By Mike Lillis - 08/02/11 12:40 AM EDT
House Democrats on Monday expressed outrage at the White House for how it handled the debt-ceiling negotiations, claiming the administration caved to the GOP and left them in the dark.
The irate lawmakers took exception to the lack of balance between cuts and revenues; they railed against the White House for excluding them from the process; and they accused President Obama of bowing to the demands of Republicans without putting up much of a fight.
House Democrats have been steaming for months after they were largely left out of high-stakes talks to extend the George W. Bush-era tax rates and fund the government this year. Many protest that the administration takes their support for granted, ignoring their policy concerns.
“People have seen this movie before,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) told CNN.
In the debt-ceiling debate, for instance, House Democrats insisted on tax-revenue hikes that didn’t materialize and demanded domestic investments that were excluded. The combination, the Democrats charged Monday, saddles the middle class with the burden of reducing the deficit while letting corporations and wealthy Americans off the hook.
Even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — who was directly engaged in the talks until the last few days — described the final product as a “Satan sandwich with Satan fries on the side.” The remarks were a reference to Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s (D-Mo.) much-reported critique of the package.
Still, Pelosi said she’d hold her nose and support the measure for the sake of preventing a government default.
Pelosi will have to try to heal some of the wounds the deal has inflicted on her caucus. Just last week, House Democrats were flying high. They united against a GOP plan to raise the debt ceiling, forcing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to delay a high-profile vote.
House Democrats noted they had leverage in the talks, pointing out that Republicans would need their votes to pass any type of deal. Their math was accurate, but their analysis proved faulty.
Vice President Biden addressed the concerns of House Democrats for more than 90 minutes Monday afternoon, but many lawmakers left the meeting angrier than when they entered.
“They didn’t want anything ‘extraneous’ in this package,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said, lambasting Biden’s salesmanship. “Jobs are extraneous, safety and security are extraneous — what’s the package about? It’s all about cutting, cutting, cutting.
“Tax cuts and reductions in spending are not going to create jobs in this country,” DeFazio added. “We need some investment, [and] there isn’t a penny of investment.”
Not only did the agreement slash domestic spending while excluding new tax revenues, many Democrats ranted, but the White House left rank-and-file members in the dark through most of the talks.
“We’re the minority in the House, and they take us for granted. And that’s what they’re going to do,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said Monday. “I don’t think that my concerns and the concerns of the majority of this caucus were taken into account enough with this agreement.”
Engel said most Democrats in the New York delegation had requested a meeting with the White House to discuss potential cuts in graduate medical education.
“We couldn’t get a meeting,” he said.
When the deal was reached Sunday, Engel continued, the White House “didn’t bother” to contact House Democrats.
“We all heard that there was this deal through the media,” he said.
Asked what Democrats got from the deal, Engel responded, “We avoided default.
“But if you had told me that this would be [the] package a month ago,” he added, “I would have asked you what you had been smoking.”
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) described the package as “a Trojan horse with Scylla and Charybdis inside,” and blasted Obama for agreeing to the deal.
“It’s our conscience versus our president,” Cohen said.
Crafted largely by Obama and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the proposal locks in roughly $1 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years. Congressional leaders would then appoint a bipartisan panel to identify roughly $2 trillion in additional deficit reduction over the same span. If it fails, then automatic cuts of the same level would kick in — including steep reductions in military and Medicare spending.
Asked what she thinks of the bill, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) was terse.
“I don’t think,” she said. “I cry.”