'World News' Political Insights -- Sticker Shock Jeopardizes President Obama's Agenda
Congressional Democrats put brakes on new spending.
WASHINGTON, June 20, 2010— -- President Obama has had two major messages for Congress in recent months: Keep the focus on jobs and the economy, and get serious about runaway spending.
His problem now is that they're starting to listen to him on the second point -- at the expense of the first.
In a major shift in congressional politics, Democrats have developed a severe case of sticker shock, just as many of their colleagues press to prime the pump of the economy in time for the mid-term congressional elections.
Now, even popular initiatives with widespread support -- notably an extension in unemployment benefits for those who have been out of work for more than a year, plus $50 billion the White House is asking for to help avert state layoffs of teachers and law enforcement officials – are stalled inside Congress.
The new dynamic played out last week in a series of startling Senate votes, where Democratic leaders fell short on a package of new spending and tax cut extensions – and seemed genuinely surprised that they were unable to keep their own members on board.
Combine that unease with a united Republican caucus -- the GOP is making spending a major issue this year regardless of what happens over the next few months -- and near-paralysis results on the legislative front.
The shift has major implications for the Obama agenda, as well as efforts to sell the portions of the agenda that have already passed Congress.
Democrats' vow to focus on jobs has already gotten distracted by a series of side issues, including most recently the response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf. The concerns about spending will only make it harder for Democrats to convince voters that their primary concern going into the fall is the state of the economy.
Democrats will continue to whittle down spending requests to garner the votes they need, particularly to avert a major cut in Medicare reimbursement to doctors, and for targeted help on jobs.