Democrats say ahead of meeting they’ll stand by Obama spending freeze

Senate Democrats on Wednesday said they would stand by President Obama’s call for a five-year freeze on spending while criticizing House Republicans for slashing the budget.

Ahead of a meeting this afternoon at the White House between Obama and Senate Democratic leaders, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said some in his caucus want to go further, hinting that deeper cuts are still possible.

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“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Schumer, vice chairman of the Democratic conference, said of the plan to adopt Obama’s freeze. “Some members of our caucus want to go farther, but at a minimum we’re going to abide by this freeze.”

Senate Democrats have yet to show their cards in negotiations with House Republicans and the White House over a spending measure to keep the government funded this year. House Republicans expect to vote this week on a measure cutting current spending by $61 billion, which Obama and Democrats say would hurt the economy.

“The House Republican spending measures would gut our ability to create jobs, they would roll back investments, and make America non-competitive in the future,” Schumer said.

But Schumer faces pressure internally from Democrats facing tough re-election campaigns in 2012, such as Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who want to cut spending further than Obama.

A Senate Republican aide ridiculed Senate Democrats for embracing the five-year freeze, which the aide said would do little to reduce the $1.6 trillion federal deficit projected for 2011.

“Everyone in the country is criticizing Obama’s budget because it doesn’t go far enough, and they’re going to embrace the part that locks in the status quo on spending?” said the aide.


Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), Schumer, and Conference Secretary Patty Murray (Wash.) are expected to attend this afternoon’s White House meeting with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Senate Democrats also unveiled their agenda for 2011 at Wednesday’s press conference, a month and a half after the start of the new Congress.

They said they wanted to wait until Obama laid out his vision for governing in the State of the Union address and that they had an opportunity to discuss it at a retreat in Charlottesville, Va., last week.

“We deliberately wanted the State of the Union to come first so that the president could lay out the broad framework, and we’re now filling in the details,” said Schumer.

On the agenda: Reid plans to finish work on the Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill, extend authorization of the Patriot Act and surveillance laws, and then move to a patent reform bill drafted by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

Democrats also plan to focus on a highway bill, expand access to Internet broadband, build an energy efficient smart-grid, help the domestic manufacturing sector and crack down on alleged Chinese currency manipulation.