Democratic freshmen to be tested early with vote on stimulus package

Freshman lawmakers, who just two weeks ago were asking for directions around the Capitol, are now being asked whether to spend $825 billion in taxpayer money to fix the economy.

The stimulus package could be one of the largest and most expensive government undertakings in history and the first major initiative for President Obama.


For the 34 Democratic lawmakers, it’s all part of what they came to Washington to do. Many of them campaigned against excessive government spending. And most are already rolling up their sleeves and digging into the details of the financial recovery package, rather than awaiting marching orders from their new party leaders.

“The whole incoming group of new members is very engaged,” said Rep. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichCongress readies for battle over nuclear policy Overnight Defense: Trump tells NRA he will pull US from arms treaty | Pentagon to broaden role of troops at border | Warren offers plan to improve military housing Warren unveils plan to address substandard military housing MORE (D-N.M.), who last week was elected president of his freshman Democratic class. “As a class, I think we’re asking the right questions, and we’re putting the right amount of pushback on the Obama administration.”

Many have already had some practice in this exercise.

During the campaign, as well as after their elections, a number of the new House Democrats came out strongly against the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street, as well as of the proposed billions of dollars in loans to the U.S. auto companies — both of which were deemed top priorities of Democratic leaders and Obama.

Just last month, Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho), a Harvard M.B.A. graduate, reminded his new constituents in an op-ed posted that he “opposed the federal government’s bailout earlier this year of Wall Street fat cats.”

Since her election, Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.) has said she would have voted no on both the first and the second Wall Street bailout bills.

A number of veteran Democrats said that ongoing voter unease over the economy and how the first $350 billion of Wall Street bailout funds was used is certainly contributing to the high level of angst — as well as participation on the stimulus — from men and women who have only been members of Congress since earlier in the month.

“Everyone at home is on them to figure out what we need to do to bring back these jobs,” said Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Energy: Trump moves forward with rule on California drilling | House panel advances bill that resumes participation in Paris climate fund | Perry pressed on 'environmental justice' | 2020 Dem proposes climate corps Trump administration moves forward with final rule to allow new California drilling Overnight Energy: Interior chief says climate response falls on Congress | Bernhardt insists officials will complete offshore drilling plans | Judge rules EPA must enforce Obama landfill pollution rules MORE (Calif.), the vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus. “So they have no choice but to be invested.”

Bringing back jobs is one thing. Spending another $825 billion to do so, however, is quite another.

And in this environment, it’s difficult to pinpoint the level of support that these freshmen will give Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Obama — although there are encouraging signs for Democratic leaders, including the high approval numbers for both the president and his stimulus proposal.

And some new Democrats have already been calling for the type of recovery package that is currently being put together.

Two days before her victory in the open seat vacated by former Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), Ann KirkpatrickAnn KirkpatrickArizona Dems ask DHS to appoint 'crisis coordinator' at border Democrats introduce bill to let 'Dreamers' work for Congress Push for ‘Medicare for all’ worries centrist Dems MORE (D) told her debate audience: “I think we need not a bailout, but a rescue package.”

At the same time, Heinrich said much of the anti-bailout mentality is still simmering among his new colleagues. He did not say, though, whether that would adversely affect their votes.

“We need to figure out how the money is being spent,” Heinrich said when asked what he thought of the stimulus proposal. “And we want to make sure that this ‘blank check’ mentality disappears.”

Thus far, even the most skeptical freshman Democrats do not appear to be at odds with their leadership — which has demanded greater transparency and accountability with the second half of the Wall Street bailout funds and has scheduled committee markups on the economic recovery package.

“They just want to make sure that what we do works,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue program — which was designed to help pick off Republican incumbents — spent a great deal of time with many of these new Democrats during the fall campaigns. “In that, they’re just like the rest of us.”

Still, Wasserman Schultz and other leaders may need to hold out hope that public opinion of the stimulus package doesn’t take a turn for the worse.

“They have their fingers right on the pulse of the community,” Wasserman Schultz said of her new colleagues. “And in a way, because they’re so new, they may read that pulse better than any of us.”