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Budget Breeds More Division

President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget blueprint will land on the Capitol steps Monday morning, but the tough choices it demands are already dividing Democrats.

Several liberal lawmakers said they think Obama’s proposed spending freeze on nonmilitary domestic spending is premature with the economy still on shaky ground and millions still unemployed.

But the move, backed up by Obama with a veto threat during the State of the Union address, has won cheers from the Democrats’ moderate wing, whose members have been battered back home over the past year and are spooked by Republican Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts special Senate election last month.

“This president’s beginning to draw a line in the sand in a way that I think is necessary,” said Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who is running for re-election in November. “Regrettably, Congress needs adult supervision. That’s why we have an executive with a veto pen, and I look forward to him using it if necessary.”

Obama’s challenge in getting votes for his budget was made clear during last week’s speech, when his line calling for a spending freeze earned heartier applause from Republicans than from Democrats. And some liberals, such as Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), an appropriator and Pelosi confidante, refused to stand or applaud the idea at all.

“He’s doing exactly what George Bush would have done,” said Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), who has been highly critical of Obama’s war policies in particular. Conyers said the president cannot count on his support for the spending moratorium.

“If you’re talking about my vote, boy that budget’s in trouble,” he said. “If you’re talking about what everybody else is going to do, I don’t know.”

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), who is also an appropriator, said she did a double-take when she first heard about the freeze. “I was hoping it was a typo,” she said. Kaptur, who sits on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, said it didn’t make sense to target domestic discretionary spending on its own since it is such a small piece of the overall budget.

Liberals such as Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said they plan to comb through the budget to make sure programs helping people in need aren’t on the chopping block.

“I don’t understand how a domestic spending freeze accomplishes creating jobs and turning our economy around,” Lee said last week.

McGovern said any savings Obama is trying to achieve would be “pissed away” in Afghanistan, where Obama has ordered another 30,000 troops. McGovern urged more spending on rebuilding America instead.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said a freeze “may be necessary” but said it should also apply to defense contractors, who she said have been paid hundreds of billions of dollars in cost overruns.

“We do not support an entitlement program for overruns on the part of military contractors,” Pelosi said.

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