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War on Fiscal Discipline Rages as Democrats Weigh Alternatives

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call
House Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen plans to unveil his alternative to the Republican budget Wednesday.

President Barack Obama’s decision to respond to House Republicans’ 2012 budget blueprint is complicating matters for Democrats on Capitol Hill.

The president’s address at George Washington University today comes as Senate and House Democrats have been working for weeks on their own deficit reduction and budget plans that were intended to provide a clear alternative to what the GOP has proposed.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), ranking member of the Budget Committee, will introduce today the House Democratic budget proposal. House Democrats hoped Van Hollen’s plan would form the basis for a countermessage to Republicans on budget cutting and federal spending.

Meanwhile, three Senate Democrats have been working as members of the “gang of six” to put together a bipartisan deficit reduction proposal of their own.

While Obama is not expected to present a detailed plan during his speech, it is anticipated that he will endorse the work of the bipartisan group of Senators.

White House Spokesman Jay Carney said in a briefing Monday that Obama “will very clearly lay out his vision for deficit reduction, the need for it to be balanced, the need for it to be bipartisan, the need for it to address the long-term drivers of our debt and for everyone to share in the burden of bringing our fiscal house into order.”

Obama’s support of the gang of six could undercut Van Hollen’s plan and muddy the message for Democrats on how they approach fiscal discipline. And with presidential politics already influencing Washington, Obama’s endorsement could make it more difficult for the bipartisan group to come to a final agreement if it helps Obama look good. Republicans who are part of the group already have said that they are having a hard time finding a way forward and that a plan would not be announced until after the two-week Easter recess.

Despite the potential for mixed messages, Senate and House Democrats publicly support Obama’s decision to step out on fiscal policy.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer told reporters Tuesday during his weekly press briefing that he thinks the “president needs to set forth a responsible way to get to the deficit.”

“I think the president feels a responsibility and he feels philosophically that he wants to set forth a reasonable path towards fiscal balance and fiscal stability and a growing economy, and I welcome that,” the Marylander added.

Senate Democrats echoed Hoyer’s support. 

Majority Whip Dick Durbin said even though Obama is expected to propose changes to Medicare, it won’t be tough for voters to distinguish between the Democrats’ proposals and the Ryan budget.

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