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Talks Whipsawing Rank and File

Tom Williams/Roll Call
House Democrats were buoyed when it appeared House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was at the table last week in debt limit talks.

Rep. Brad Miller, who voted against the tax deal in December, also said "a lot of Members" were nervous last week about the Obama-Boehner talks. But, like Connolly, the North Carolina Democrat noted, "We are captive downballot from the decisions the White House makes," even if it's a deal they don't like.

"If the administration agrees to a deal that doesn't work for us, even if some in our Caucus choose to vote against it, we will have to live with the consequences," he said.

Senate Democrats have been less reserved and came out swinging last week in a closed-door session with Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) described the session as "volcanic," and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who faces re-election next year, said she "lost it" during the meeting.

House Democrats, though, are in a different position than their Senate counterparts. December's tax deal and the continuing resolution debate this spring left them feeling alienated at a time when they were searching for a way out of the minority.

But Democratic Rep. Kathy Hochul's victory in May's special election in New York and a unified message to protect Medicare provided a morale boost. Any deal that made cuts to entitlements threatened that message.

Obama has acknowledged taking heat from Democrats on his willingness to deal.

"We'd seen a pattern of not being included, especially with the tax cuts," Grijalva said.

The Progressive Caucus sent a letter to Obama this month calling on him to protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Some of those Members, notably Reps. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), spoke out during a recent Caucus meeting when there were rumblings that Democrats might agree to some entitlement changes.

And with several House Republicans unlikely to vote for any debt limit increase no matter what the terms, Democrats said Obama might need their votes and will need a strong sales pitch for their support.

"I think the Obama administration is correct in dealing with House Republicans; they're in the majority," Miller said last week, before Boehner shut down his talks with Obama. "But nevertheless, I think House Democrats would like to be included, and they are going to need some of our votes."

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