Democrats at Spending Crossroads

Congressional Democrats gave a tepid response to President Obama’s Saturday night request to dump $60 billion in emergency spending on top of a tax bill. And there are questions whether this reluctance signals a turning point for Democrats.

The Democratic Congressional majority spent liberally at the beginning of this Congress, approving Mr. Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package designed to jump-start the economy. Then there was the health care reform bill which came in at just under a $1 trillion. But the president’s call for special spending to keep cash-strapped states from laying off hundreds of thousands of teachers and emergency responders is getting a frosty reception on Capitol Hill.

With elections rapidly approaching, many Democrats are reluctant to rack up more deficits. In fact the measure Mr. Obama wants to attach the extra $60 billion to had to be dialed back in size a few weeks ago when it moved through the House. At one point, the tax bill cost just under $200 billion. But fiscally-conscious “Blue Dog” Democrats couldn’t stomach the price tag. The Senate measure is more costly, pegged at around $141 billion.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has floated the idea of paying for the teachers and firefighters provision by dipping into unused funds in the stimulus package. But even that might not satisfy some lawmakers who want everything to be paid for.

“It would be paid for to the extent you would not be borrowing new money,” Hoyer conceded.