverse for it. I want a Big Tent party, I want discussion and debate, I don't want a lockstep party. Yes, the modertes are going to need convincing, so what? Making the case to them isn't an unhealthy endeavor- -'m quite sure Obama is viewing this as an opportinity.

Posted by: zoe kentucky on March 4, 2009 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

The fact that Bayh agreed to publish his misinformed opinion in the repeatedly discredited WSJ editorial page speaks volumes about his intelligence on economic matters.

We need a strong Indiana progressive to take him out in the primary when he's up for re-election again.

Posted by: CJ on March 4, 2009 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

Evan Bayh: Man of the people.

Tigershark wins the day -- if Mary Landrieu is so concerned, she can start by cutting down on her $332,000,000 in earmarks. Otherwise, STFU.

Posted by: Run Up The Score on March 4, 2009 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

Also, we would be deliquent in forgetting to remind the world that Obama's budget IS GOOD NEWS FOR REPUBLICANS.

Posted by: Run Up The Score on March 4, 2009 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

It's reassuring to see these folks continuing their strong, principled resistance, just like during the Bush presidency. Oh. They didn't? Well, then ....

Posted by: Greg Worley on March 4, 2009 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

Not another Gang of 14! Is there some kind of mystic cabbalistic significance to that number? Sheesh.

Posted by: sal on March 4, 2009 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

This is why I have so much more respect for my state's other senator, Sen. Richard Lugar (R). I don't always agree with him, but I know that his positions are driven by a well-thought philosophy of what's best for our nation. By contrast, Sen. Bayh's are driven by personal ambition and a desire to make a name for himself.

Posted by: Hoosier Paul on March 4, 2009 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

This is how Evan Bayh has always been. Likes to make a name for himself by staking out an unexpectedly "right" position at an odd time. He governed Indiana from the most timid center, blowing a progressive opportunity there that was (state-level-wise) almost as good as the one Obama has nationally right now. Disappointing but not surprising. Obama needs to build up public support to overwhelm these chickens.

Posted by: wilky on March 4, 2009 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

Yep, all these moderate obstructionists need to zero out their earmarks before anyone takes them seriously.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on March 4, 2009 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

Can't the Calicos and the Tabbies just be friends? Best follow the leader of the Pride.

Posted by: berttheclock on March 4, 2009 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

This is why I have so much more respect for my state's other senator, Sen. Richard Lugar (R). I don't always agree with him, but I know that his positions are driven by a well-thought philosophy of what's best for our nation.

I used to agree, but Lugar's well-thought philosophy of what's best for our nation weren't worth a bucket of piss in opposing Bush's poorly thought out policies of ruining our nation.

Posted by: Gregory on March 4, 2009 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

Now would be a fine, fine time to see how that DNC-arm of the Obama campaign, complete with his ginormous e-mail list, really works when it comes to advancing public policy. Mr. Plouffe, start your engines. . .

Posted by: zeitgeist on March 4, 2009 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

If they're so damned concerned about the budget, then why didn't they protest about cost overruns for Iraq War contractors, Bush tax cuts on the wealthy that added on the deficit, or the bloated Medicare Big Pharma giveaway? Oh yeah, I forgot. They're "centrists."

Posted by: jonp72 on March 4, 2009 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

Evan Bayh was an ass, is an ass, & will always be a Clintonista asshole. Being of sound DNC background, Bayh can always be counted upon to support the interests of corporate & wealthy amerika. That he would oppose raising taxes on his base (corporate & $$$) is hardly surprising.

Q&A

Q: What is the difference between the 2 senators from Indiana?

A: I used to respect Dick Lugar. Unfortunately that was pre-Bush the lesser.

Posted by: SadOldVet on March 4, 2009 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Get on board or get out of the way. Half measures avail us of nothing.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on March 4, 2009 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

They're going to need a push.

If you give me a really big bulldozer, I can demonstrate the successful herding of cats. The cats have two options: To either flee for their ever-loving lives before the oncoming blade of the really big bulldozer, or to be plowed under by the oncoming blade of the really big bulldozer, followed by being squashed into the consistency of watered-down banana pudding (riddled with cat fur, cat bones, and other such non-delectable cat pieces, no doubt) by the tracks of same said really big bulldozer. Just think of it as the centrists' "Bill the Cat meets Dick Cheney's shredding truck" moment....

Posted by: Steve W. on March 4, 2009 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

They're going to need a push.

They're going to need a swift kick in the ass is what they're going to need. Watch for e-mail from President Obama suggesting you deliver it to them.

After 2010, when we have a 60+ majority in the Senate, maybe we can kick Ben "legend in his own mind" Nelson into the Republican Party where he belongs - he's been am ebarassment since the day he arrived in the Senate.

Posted by: TCinLA on March 4, 2009 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

I'm kinda surprised by your tone in this post...it seems to me that these people are doing nothing but politickin'...that they're pretending to act tough to appease their more right leaning voters back home - I'm pretty sure they realize that they're not going to change anything.

How many of these are up for re-election in 2010?

Posted by: neilt on March 4, 2009 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

Obama should invite them all to the WH for a sit-down with his economic advisers. Convince my advisers your way will right the economy faster and I will do it. They are all scared to death of their next campaign.

Posted by: Th on March 4, 2009 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

Create two, three, many Susan Collinses!

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on March 4, 2009 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

"Centrist" means government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich -- because that is the central organizing principle of American government.

"Centrist Democrats" believe that the rich should throw a few scraps from their table to the working class and the middle class.

"Moderate Republicans" believe that's going too far, and the working class and middle class should settle for whatever crumbs fall on the floor.

"Conservative Republicans" believe that the working class and middle class should get a kick in the teeth.

"Neoconservative Republicans" believe that the working class and the middle class are what's for dinner.

For all of them, the idea that the working class and middle class should have a seat at the table is off the table.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 4, 2009 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

It's truly waaaayyy too early to freak out over this. There is only something critically wrong if Obama and his managers didn't see this coming and have a plan (or two) to deal with it. They are moderates from conservative districts/states, of course they have to make some noise.

Let's not take a page from the GOP playbook and start screaming for their heads, OK? Purging of all party members who aren't in total lockstep agreement with Obama IS NOT healthy for the party, it's not a mature way to deal with different opinions. These folks can be reassured and brought on board, they are not unreachable. They come from conservative districts-- they're motivated to keep their jobs as well as represent their districts/states.

First person who starts to call them "DINOs" is a rotten egg. (grin)

Posted by: zoe kentucky on March 4, 2009 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

re: Bush tax cuts. I must be confused. Don't the tax cuts expire unless Congress extends them and would it not be next to impossible to override the expected veto?

Posted by: stuart on March 4, 2009 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

The ship will have to sink before the idiots think it is in their interest to take a bucket and help us bail.

So sad.

Posted by: Ghost on March 4, 2009 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

One of the reasons that so many Democrats are political embarrassments is because too many don't understand that the best time for a group of 'moderates'/centrists is when the opposing party is in power. That's when they can finesse issues, negotiate, build their credibility for both sides, without undermining their own team too much. Specter's trying to do this, although the GOP base is too far gone to grasp the wisdom in it. But of course Blue Dog Dems always want to impress their opponents instead of their allies, and decide that they need to step front and center when the party with which they're supposedly allied actually is in a position to accomplish some of the things that its philosophy advocates. I don't know what use these guys are supposed to be once the committee seats are allocated & the leaders are elected, to be honest.

Sometimes I wonder if these people learned any social skills whatsoever growing up.

Posted by: latts on March 4, 2009 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Someone should ask these 14 Dems if they want Obama to fail too.

Posted by: JWK on March 4, 2009 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Uhh, Steve?

Russ Feingold ain't no moderate Democrat, and he's opposed to the bill, too.

Think you need to retract the last paragraph of this post.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on March 4, 2009 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK
There is only something critically wrong if Obama and his managers didn't see this coming and have a plan (or two) to deal with it.
My sense is that they did see it coming, and have learned from their mistakes on the stimulus, and therefore "went long" on the budget proposal in a way they didn't do on the stimulus. I suspect they left room for the posturing "centrists" to do some trimming while still ending up with a package that Obama privately feels is adequate. Posted by: Steve LaBonne on March 4, 2009 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

i'd be curious as to how many democrats taking these idiotic positions publicly are attempting to give themselves a PR boost by making noises they've heard "serious people" make.

Posted by: karen marie on March 4, 2009 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

All this is just going to provide yet another example of how completely useless Harry Reid is as Majority Leader.

As for Bayh, he's a chip off his father's block. During his attempts to capture the Dem Pres nomination many years ago, Birch Bayh's vapid and vacuous campaign oratory prompted one observer to dub him "the world's oldest Purdue sophomore."

Posted by: bluestatedon on March 4, 2009 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

....it sounds like far too many "centrist" Democrats aren't able to shake the mindset that's dominated politics for the last 30 years.

You mean "borrow-and-spend"? I think it's the administration that isn't able to shake the spending mindset that has brought our nation to its knees.

Posted by: Luther on March 4, 2009 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is uncomfortable with the spending levels. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) is uncomfortable with the tax increases on the wealthy, and wants to see the federal government cut back during an economic crisis. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) wants to see investments cut off after a year. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), apparently talking about spending increases, asked, "At what point of time do you say enough is enough?"

Don't they realize we're in a crisis?

"Enough" is when the economic crisis is defeated and we can begin to return to normal behavior.

Unless they want to say we shouldn't react to the crisis and just let everything go to Hell. But, that's their call.

Maybe they should run for president and see how far their ideas get them.

Posted by: MarkH on March 4, 2009 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

"At what point of time do you say enough is enough?"

You push a car with a dead battery until it starts. You do the same with the economy when it has a dead battery. You push it until it starts. That does not take a GED to understand.

Posted by: Texas Aggie on March 4, 2009 at 8:16 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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