Dems together on budget

House Democrats will attempt today to force Republicans to retreat from a key provision in their budget, hoping to repeat last year’s victory in which the GOP leaders released their rank-and-file members and allowed them to vote for the Democrats’ motion to instruct conferees.

This year’s motion will be on the “pay-go” language on tax cuts. The Democrats want the House to accede to the Senate’s language.

Today’s vote will be the first of several procedural and political moves in which Democrats hope to harness their unanimous opposition to the Republican budget and provide voters a clear choice about the two parties’ priorities on homeland security, veterans, the environment and education.

“It is going to be very interesting to see on the pay-as-you-go, which the Senate has adopted in a bipartisan fashion affecting both spending and taxes, what they [Republicans] do on the motions to instruct,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Democrats touted their unity on the budget this year, saying it was unprecedented.

Aides noted that not a single Democrat voted last week for the Republican proposal and that over 96 supported the Democratic alternative. This year, only eight Democrats did not support the resolution offered by Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.), the ranking member on the House Budget Committee. Last year, that number was 11.

Hoyer said, “What was agreed, the trade-offs were that we would constrain spending and reach balance and at the same time, we would provide additional sums for education, veterans and healthcare. 

“There was some consternation about that,” Hoyer added, explaining, “We told members that we needed a credible alternative, so that when we criticize their budget we needed to have our own plan.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “Democrats showed outstanding unity in our effort to defeat the Republican budget, and will continue to be united as we work through the conference.”

Spratt also fought hard to make sure that the Democrats’ proposal had higher funding for homeland security.

“Republicans talk about homeland security, but when it came time to demonstrate priorities by committing the necessary resources, it was the House Democratic budget which actually invested more in securing the homeland,” said a Democratic leadership aide.
 
Achieving such high support for that alternative was a “difficult balance,” the aide continued. Concessions were made and a consensus was reached among the disparate wings of the party, including the Blue Dogs, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus.

Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.), a key member of the Blue Dog Coalition, said, “The budget debate this year was a continuation of the work Steny has done to bring the party together.

“As a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, I was pleased with his involvement in the debate over fiscal restraint, coupled with strong budget enforcement mechanisms — an issue of particular importance with the Blue Dogs.”

This year’s whipping operation started nearly four weeks before the actual vote and was closely coordinated with outside groups, said a senior Democratic leadership aide.

“Steny played a major role in getting key groups together, from veterans to seniors to unions, and we worked [to] coordinate the operations,” said Chuck Loveless, legislative director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “There are no if, and or buts about it, Steny did a masterful job.”

Another lobbyist who worked with Hoyer’s office in trying to educate Democrats and put pressure on centrist Republicans said, “The coordination between the progressive groups was impressive this year.”

“We went and talked to moderate Republicans,” the lobbyist continued. “We didn’t get a huge number of them; we got three of them. That’s the beachhead. Mike Castle [Del.], Chris Shays [Conn.], Chris Smith [N.J.]. This is a long-term process.”

“The fact that they heard unanimity from a lot of progressive groups, particularly the environmental, means that maybe next time we’ll have even more success,” the lobbyist added.