I've been covering Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., for nearly 10 years, and I can count on one hand the number of times she has been upset. Right now is one of those times, and her views appear to accurately represent the mood of many of her Democratic colleagues as the president moves toward a debt deal with the Republican Speaker of the House, an ominous sign for the Administration.
Lawmakers are deeply frustrated that they are getting little-to-no detail about the debt negotiations going on at the White House, and there is a genuine fear that Obama is giving away the farm in order to get a critical increase in the debt ceiling.
Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could barely contain his annoyance as he chose, in a rare moment, to stop in the hallway and speak to reporters Thursday afternoon, a conversation that seemed aimed more at the White House than his journo audience.
"The president always talked about balance, that there had to be some fairness in this. It can't be all cuts. There has to be a balance," Reid said, adding, "There has to be some revenue in the cuts. My caucus agrees with that. I hope the president sticks with that. I'm confident he will.:
But it was Feinstein's exasperation that caught more people's attention, as it signals a possible broader problem Obama could have with whatever is being negotiated at the White House, particularly if it comes up short on the revenue side. Feinstein made one thing clear, she needs to know a revenue number now, not later, "or there is no deal."
"I've never seen frustrations higher. I don't lose my cool, but I lost it yesterday in the caucus," Feinstein recounted, after a meeting with the Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, Jack Lew. Feinstein said she asked simply - what's in the Obama-Boehner deal, but Lew, according to Feinstein, said nothing.
"It's very frustrating. Senator Boxer (D-Calif.) and I represent a very big state," Feinstein said. "I would venture a guess between Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans benefits... possibly 20 million or more people are dependent on these programs for their survival. We need to know what the cuts are."
Feinstein noted that major corporations in her state are laying off hundreds of people, which has added to her concern that cuts to government programs might run too deep. "We have to know some specificity," Feinstein said, adding, "With me there is very big frustration. I like to know what I'm doing. It's very frustrating."
The disgruntlement was shared by the senior senator from Maryland, Barbara Mikulski. "I don't know what I'm being asked to support," the feisty Dem thundered. "We want to know what reality show we're in, ok? And then I'll see who I'll vote off the island."
As the Administration moves toward a possible $3 trillion deficit reduction compromise with Republicans, these comments from two senior, well-respected women in their party could be a sign of trouble ahead in the Democratically-controlled Senate and beyond.