It may be too early to tell, but after 20 months of supporting massive increases in government spending, President Obama’s proposal for a $50 billion infrastructure overhaul could offer some Democrats who say they are concerned with the size of the federal budget a late chance to prove themselves as deficit hawks before the November midterm elections.
Obama announced a plan Monday to rebuild roads, expand rail lines and patch up airport runways nationwide, promising to spend $50 billion immediately and $350 billion over the next six years.
After passing an $814 billion package last year and an overhaul to the nation’s health care system, this recent push could be just too much for some “Blue Dog” Democrats, members within the party that tout themselves as a voice for “fiscal responsibility and accountability.”
A senior Blue Dog Coalition staff member told The Daily Caller that members of the group could take issue with a plan if it adds to the federal deficit, which will exceed $1.4 trillion by next year.
“[Blue Dog members] are going to be very, very sensitive to deficit spending when they come back,” the aide associated with the 54-member coalition said, referring to Congress’ return from summer recess next week. “They’re the types of members that like to look through every single one of these proposals, or anything having to do with spending money. They really do gut these things before they’re willing to show their support.”
While Obama said in his speech Monday that the initial $50 billion in spending would be offset by closing tax loopholes, the plan will also include tax breaks in some areas and continued spending over the next few years.
Many of the Blue Dogs have taken criticism for overwhelmingly supporting a number of Obama’s spending proposals, including the stimulus plan and the president’s $3.5 trillion 2010 federal budget.
A spokesman for Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, South Dakota Democrat and Blue Dog co-chair for administration, said that her office would need to examine the actual bill before making a decision, but might voice opposition if the plan widened the federal deficit. Herseth Sandlin joined 34 House Democrats by voting against the health care bill in March, but supported Obama’s $814 “stimulus” bill in 2009.
“She would probably take the same approach as she does with every single bill. We’re going to look at how much it costs, what the off-sets are and what the end price tag is, and then decide from there,” said Herseth Sandlin Press Secretary Whitney Phillips. “Of course, [Rep. Herseth Sandlin] wants everything to be paid for.”
And if everything is not paid for?
“If it does end up adding [to the deficit],” Phillips said, “that puts her in a position where she has to make a tough choice, which is what we’re all having to do right now.”
But while the Blue Dog leadership says that any new spending bill will be heavily scrutinized, there is skepticism among conservative deficit hawks that the Democratic coalition will pull through.
“When it comes down to it, they’ll vote the way their party leadership needs them to vote,” said Phil Kerpen, vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity, a conservative organization that supports massive federal spending cuts. “We have not seen them actually kill any pieces of legislation, so the suggestion that it will happen now, well, I’m very skeptical about that.”
Blue Dog members said they will issue a more complete analysis of the plan once Congress reconvenes after September 13.
Update: The Hill reports that Sen. Michael Bennet, Colorado Democrat, is breaking with the Administration by opposing the infrastructure plan.
“I will not support additional spending in a second stimulus package,” Bennet said in a statement. “…Any new transportation initiatives can be funded through the Recovery Act, which still contains unused funds. Public-private partnerships that improve our infrastructure are a good idea, but must be paid for, should not add a dime to the deficit, and should be covered by unused Recovery Act dollars. We must make hard choices to significantly reduce the deficit.”