Democrats smell an opportunity to define House Republicans as irresponsible and unready to govern when they vote on the specific details of their budget cuts in the next two weeks.
Republicans are putting together their continuing resolution to keep the government operating beyond March 4 and have to translate Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (Wis.) cap cutting $35 billion from fiscal 2010 spending levels into the nitty-gritty legislative details.
Democrats are gearing up to take on the cuts as extreme and damaging to a host of popular programs, according to leadership aides on both sides of the Capitol. But they don’t want to be seen as merely defenders of big government either, and they acknowledge the public’s concern about the deficit.
“It’s definitely going to be threading the needle,” one senior House Democratic aide said.
They are looking to President Barack Obama to help them strike that balance. He’s already laid out a vision for a balance between austerity and new investments in education and infrastructure in his State of the Union address, and he continued to push that approach Monday before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“By stopping spending on things we don’t need, we can make investments in the things that we do need, the same way families do,” Obama said. “If they’ve got a fiscal problem, if they’ve got to tighten their belt, they don’t stop paying for Johnny to go to college. They cut out things they don’t need, but they still make investments in the things that are going to make sure we win the future.”
Obama’s speech didn’t appear to make any inroads with House GOP leaders, including Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who faces his first big test getting a CR through the House.
“Instead of committing to much-needed spending cuts and reforms, President Obama has urged Congress to raise the debt limit and pass more ineffective ‘stimulus’ spending disguised as ‘investment,’” Boehner said in a statement Monday. “It’s clear from his policies that President Obama isn’t as interested in winning the future as he is in rigging it for big government.”
Democrats said Obama will need to push back a lot more against sentiments like Boehner’s with the public.
“He’s really going to have to use the bully pulpit and show us the magic he showed around the table in the Blair House summit on health care,” the House senior aide said. “There’s a real opportunity here for Barack Obama to be the hero and leave Republicans looking like rabid ideologues.”
Aides said that Democratic leaders have deliberately tried to avoid attacking the size of the Republican cuts, waiting to see the specifics first.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.