Congressional Democrats want to see more of the newly aggressive side of President Barack Obama that they've witnessed in the past week — even as some grumble about the details of his jobs plan and remain worried he will trade away their priorities in another high-stakes deal with the GOP.
Obama's $447 billion jobs package may not get passed in its current form — especially his plan for $467 billion in assorted tax increases on the wealthy and corporations to pay for it — but Democrats said he's finally taking their advice, going on the road and selling something of his own.
"The president's got to go out and talk about it every day, like he's doing in Columbus," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said of the president's trip to his home state Tuesday. Brown said voters don't want to hear about more fights over spending cuts.
Over the past two and a half years, Democrats in the Capitol have grumbled that Obama's legislative strategy has been too timid, with the president shying away from supporting specific bills and hiding behind calls for bipartisanship and compromise. And they've said he has often started out negotiations with Republicans by signaling too soon what he is willing to give up.
This time, Democrats said, they feel Obama at least has something he can sell to his base, even though they have no illusions that the plan will reach his desk without significant modifications.
"I feel like we're in a better place now than before, when we didn't feel like there was any strategy at all," a senior Senate Democratic aide said.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said the plan still includes too many tax cuts and not enough spending on infrastructure to directly create jobs.
"He's moving in the right direction, although I wish it had happened a lot sooner," Harkin said.
But the mistrust of the White House still lingers. Senate Democrats remain wary that Obama will continue to run against Congress, instead of Republican obstruction.
"Before the jobs plan, people were really upset because they felt like he was running against Congress and everyone up here was equally responsible," the aide said. "I hope they really reconsidered their strategy a bit with the summer they had," the aide said, noting Obama's eroding poll ratings.
While some Democrats — such as Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) — don't favor the tax hikes Obama proposed to pay for his plan, that "Robin Hood" approach to public policy at least unites his somewhat-dispirited base, others said.
But the White House didn't do itself any favors when the president undermined his own message that he wanted Congress to pass his whole package immediately. He told Latino reporters Monday that he will sign pieces of his package if they are sent to his desk. That had some Democrats seeing a repeat of earlier cave-ins to the GOP and fearing that Obama will simply acquiesce to a tax-cuts-only package. The White House quickly tried to downplay the comments.
Lois Lerner, director of exempt organizations for the IRS, arrives for a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the investigation of the IRS' targeting of political groups. Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not testify and caused a protest from some committee members when she offered an opening statement and engaged in dialogue with members before invoking the right.
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