Angst in the Democratic Partys left flank has been building all year. Liberal lawmakers chafed at Obamas slow-walking of immigration reform and his embrace of anti-immigrant language in the health care bill. They wished he had put up more of a fight for a public insurance option. They have complained that Obamas economic team has been too friendly to big Wall Street firms while doing too little to help small businesses and create jobs, and has tried to delay a transportation bill that would put thousands of people to work.
And now Obama appears poised to announce a massive escalation of the war in Afghanistan.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said liberals are growing increasingly frustrated.
We feel that we havent been listened to, and yet we have to do the heavy lifting every time we pass legislation. ... Compromise is about give and take but right now all weve been doing is giving.
Liberal leaders have complained about being taken for granted before. Earlier this year, lawmakers squawked that they were the last major Congressional caucus to get an audience with the president; more recently liberals complained about having to compromise on issues such as health care reform.
Conflicts between Obama and liberal Members have started to affect his agenda. Before Thanksgiving, members of the Congressional Black Caucus held hostage his high-priority financial regulatory overhaul in the Financial Services Committee over differences with the Obama economic team on plans for fighting joblessness.
Liberal Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) also tore into Obamas economic team, calling for the resignations of adviser Larry Summers and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in an MSNBC interview. We may have to sacrifice two more jobs to get millions more for Americans, DeFazio said.
DeFazio and Grijalva were among many liberals disappointed that more spending wasnt included in the original stimulus package for public works projects, and they have said its time to pass such a package now.
Grijalva said incidents like the CBC revolt at Financial Services will continue if Obama does not start paying attention to liberals.
You are going to see that more and more, he said. Back-burner issues for the administration are front-burner issues to us.
The immediate battle is over the size and shape of a new jobs package. The administration and Democratic leadership has been talking about crafting a smaller, targeted package, but liberals want something bolder. The February stimulus cost $787 billion and was far-reaching.
It has to be big and it has to be robust, Grijalva said, contending that a few tweaks simply wont cut it.
Im in Yuma County right now, where unemployment is 25 percent. A tweak is not going to help here. We need a big jobs bill. We need big, bold public projects that will put a lot of people back to work.
Talk from the White House and Obama in recent weeks of reining in the deficit next year is raising red flags, Grijalva said. The deficit is a concern, the debt is a concern, but right now I think the primary concern of the American people is the economy and the people who are unemployed.