Road Map: Democrats Don’t Fear Memorial Day Recess
With a few job-creation measures and a major overhaul of financial regulations under their belts, Congressional Democrats are feeling bullish about heading home Friday for the weeklong Memorial Day recess, but Republicans say those accomplishments are putting little dent in the thing that will really determine the majority’s electoral fortunes in November — the lagging economy.
Democrats have been touting the facts that the economy grew by 3.2 percent in the first four months of the year and that almost half a million jobs were created since December. But despite those modest gains, the unemployment rate has changed very little and is still hovering around 10 percent, and about half of the jobless in America are in the ranks of the long-term unemployed.
Senate GOP Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander said Monday that Republicans don’t believe the Democrats’ accomplishments will have helped the economy by the time voters head to the polls on Nov. 2.
“We hope the jobs come back, but unfortunately, if the economy goes for the rest of the year at the same rate it grew in the first quarter of this year, unemployment will still be at 10 percent on Election Day,” the Tennessee Republican said.
Alexander added, “I think the Republican message is set in stone between now and November, which is: We want to focus on jobs, debt and terror and on electing more Republicans to put a check and balance on a runaway Washington government.”
But Democrats say their efforts — including last year’s $787 billion stimulus package and other job-creation measures — are clearly having an effect. However, they’re careful not to declare victory on the economy just yet.
“Every time Democratic Senators return home to their states, they hear stories from their constituents about the difficulties they are having finding a job or simply paying their bills,” said Regan Lachapelle, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “State work periods provide the opportunity to not only listen to these stories, but also to allow Senators to let their constituents know what we are doing here in Washington to help. On the heels of passing one of the most important bills in decades to help rein in excess and greed on Wall Street, Democrats are as energized as ever to deliver this message back to the American people.”
Though it’s far from clear whether the Democrats’ efforts will translate into votes or jobs, there’s no denying they are feeling good these days about their newly aggressive stance on the Senate floor and their pivot to an agenda that has more to do with the economy.
Democrats say they are far from the party that limped to victory on health care reform earlier this year. Their new offensive translated into a big win last week on financial reform, given that Reid gambled that Republicans would have a hard time opposing the bill and ended up with an arguably more stringent rewrite of financial regulations than if he had adopted more GOP proposals.
Democrats also acted relatively quickly in their quest to insulate themselves from criticism that they weren’t doing enough to address the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Though Congress is unlikely to act before Members leave town Friday, Senate Democrats have repeatedly sought to pass a bill raising the liability caps on oil spills so that BP and other businesses associated with the gusher will have to pay more to clean up the historic disaster. Republicans have blocked those efforts.
One senior Senate Democratic aide added that while the jury is still out on whether independent voters will be won over by the majority’s offensive on overhauling financial regulations, tackling the oil spill and getting a substantial number of President Barack Obama’s nominations out from under GOP holds, the previously despondent Democratic base has become a bit more energized — a development that could prove helpful in combating the hyper-activism of conservative tea party devotees.
Yet even with the high from passing financial reform, Democrats could end up heading into the recess on a bittersweet note as they battle among themselves and with Republicans to pass a nearly $60 billion supplemental war spending bill and a tax extenders measure that would also extend unemployment benefits for the rest of the year.
Reid will be trying to stave off amendments to the war funding measure this week from both sides, as Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) looks to force the chamber to offset the spending and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) tries to add $23 billion for teachers.
In the House, Democratic leaders are trying to slog through what they expect will be the bulk of their remaining heavy-lift bills. The to-do list includes some heartburn votes for politically vulnerable lawmakers, especially on the pricey tax extenders package.
That measure, which the House should tackle early this week, is spooking Democrats wary of approving new outlays amid rising public anger at deficit spending. Democrats are also facing a new vote on a science bill that Republicans have managed to sink twice in as many weeks.
Meanwhile, leaders are trying to set the table for attaching to the defense authorization bill a repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning openly gay soldiers from serving in the military. And, finally, they are eyeing a measure to tighten campaign spending limits loosened by a controversial Supreme Court decision earlier this year.
Looking ahead to the weeklong recess, Democratic leaders are urging their rank and file to go home and conjure for their constituents “what Republican control of Congress would mean.”
In a Monday letter to the Caucus, Democratic leadership told lawmakers to draw contrasts with the GOP by highlighting “early deliverables” of the health care overhaul, the benefits of jobs measures and their work “supporting veterans, troops, and their families — and securing our nation from terrorist and other global threats.”
Tory Newmyer contributed to this report.