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Democrats Wary of Losing Priorities in Jobs Agenda Push

House Democrats today blasted proposals laid out in President Barack Obama’s Thursday jobs speech, expressing concern that their priorities would be negotiated away.

White House economic adviser Gene Sperling briefed Members on the specifics of Obama’s $447 billion plan during Friday’s Caucus meeting. According to Democratic aides, liberals, including Reps. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) and Jim Moran (Va.), challenged Sperling on the plan and complained that it was too small. Between the speech and the summer’s grueling debt limit debate, one aide said “Democrats are disillusioned.”

The deflated feeling also comes as Democrats are panicking over a special election race in New York that has their candidate, David Weprin, trailing Republican Bob Turner by six points according to a Siena College poll released Friday morning.

And looking ahead to 2012, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said, “There’s a sense out there that if we don’t motivate the base it’s going to be a tough election.”

Members of the Progressive Caucus, including Grijalva, cheered Obama’s pledge to push for infrastructure projects and more money for teachers and school construction, but said they worry the tax cuts for business that the president outlined will overshadow those proposals. Further, Democrats fear that, like the December deal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts and the summer’s debate over the debt limit increase, Obama will ultimately compromise Democratic priorities to make a deal.

“If the past is any indication for the future, I think there’s a great concern that the president will negotiate away the stimulus part of it that we think is going to create jobs,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, highlighting the $50 billion that would go toward proposals for construction projects.

“I was delighted to hear the president’s speech, I think it was a step in the right direction, but I don’t want him to negotiate away,” the Illinois Democrat went on. “In the end, if all the tax cuts are approved and that’s it, then you’re going to have a Republican president deliver that speech next year.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said today that “if it is just more tax cuts for the wealthy as a job creator, that didn’t work during the Bush administration, so there is no use going down that path again.”

Grijalva, who is a co-chairman of the Progressive Caucus and a member of the Hispanic Caucus, said the free trade agreements Obama highlighted on Thursday night are “tough for us to take.” But he said that as long as Obama pushes for his plan to be taken up comprehensively, and not pulled apart, most Members will get behind it. Obama alluded to a hard-fought campaign for his jobs plan, saying on Thursday, “I intend to take that message to every corner of this country.”

Grijalva said Obama would have to make good on that promise to win passage of his plan. Another Democratic aide in Friday’s Caucus meeting said that most Members shared that view.

“More than anything, Members want Obama to go out and sell this over the long term and not just for a week or two,” the Democratic aide said.

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