But Democratic leaders were mindful of the restlessness of some of their colleagues when they announced their support for a spending freeze as the opening bid in the coming negotiations with House Republicans last week.
There are “some members of our caucus who want to go farther, but at a minimum we are going to abide by this freeze,” Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) said.
With a 53-seat majority, it only takes four Democrats to join with Republicans to cut deeper. And several moderates say they would like to see deeper cuts.
“I think you have to start the process now in order to keep faith with the American public’s desires and to set the stage for more smart, targeted cuts in the ’12 budget,” Sen. Mark Udall said. The Colorado Democrat said, however, that the House GOP’s bill is too extreme.
“It seems like an orgy of cutting over there that really isn’t going to help our economy and job creation,” he said. “There is a strong sentiment in the caucus that we need to start this year. ... But when you make the cuts quickly, without forethought, you have effects that are very damaging. Whether you are a surgeon or a leader here on Capitol Hill, you really want to plan this out.”
Sen. Ben Nelson likewise said he’d like to go beyond a spending freeze but wants to see what specific cuts are before signing on to anything.
“It’s a question of where and how much,” the Nebraska Democrat said. “It’s one thing to say you’d like cuts, it’s another thing to have a plan to do it.”
Sen. Jon Tester, however, said he supports the spending freeze and is worried about going much further in the near term.
“Remember, the freeze is still about $44 billion in cuts,” the Montana Democrat said, using Obama’s 2011 budget request as a benchmark. “I think we’ve got to be smart here. ... To go at this willy-nilly and not be thinking about what we’re doing in the short term could really turn us upside down in a heartbeat. .... We need to make cuts, but they’ve got to be surgical and thoughtful.”
Sen. Mary Landrieu slammed not just the size of the Republican cuts in the House, but what she considers their indiscriminate cuts on successful and innovative education programs.
“Put me down, I’m for $41 billion in cuts and I may be even for more cuts, but I’m for eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, inefficiency, mediocre programs,” the Louisiana Democrat said. “I am not going to go quietly in the night eliminating the best programs in the country.”
One factor that appears to be helping Democrats unify is the rightward drift of the House bill, where a conservative revolt forced leaders to scramble to add $26 billion in cuts with more coming on the House floor. And a threat by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) last week not to move any more short-term spending bills without additional cuts didn’t win him any friends among the Democratic rank and file either.