By Alexander Bolton - 09/09/11 09:35 AM EDT
Democratic lawmakers say that President Obama is great at delivering speeches, but they claim that if he is going to govern effectively, he must walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
Democratic members are clearly frustrated with what they perceive as Obama’s lack of follow-through on a range of issues.
“He’s got to go out there and really exert presidential authority, over the Congress and over the government structure. And the extent to which he can is the extent he’ll be successful,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
“I don’t think just speeches do it,” she said. “You keep hammering away until it gets done.”
Democratic lawmakers said Obama needs to be far more hands-on. They recommend that the president follow up his speech on Thursday with aggressive salesmanship on the phone to individual members of Congress and by campaigning in their home states and districts for his agenda.
Sources say that the White House has heard this message from anxious Democratic lawmakers and that Obama has vowed to step it up.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) on Thursday said, “I agree with Feinstein. I think we need to have what he campaigned on: ‘The fierce urgency of now.’ ”
Stumping in Wisconsin in February of 2008, Obama told an enthusiastic audience: “I believe there is such a thing as being too late, and that hour is almost upon us. Our nation is at war, our planet is in peril and the dream that so many generations have fought for feels like it’s slowly slipping away.”
Years later, some Democrats are disappointed with Obama’s record.
There are still nearly 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan and 45,000 in Iraq. Obama never made a major push for cap-and-trade legislation to reduce global warming, and shocked environmentalists last week when he announced his administration would delay strict regulations to curb smog-causing emissions.
And some are disappointed that he pivoted so quickly to a deficit-reduction agenda after passing the $825 billion economic stimulus in 2009, a package liberal economists thought was $300 billion to $400 billion too small.
Many of them believe Obama has been strong-armed by congressional Republicans.
In August, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said he doubted the word “fight” is in Obama’s vocabulary and indicated the president might not win Oregon in 2012. Obama won the state in 2008 by 16 percentage points.
Over the last several weeks, Obama has talked tough about taking on his critics.
For example, during a Labor Day speech to union workers, Obama said, “We’re going to see if we’ve got some straight shooters in Congress. We’re going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party. We’ll give them a plan, and then we’ll say, ‘Do you want to create jobs?’ ”
The impassioned speech won praise from Democrats in Congress who have been urging Obama for months to adopt a tougher tone.
Obama promised Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday he would do just that.
“I told the president when I talked to him [Tuesday] that I thought his speech in Michigan … was tremendous, and I hope he keeps that same pattern of speaking,” Reid said Wednesday.
“And he said he was going to. He said we’re in a new day here. And so I hope that’s the case,” Reid added.
However, Obama didn’t mince words with congressional Republicans during the contentious debt-limit negotiations in June and July.
At one point, amid a stalemate, Obama told House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), “Don’t call my bluff.”
After a deal was subsequently struck, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) crowed that he got 98 percent of what he wanted, and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Republicans had indeed called Obama’s bluff.
Exasperated with the 2010 tax deal and the debt-limit accord of this summer, liberal Democrats have urged Obama not to compromise with Republicans over his proposals to spur job creation.
“Sixteen percent of the American people are unemployed or underemployed. This is a huge crisis,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), an Independent who caucuses with Democrats. “Now is the time for bold and significant action to put millions of our people back to work.
“If the Republicans disagree, let him take the case to the American people. He will win that fight.”
Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research, said Obama should never have relented from his push for economic stimulus.
“He totally lost control of the debate. He said, ‘We’re now going to focus on deficit reduction.’ He knew the stimulus was too small,” said Baker.
Robert Borosage, the co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, said Obama gave “a great speech” at Georgetown University in 2009 about the need to make sustained investments in the economy.
“He would have been well-advised to continue fighting on this line,” Borosage said. “He should have stayed on that line and kept fighting for jobs until we saw them. It’s really difficult when people don’t see recovery. He’s a relatively popular president with a great coalition behind him, but this economy would ruin any president.”