Less than three weeks into his administration and despite high approval ratings, President Barack Obamas signature legislation to revive the U.S. economy is taking hits in the Senate, particularly from fellow Democrats who are decidedly unsatisfied with the bill passed by the House last week.
Although it is standard for the Senate to flex its muscle, new presidents are normally granted a bipartisan honeymoon of at least a few months during which their top initiatives are allowed to smoothly sail onto the Oval Office desk.
But in addition to Republican recalcitrance, a significant number of Senate Democrats are concerned with the size and scope of the $900 billion stimulus bill and have moved unapologetically to rewrite large portions of it.
Senators get election certificates. Were sent here to make independent judgments, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said Wednesday. But, I will tell you, not just as one, but from a lot of [Democratic] colleagues, we think President Obama is off to a strong, strong start.
Though Democrats would not be expected to criticize Obama personally, even Senate Republicans have taken pains to praise the presidents motives and effort, particularly his moves to reach out for GOP support. Republican opposition has centered on the contents of the stimulus bill.
And in fact, its the House version of the bill that is the root of Obamas problems, K Street operatives said, adding that the bill contains too many apparent giveaways.
People are paying attention to whats in it, one lobbyist friendly with both sides of the aisle said when asked why there is more than the usual token Democratic opposition. Its a bad bill. Why did the [White House] let this get so out of control its the penultimate Christmas tree.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed the House last Thursday with little drama and all but 11 Democrats voting for it, albeit no Republican support.
The White House did not signal any major displeasure with the $816 billion measure the Senate version currently stands at about $900 billion until it became clear that Senate approval would not be nearly as easy.
Capitol Hill political operatives say it is the severity of the national economic recession that is causing Democratic Senators raise questions about the bill, in part to provide themselves with political cover should the legislation ultimately fail to help jump-start the economy.
This political factor holds even greater resonance for those Democrats who represent conservative-leaning states, of which there are several after two straight election cycles of Democratic Senate pickups.
The negative publicity generated by the bills House version has also contributed to many Democrats less-than-enthusiastic reaction, in some cases causing more discomfort than the contents of the bill itself.
The more those stories continue, the more it appears like a boondoggle, one Democratic Senate aide said.
The aide added that opposing the bill in its current form or offering amendments creates a cover mechanism for anyone who has concerns. And it will allow Senators to make changes in the House-Senate conference committee that they can later declare made the bill better.