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House Democrats Cheer Themselves

House Democratic leaders were in a self-congratulatory mood Wednesday after chalking up a major political win in Mississippi and a handful of legislative victories in recent days.

Good cheer abounded despite concerns that Democrats’ delicately crafted war spending bill may be heading for the chopping block in the Senate.

Democrats spent the morning crowing about their third special election victory in recent weeks: On Tuesday, voters in Mississippi’s 1st district overwhelmingly elected Democrat Travis Childers in what was previously a Republican district.

“This was an enormous victory for Congressman-elect Childers, his constituents and the Democratic Party,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said. “And we believe it is a harbinger of things to come in November.”

House leaders also praised themselves for their accomplishments in the weeks leading up to the Memorial Day recess in a little more than a week.

Most recently, and with a margin big enough to override a presidential veto threat, the House passed bipartisan legislation to temporarily suspend oil deliveries to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

“We passed it by 382 to 25, to take a step” toward lowering the rising cost of gas, Hoyer said. “Will it be enough? No. Are we going to take more steps? Yes.”

In the next week, the Majority Leader ticked off a list of things Democrats hope to accomplish, though time is running short. They include passing the war supplemental, an energy tax and tax-extender legislation, a budget conference report, a Defense authorization bill, a conference report on the consumer product safety and higher education bills.

“This has been a very productive eight-week run for House Democrats,” Hoyer stated.

The Majority Leader has repeatedly cited the Memorial Day recess as the deadline for sending the war supplemental bill to the president’s desk. On Wednesday, however, he appeared to be loosening that timeline.

The only real “deadline” is June 15, Hoyer said, but Democratic leaders would “like to pass it by Memorial Day” in order to avoid sending notices to soldiers and Defense Department employees indicating that they will soon stop receiving paychecks.

Democratic leaders cleared a major hurdle on the supplemental Tuesday night when they struck an agreement with fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats to offset the costs of enhanced GI benefits included in the legislation.

While the supplemental appears on track for passage in the House on Thursday, party leaders seemed less confident that the Senate would preserve a provision to raise taxes on millionaires to offset the 10-year, $52 billion cost of tuition assistance to veterans.

“We’ll see what happens in the Senate, but we’re for it very strongly,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said. “Notice that we’re talking about taxing people who make a million dollars a year for their income … just at .5 percent.”

Hoyer emphasized that the “policy of the House and the Democrats” is to pursue revenue-neutral, pay-as-you-go rules to keep the federal checkbook balanced.

Still, Hoyer conceded that the Senate “obviously has trouble getting the 60 votes” needed to support the tax hike in the bill.

House Democrats are “going to try hard” to keep offsets in the bill for GI benefits, but to say that he has “confidence would overstate it” in terms of the Senate agreeing to do so, the Majority Leader said.

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