Obey Unleashes on Democratic Caucus

Posted April 9, 2003 at 5:18pm

House Appropriations ranking member David Obey (Wis.) used Wednesday’s Democratic Caucus meeting to lash out against his colleagues for offering too many amendments on last week’s supplemental spending bill, threatening them with his opposition to their proposals in the future if they don’t heed his advice.

Several sources said Obey, who is known for sometimes showing an angry streak, added that if Democrats fail to unify on major pieces of legislation, they will never regain the majority they lost in 1995. He stressed that Democrats must stay together on their message and that by offering competing amendments, they run afoul of that strategy.

“The tone was very negative and forceful,” said one top Democratic aide, adding that Obey said he was “sick and tired” of Democrats ignoring the Appropriations Committee and leadership when striking out on their own on major bills.

But another Democratic staffer downplayed the speech as a “pep talk” and a way for Obey to continue to encourage the Caucus to be unified. The same aide said Obey received a standing ovation afterward.

“A lot of things he said were said a little tongue and cheek. He was going over the top here to make a point,” the staffer said.

Obey declined to discuss the Caucus outburst, saying: “I never talk to the press about the Caucus. It’s family stuff.”

Several Democratic sources said, however, that Obey vowed to try to sink future amendments on spending bills if Members don’t consult with leadership and appropriators beforehand. And he threatened to block them from even speaking on their proposals if they do so.

Sources said that after making the speech, Obey, recognizing he may have angered some of his colleagues, said: “I don’t care if people don’t like me. I don’t like me.”

And Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) followed by nominating Obey’s wife, Joan, as “wife of the year.”

The wartime supplemental hit the floor last week and more than a dozen Democratic amendments were offered, foiling Obey’s strategy.

“Obey was like, ‘We had a plan of action, we had a message and we wanted to get that message out,’” said another top Democratic aide. “He wanted to get that message out clearly and early. Instead, a whole bunch of Members had their pet-project amendments — which may be valuable and worthy — but his point was that by having 50 messages instead of one the key message gets lost.”

Obey’s rancorous plea met no objection, but as one Democratic Member put it, “The people who needed to hear it weren’t in the room.”