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Senate Democrats Try Leading

Douglas Graham/Roll Call
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid helps introduce Democrats’ “Winning the Future” agenda Wednesday.

The rollout of the Senate Democratic agenda Wednesday marks the highest-profile output to date of a revamped message and policy operation quarterbacked by Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.).

After counterpunching Republicans on the health care repeal and warning of the risks of a government shutdown in the early weeks of this session, the pressure has been rising on Democrats to produce a specific agenda of their own instead of simply playing the just-say-no role Republicans played in the 111th Congress.

The new Senate Democratic agenda, which was finalized last week at the party retreat, pays lip service to the public thirst for budget cuts by adopting President Barack Obama’s call for a five-year domestic discretionary spending freeze while trumpeting new spending that Democrats argue will create jobs. Democratic leaders also tied themselves to Obama’s State of the Union message that the country needs to “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build” the rest of the world, but they want credit for taking initiative on their own to build an agenda.

“We deliberately wanted the State of the Union to come first so the president could lay out a broad framework, and now we’re filling in the details,” Schumer said.

The details included are relatively modest, recycled ideas that in the past have garnered at least some bipartisan support. The 20-item list includes finally passing a long-delayed highway bill, protecting stimulus smart-grid and clean-energy investments from Republican cuts, creating a Clean Energy Deployment Administration, and making the research and development tax credit permanent. Other items include perennials such as patent reform, tax reform and a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind law.

The messaging operation remains directed at House Republicans while largely making nice with their Senate Republican colleagues in an effort to appear moderate and sensible.

“The budget in the House is a road map to disaster,” Schumer said. “We are being responsible; they are being reckless.”

Democrats argued that their new investments in education, energy and highways in their five-page “Winning the Future” agenda, coupled with an overall spending freeze, are preferable to deep cuts across the government proposed by Republicans.

Democrats said cutting deep into education, infrastructure and scientific research, as the House Republicans plan to do this week, would cut future job growth and lead to deep cuts in both private- and public-sector jobs at a time when the economy cannot afford it.

The Senate Democratic blueprint comes as the House debates a continuing resolution to fund the government through Sept. 30. The measure calls for $100 billion in cuts from President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget recommendation, and Senate Democrats had previously been unable to articulate what spending level they prefer.

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