Democrats use stimulus votes to win poll points

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Democratic legislators know they’re far behind in the 2012 game. They don’t trust the quarterback in the White House, so they’re preparing a series of popular plays they hope will put points up on the national board.

This week’s plays are built around the Democrats’ effort to pass President Barack Obama’s controversial $447 billion one-year, jobs stimulus act.

The bill was rewritten by Democrats to include a millionaire’s surtax — a measure that will likely die in the House, even if it passes the Senate. But Democrats say they’ll gain regardless, because the surtax has the support of 74 percent of Americans.

They’ll also be touting the bill’s continuation of the payroll tax cut, a provision that gets 65 percent support, according to Democrats.

If the Democrats are seen as supporting those popular provisions, and the GOP goes against them, then Democrats say they’ll gradually gain public support that can win them a victory in 2012.

This week’s plays were decided in a White House huddle last Friday, and are being called by the Democratic leaders, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, White House political adviser David Plouffe and 2012 campaign manager David Axelrod.

Obama’s still-sinking support is roughly ten points below what they need to win, and Senate Democrats are struggling to hold their three-seat advantage in an election where 23 Democratic seats — and only 10 Republican seats — are up for grabs.

Republicans have a very different game plan. They argue that the Democrats’ overall strategy has yielded at least 9 percent unemployment, trillion dollar annual deficits and falling public confidence. They’re willing to take many hits on popular issues — such their opposition to immediate stimulus funding — because they expect the liberals’ policy mistakes will tank the Democrats’ overall polling score.

The dispute over the millionaire’s surtax — which would levy a 5.6 percent surtax on family incomes above $1 million — will come this evening when senators try to get 60 votes to formally begin a Senate debate on that bill.

The Democrat bill will likely die in Congress because it is opposed by nearly all of the 47 Republicans and by several Democrats.

But Obama-approved tax provisions in the bill were rewritten by Democrats to boost support in their caucus. If several senators — more than three, perhaps — a Senate defeat may be viewed by the public and the media as yet another fumble by the Democrats.

“We’re going to have the overwhelming majority of Democrats,” Schumer told MSNBC Tuesday morning. “Maybe one [Republican], maybe none.”

But those Senate votes are less important than the national polls because those polls will shape the all-important 2012 election.

“While the president pushes and Republicans say ‘no’ [to the jobs stimulus], trust in creating jobs has gone from a tie in early September to a 15 percent advantage for the president,” Obama campaign manager Axelrod declared in a Oct. 7 memo to TV network anchors. “Among independents, Republicans have gone from a 5 percent advantage to a 13 percent disadvantage,” he added.

“After just a month of bringing it to the people, [the polls changed to] 49 [percent for] Obama, 34 [percent] Republican,” Schumer said Tuesday. Republicans “can’t keep living with numbers like that.”

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