House Democrats Largely Uninspired by Biden Pep Talk

Posted August 1, 2011 at 3:06pm

Updated: 5:18 p.m.

Vice President Joseph Biden’s two-and-a-half-hour meeting Monday with House Democrats about a $2.1 trillion deficit reduction package did little to soothe angst in the party, from leaders all the way down to the rank and file.

While Members were largely complimentary of Biden’s sales pitch, no one offered any words of praise for President Barack Obama or the deal he crafted with Republican leaders to cut the deficit and raise the debt ceiling.

“Come on, any other jokes?” Rep. Peter DeFazio said when asked if 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. “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. Pelosi later told ABC News’ Diane Sawyer that she would vote in favor of the bill.

Biden, who met with Senate Democrats before joining the House Members, acknowledged that he had a tough deal to present, but he predicted it would ultimately pass in both chambers.

“Look, I didn’t go to convince, I went to explain and lay out exactly how we got to where we were and why it’s so important for the country,” Biden told reporters. He added, “I feel confident that this will pass.”

“If we had our way,” Democratic leaders would be focusing on jobs and infrastructure legislation rather than on spending cuts and raising the debt limit, Biden said.

But Republicans turned the debate into “a means by which, unless certain compromises were made, we would default on our debt,” he said.

Pelosi called Biden’s presentation “quite magnificent,” but she would not say whether Democrats would provide enough votes to help Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pass the measure. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was equally quiet, saying only, “The Republicans, I presume, are going to get the votes.”

Some Democratic Members who emerged from the lengthy session offered words of encouragement. During the meeting, Rep. Robert Andrews (N.J.) gave a rousing endorsement of the plan that received a round of applause, according to a Democratic aide. Rep. John Dingell (Mich.), the dean of the House, also supported the plan, which could influence some of his colleagues.

But the deal, which aims to save $2.1 trillion over 10 years and raise the debt ceiling beyond the 2012 elections, did not win over liberals in the House Democratic Caucus. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said the deal “is probably going to mean probably about another million public-sector jobs being lost.” DeFazio also blasted it for not including funding for the Federal Aviation Administration, which is currently locked in a partial shutdown because of a legislative logjam on Capitol Hill.

No one seemed more devastated over the plan than members of the Congressional Black Caucus, however. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), 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 if he would support the measure. “The ramifications of this deal … are going to be long-lasting.”