After stumbling this summer, Democrats go on the offensive on budget issues

After being pummeled during the summer's debt-ceiling debate, Democrats are now taking the budget fight to the GOP.

Just hours after unveiling a sweeping new jobs proposal, President Obama hit the road Friday to promote the bill in the district of one his staunchest Republican critics, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

The aggression is being mirrored on Capitol Hill, where House Democrats – behind Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) – are pressing Republican committee heads to act on Obama's jobs plan without delay.

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The Democrats are taking advantage of some rare political momentum, as the week's headlines featured a series of Republican rifts over issues as diverse as disaster aid, a payroll-tax break and whether the party should rebut Obama's jobs speech.

Adding to the GOP's image headaches, the Republican presidential primary grew testier this week, as the top contenders – particularly Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney – turned their sights from Obama to each other. 

Without a presidential primary race of their own, the Democrats don't have the same disadvantage of airing their internal disagreements.

Unlike the year's previous budget battles – when Democrats were split over steep spending cuts to rein in deficits – party members seem to be rallying behind Obama's proposal with near unanimity.


Even prominent liberals – who have grumbled over certain provisions of the plan – say they'll support the package in the name of compromise.

"I'm all for it," Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Thursday night.

At the same time, House Republicans have lost a step since Congress's return from the month-long August recess. Despite their victory in the debt-ceiling fight – House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) claimed he got 98 percent of what he wanted out of the deal – Republicans returned to Washington on the defensive, after Cantor raised eyebrows for pronouncing that any disaster aid for victims of Hurricane Irene be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget.

The call was met with quick criticism from some of the nation's most prominent GOP governors, including Virginia's Bob McDonnell and New Jersey's Chris Christie.

Cantor has since softened his position with vows that the federal help "will be there," but not before Democrats pounced. Indeed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised a vote on a stand-alone disaster-relief bill early next week – all but daring Republicans to put their deficit-spending concerns above the storm victims.

On a separate topic, GOP leaders this week took steps to emphasize the job-creation portion of their message, after focusing the first eight months of the year largely on deficit reduction.

The shift wasn't lost on Democratic leaders, who, since January, have accused GOP leaders of running an election campaign on a message of job-creation without delivering the goods.

"I know that you have made comments with reference to shifting focus from cuts to jobs," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told Cantor Friday on the House floor. "We think that's appropriate. We appreciate that observation."

Democrats have also taken advantage of alleged GOP inconsistencies on their tax-cut message, as a number of Republicans remain opposed to Obama's plan to extend a payroll-tax holiday another year. 

"It is a horrible idea," Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said Friday, explaining that the move will steal money from Social Security.

Obama has used that opposition to float suggestions that Republicans are behind tax breaks only if they benefit the wealthy.

"If we allow that tax cut to expire – if we refuse to act – middle-class families will get hit with a tax increase at the worst possible time," Obama said Thursday night in his address to a joint session of Congress. "We can’t let that happen."

A number of GOP leaders, including Cantor, have recently opened up to the tax-cut extension. 

In another awkward episode for Republicans, Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), a contender for the GOP presidential nomination, staged a solo rebuttal to Obama's Thursday-night jobs speech – after Republican leaders had made it a point not to do so. A number of Republican lawmakers – speaking on background – accused the Minnesota Republican of grand-standing to make up for a sub-par performance in the GOP primary debate staged the night before.

"This is just show boating theater that she’s doing," one GOP lawmaker told The Hill. 

Not that September has been all good news for the Democrats. Republicans, for instance, are surprisingly close to squeaking out a win in Tuesday's special election to replace former-Rep. Anthony Wiener (D-N.Y.) in a distract that's traditionally been a Democratic stronghold.

And, of course, there's no guarantee that the pendulum won't swing back the other way in favor of the Republicans next week.

Still, Democratic leaders seem to be relishing an environment where their members are relatively unified and their president is getting aggressive on jobs. 

"The most encouraging thing that I heard last night was that the president was taking this to the public, so that they understood the values upon which his proposals were based," Pelosi told reporters Friday. "It is not between the Democrats and Republicans, it is about the American people."