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Democratic leaders believe the centrists will fall in line at least partly because opposing a popular president from their own party carries political risk. However, some Senate Democratic insiders are crediting Conrad, arguing that the Budget chairmans revisions to Obamas plan have made it more palatable.
Conrads budget blueprint spends slightly less than Obamas and goes further than the presidents to reduce the deficit. Also, Conrads proposal does not set aside any money for a health care overhaul or controversial cap-and-trade energy policy.
Obamas message to the budget skeptics within the Senate Democratic Conference? Get on board or risk losing re-election in 2010.
And in fact despite the infancy of Obamas presidency Democrats worry that their window is narrow to enact program overhauls that have been on their wish list for decades.
I think President Obama at the caucus [Wednesday] gave an interesting parting shot before he left. He said, Look, were all in this together, said Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa), a veteran liberal lawmaker, describing Obamas message to those Democrats who are running for re-election.
Those of you who are up in 2010, if were still in an economic mess, and we havent done health care reform and we havent done something on education [and] we havent done something on energy youre in trouble, Harkin continued, paraphrasing the president. I dont care how far you distance yourself from me, how much you say this is too liberal, too progressive, it aint going to help you.
Questioned Friday about predictions that they are all bark and no bite, some stalwart centrist Democrats pushed back.
Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.) noted that the Senates version of the spending plan emerged from the Budget Committee late on Thursday and that he would have to review it before determining where he stands. Pryor also said the lines of communication between the White House and his fellow moderates have been open.
Moderate Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) was even more forceful in disabusing the notion that his concerns on the budget amount to empty rhetoric: Theres no question in my mind that Im totally sincere. Im not bluffing and Im not playing cards.
John Stanton contributed to this report.