By Sam Youngman and J. Taylor Rushing - 07/14/10 12:09 AM EDT
President Obama and Senate Democrats agreed on Tuesday to a three-bill agenda that they believe will strengthen their party for November’s midterm elections.
Democrats agreed to send the Wall Street reform conference report, an extension of unemployment benefits and legislation bolstering credit for small businesses to Obama’s desk in the next two weeks.
The three-bill agenda also embraces the notion that politics is the art of the possible, for the party appears to have the votes to pass these pieces of legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced that the Senate will take up energy legislation before the August recess, but it is far from clear whether that bill will reach Obama’s desk.
Energy and climate legislation was not discussed Tuesday in a meeting between Obama and a group of Senate Democrats at the White House.
Senators acknowledge that once members return from recess on Sept. 13, little legislating will be possible before the election. That leaves Senate Democrats with four crucial weeks to build a legislative message to voters.
They also expect to win confirmation of Obama’s second pick for the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, and move an emergency spending bill for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. But it is the three business bills that they see buttressing party chances this fall.
At his daily briefing, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said voters would get a clear choice between the parties on the three issues and cast the GOP as opposed to helping the long-term unemployed; opposed to creating new rules in response to the financial crisis; and opposed to increasing lending to small businesses.
“Whether it is small-business lending or there’s unemployment or whether it is financial reform, I think the message is going to be fairly clear,” Gibbs said a few hours after Senate Democrats left their agenda meeting with the president.
The meeting took place against the backdrop of new polls suggesting Democrats are in danger of a historic drubbing that could give Republicans power of the House and even the Senate. Gibbs himself on Sunday acknowledged there is “no doubt” that Republicans are within striking distance of taking control of at least one of the chambers.
The Wall Street legislation’s conference report is the first piece of the three-part agenda likely to reach Obama. Reid scheduled a cloture vote for Thursday, and with Republican Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Susan Collins (Maine) all supporting it, the regulatory overhaul is expected to pass.
Gibbs predicted that unemployment insurance benefits would come before the Senate and pass next week, leaving small-business lending as the outstanding piece of business. Collins and Snowe voted for the unemployment legislation before the July 4 recess, and Democrats believe they will have the 60 votes needed to clear it through the Senate when West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) fills his state’s open Senate seat on Friday.
Despite rocky poll numbers, Gibbs said Democrats don’t “have anything to be dispirited about.”
“I think we can take a robust case to the American people about the steps that we’ve taken to help this economy recover, to lay that foundation for economic growth in the long term,” he said. “And I think we can have a debate about how we got into this mess, the eight years that ... produced the type of financial calamity that we dealt with. I think that is a debate that will energize the whole of the Democratic Party.”
Obama and Senate Democratic leaders also discussed the need to coordinate the legislative message better.
Democratic senators have been frustrated to see splits between Democrats on Capitol Hill and the administration emerge during some legislative debates.
“We discussed a need to better coordinate our message, to simplify our message and to repeat it as much as we can,” said one Democratic senator who was at the meeting.
A senior Democratic aide said the discussion was about “getting on the same page so there’s no more situations like we’ve had.”
The aide pointed to legislation passed by the Democrat-controlled House, which on July 1 approved a measure to fund teaching jobs by slicing $800 million from three of the administration’s education initiatives. That has drawn a veto threat from Obama.
During the debate over healthcare reform earlier this year, Democrats in both houses of Congress pushed single-payer healthcare proposals without administration support.
“It’s about syncing up the administration and congressional messages to make them a little tighter,” the aide said. “When something isn’t echoed by the White House, it has less effect. It’s about reinforcement.”
Tuesday’s meeting included 15 top Democrats in all, including Reid, Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (Hawaii), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.).