“Moderate and conservative Democrats in the Senate are starting to choke over the massive spending and tax increases in President Barack Obama’s budget plans and have begun plotting to increase their influence over the agenda of a president who is turning out to be much more liberal than they are,” Politico.com reported on March 3.
“Can Obama keep moderate Dems in line on his budget,” Time magazine asked on March 11.
Yes, he can.
On Thursday, the Democratic-controlled Congress passed President Obama’s massive $3.5 trillion budget – more than a third of which is funded by debt – by overwhelming partisan margins. In the House, only 20 Democrats voted against the President’s unprecedented red-ink budget. In the Senate, only two did. Even Joe Lieberman voted for it.
Left-wing writers at The Nation and in the blogosphere have worried that Obama is caving to congressional moderates in his party. But where is the evidence of that? The House trimmed only $7 billion from Obama’s proposed budget, and the Senate trimmed only $15 billion – out of $3.5 trillion. From the start, Obama made no concessions. It was his budget or permanent recession, he suggested. With that rhetoric hanging in the air in Washington – and being repeated by the president at political rallies held to pressure moderates in Congress – moderates caved.
Of the 15 so-called “moderate and conservative” senators who were supposed to block Obama’s radical left-wing agenda, all voted for it save Evan Bayh and Bill Nelson.
Despite initial throat-clearings from some Democrats who muttered that the president’s spending proposals made them uncomfortable, Obama’s agenda has rolled easily through Congress. He pushed through an inexcusably large stimulus bill, a recklessly unaffordable expansion of children’s health insurance, and now a federal budget that would put the nation $1.2 trillion in debt next year and a total of $9 trillion over the next decade.
When the stimulus bill passed Congress without a single Republican vote, the president learned that he didn’t need Republicans to govern. His budget reflected that political reality. There were no serious concessions to the right. Now that his gargantuan budget has passed (in violation of the pay-as-you-go rules House Democrats imposed on themselves and Obama himself has repeatedly praised) with so few Democratic defections, the president has learned another extremely useful bit of information. Moderate Democrats are no threat to his agenda. They are all talk and no action.
That puts the taxpayers in an extremely dangerous position. These early votes on the stimulus bill, SCHIP expansion and the budget were tests of just how far left Obama could push Congress. The answer is: as far as he dares. Republicans can propose as many alternative budgets as they want, and moderate Democrats can publicly express “worry” and “concern” daily, but they have shown themselves to be all but irrelevant to the debates over spending and the expansion of federal power.
As long as Obama refrains from hanging red banners depicting Lenin’s triumphant face from the White House columns, he is likely to get from Congress whatever he asks.
At this point, conservatives have little hope of blocking the Obama agenda until the president’s approval ratings crash. Only when members of Congress think they are taking a political risk by aligning themselves with the president will enough of them begin voting against him. Until then, we can probably expect to see the president get pretty much anything he wants.