By Russell Berman - 04/14/11 12:31 AM EDT
House Democratic leaders are prepared to buck President Obama with a ‘no’ vote on the 2011 spending deal he struck with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Two members of the House Democratic leadership team, Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) and Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.), told The Hill they would oppose the legislation, while Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) said he might vote ‘yes’ but has not committed to supporting the bill.
“We’ll see,” is all Pelosi would tell The Hill when asked her position late Thursday.
The opposition from Democrats came as Republican leaders sought to fight off concerns that the eleventh-hour budget deal did not cut the $39.9 billion initially advertised. Conservatives criticized the division of cuts between discretionary and mandatory spending, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued a report late Wednesday that found the legislation shaves only $352 million in non-emergency spending this year.
Boehner took to the conservative airwaves, appearing with Sean Hannity on Fox News to dispel what he said was “inaccurate information” circulating about the legislation.
“These are real cuts,” Boehner said.
“I’m not jumping up and down thrilled to death with this deal, but it was the best we could get,” he said earlier in the interview.
Rank-and-file House Republicans appeared to be coalescing around the agreement, but party leaders had to fend off criticism from Republican presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty, who said Thursday the deal “should be rejected.”
“The more we learn about the budget deal, the worse it looks,” the former Minnesota governor said in a statement. “When you consider that the federal deficit in February alone was over $222 billion, to have actual cuts less than the $38 billion originally advertised is just not serious.”
Pawlenty’s critique drew a chilly response from the party leadership.
“I think Tim Pawlenty and others are entitled to their opinion,” Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told The Hill. “This is a deal the Speaker struck. It was the best deal he could strike given the fact he was dealing with the White House and the Senate.”
Asked if Pawlenty could swing Republican votes against the deal, Cantor said he wasn’t sure of the former governor’s intent. “Perhaps he wants to try and do that,” Cantor said. “What I can say is our members understand that what we’ve done is begin taking a first bite of the apple of dealing with the spending and debt crisis.”
In an implicit warning to other Republican presidential contenders, a senior House GOP aide brushed Pawlenty aside, telling The Hill that the candidate “would be considered a Blue Dog Democrat” in the 112th Congress.
“A real profile in courage from Governor Pawlenty — who has no responsibilities but rattling off sound bites to appease the base,” the aide said. “In this Congress, Pawlenty would be considered a Blue Dog Democrat … that is, until he pretended to be something else.”
A spokesman for Boehner, Michael Steel, said in response to Pawlenty’s critique: “The Speaker has always honored President Reagan’s ‘11th commandment.’ ” Reagan famously said he never spoke ill of fellow Republicans.
Republican leaders were faring better on Capitol Hill. The freshman class president, Rep. Austin Scott (Ga.), told The Hill he would support the budget deal, as did Rep. Kristi Noem (S.D.), a freshman representative on the leadership team.
With no guidance from Pelosi, Democrats were left to decide on their own. “The majority party will determine the outcome of the [spending bill],” Larson told reporters. “Members in our caucus will vote their conscience. … There’s been no whip on that.”
Larson and Becerra said they would oppose the deal. Hoyer, who has broken with the more liberal members of Democratic leadership on previous spending votes, hinted he might support it.
“I’m still looking at it and our members are still looking at it, but clearly we want to keep the government running,” Hoyer told CNN. “Clearly we needed to reach compromise, and I think the president and [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid] tried to reach the best compromise that was possible.”
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said that while he would likely vote yes, Pelosi should vote no on the bill to send a message to Obama from House Democrats disenchanted with the deal.
The message, he said, would be that now that leaders have moved onto the bigger spending battle, the next deal “better be pretty good and there better be shared responsibilities and there better be shared sacrifice in terms of cuts as well as tax policy.”
Mike Lillis, Jordan Fabian and Erik Wasson contributed.