At House Democratic Meeting, Obama Rallies His Allies
By Paul Kane
Appearing before an unusually unified House Democratic caucus, President Obama tonight linked passage of a budget resolution later this week to securing momentum for the more critical legislative fights ahead such as health care reform.
Obama told the lawmakers, gathered in the auditorium of the new, $620 million Capitol Visitors Center, that winning by a large margin on the nonbinding budget resolution was key to Democratic unity on the bigger issues. "I need your vote in passing the budget. If we do that, we will create a sense of momentum that will allow us to do health care reform and education," Obama said, according to the notes of a Democrat in attendance.
Scheduled more than a week ago, the meeting was meant to be a rallying point for House Democrats in advance of the vote on the budget resolution. That measure appeared to be in doubt as conservative Democrats balked at the soaring deficits in Obama's original proposal and Rust Belt Democrats fretted the inclusion of special fast-track rules -- so-called "reconciliation" rules -- for climate change legislation to be considered later this year. But party leaders provided reconciliation for only health care and education legislation, and they cut $150 billion from Obama's fiscal year 2010 proposal. These moves lined up many votes from a group of fiscally conservative Democrats in the Blue Dog Coalition.
With the fate of the budget resolution no longer in doubt, the event served as a pep rally for the tougher legislative battles ahead. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) presented Obama with the U.S. flag that flew over the Capitol the night of Feb. 24, when he made his first appearance before a joint session of Congress.
"We are a united caucus, and we are especially united behind this president," Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) told reporters afterward.
Obama used the audience with his staunchest allies to assure them that he is aware of their concerns, fielding such parochial questions as funding for beach replenishment, farm subsidies and additional federal cash to help local fire fighters. His last meeting with House Democrats, at their annual retreat in Williamsburg, came at a tense time -- a group of moderate Senate Democrats worked with a trio of Republicans to slash more than $100 billion from the stimulus legislation. The more liberal House has still not forgotten the move, part of a simmering feud with Democrats from the so-called upper chamber.
The quick meeting -- lasting less than 40 minutes, including a 25-minute question-and-answer session -- offered moments demonstrating the White House's keen attention to wayward Democrats. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), a staunch advocate for more spending on infrastructure projects such as bridges and highways, pleaded for more funding in those areas.
Without any reminder, Obama took note of DeFazio's vote against the stimulus legislation.
"I know you think we need more for [infrastructure] because you voted against it," Obama said, according to the attendee's notes. "Don't think we're not keeping score, brother."
March 30, 2009; 8:27 PM ET
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