Skip to content

Democrats Feel the Short End of the Stick

Hostility in the House, Resignation in the Senate

In the end, it seems the only people in Washington being forced to eat their debt limit peas will be Democrats, who found themselves swallowing a bitter political deal forced on them by the White House and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

When President Barack Obama issued his famous “peas” admonishment, he didn’t have just his fellow Democrats in mind. But in the end, it was clearly Democrats — and not Republicans — who were feeling the pain from his agreement.

Hoping to soothe hurt feelings Monday, Obama dispatched Vice President Joseph Biden to Capitol Hill to coax angry liberals — particularly in the House — to vote for the bill.

Although it was widely expected enough Democrats would back the bill in both chambers, Biden had little success in convincing them of the virtue of compromise.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, dismissed the negotiations as little more than a capitulation by the White House to GOP demands, arguing it was “all give and no take, no back and forth. This is no compromise.”

“We’re trapped in this tea party agenda. They won, so they should be able to deliver the votes,” the Arizona Democrat added.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), his fellow Progressive Caucus co-chairman, agreed: “We and many more of the Progressive Caucus will be voting ‘no.'”

“Come on, any other jokes?” Rep. Peter DeFazio said when asked whether he believed Obama had fought hard enough for Democrats in the weeks-long bipartisan negotiations.

“No revenues, big domestic cuts, the only specified cut is to student financial aid; that’s kind of bizarre,” the Oregon Democrat said before entering the meeting with Biden. “And the prospect of things getting worse in November. No, I don’t think it’s a good deal.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Caucus leaders were quiet throughout the meeting with Biden and Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew, according to a Democratic Member.

No one seemed more devastated over the plan than members of the Congressional Black Caucus, however. Rep. Elijah Cummings, who read to reporters a constituent letter urging him to oppose the deal, said, “A number of Members are concerned that you have a strong tea party, which is at the far right, which is basically holding Congress and the nation hostage, and a lot of people are concerned.

“This is a process, and we just can’t make a decision for this moment, we have to make it for years to come,” the Maryland Democrat said when asked whether he would support the measure. “The ramifications of this deal … are going to be long-lasting.”

But with moderate Democrats joining Pelosi, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and other leaders backing the measure — however reluctantly — the anxiety about the outcome of the vote dissipated Monday.

As for Republicans, while they faced some opposition from conservatives, they were clearly pleased with Boehner’s handling of the situation.

During a closed-door meeting on the deal Monday morning, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) told Boehner: “Due to your commitment and clarity in setting the goals clearly … for how we were going to move forward with this debate, for the first time in history, we were going to insist on spending cuts, insist once and for all that Washington doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem. And that we were not going to raise taxes,” a participant in the meeting said.

During the GOP Conference meeting, Cantor presented Boehner with a gift of two framed Time magazine covers. One was of Boehner from shortly before he took the gavel from Pelosi. The other was of the late Speaker Nicholas Longworth, who also was a Buckeye State Republican.

Longworth was known, in part, for using the Speaker position to punish the GOP’s extreme flank — at the time known as the Progressives — and for working with moderate Republicans and Democrats to pass legislation over his base’s objection.

To be sure, a number of conservatives in Boehner’s Conference ultimately refused to back the agreement. And outside activists — including Heritage Action for America and the Club for Growth, came out against the bill. Other influential groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Tax Reform, strongly supported the deal and provided Members political cover to vote “yes.”

Support for the agreement in the Senate ­— where a final vote is scheduled for today — was stronger among its Democrats than in the House, but only marginally.

While they will make up the bulk of the votes for the deal in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) Conference was clearly not enamored with the agreement that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) shepherded in the final stages this weekend.

Liberals worried the cuts were too deep and lamented the lack of any revenues, while conservatives wanted even deeper cuts and, at the same time, are nervous about a trigger that could slash defense spending.

“I feel like I’ve just met with my doctor, and he’s told me what I need to do is diet and exercise,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who added that she is leaning toward voting for it but isn’t happy about doing so.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) predicted a majority of Democrats will back the deal because defaulting is simply unacceptable.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a co-founder of the Senate’s bipartisan “gang of six,” which proposed a much more ambitious $3.7 trillion plan, said it “doesn’t get us to the core problem” but that he is inclined to support it.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said he was disappointed at the cuts and the lack of taxes in the deal.

“There will never be a long-term solution until we have revenue,” he said. And the deal isn’t going to do anything to put people back to work, he added.

And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) ripped the package because nothing would come from the wealthy or from corporations.

“This deficit reduction package is grotesquely unfair, and it is also bad economic policy,” he said.

McConnell faced some opposition from his right flank.

But despite dissatisfaction, conservative Senators, including Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), said they would not block the Senate from voting on the bill.

Paul and Lee, however, said they wanted time to read and understand the bill — even though they are almost certain to oppose it.

Jessica Brady, Meredith Shiner and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

Recent Stories

Lawmakers press to avoid funding pitfall for public defenders

Supreme Court sounds skeptical of cross-state air pollution rule

Another year, another disaster aid gap as funding deadline nears

Tall order for lawmakers to finish spending bills next week

Capitol Ink | It’s gotta be the shoes

Truck rule is first test drive of federal autonomous vehicle oversight