House Minority Leader John A. Boehner snarled at moderate Democrats Wednesday, but the real bite came from liberal groups frustrated by centrist opposition to Barack Obama's budget priorities.
As Boehner accused Blue Dog Democrats of being "lap dogs" for Obama, MoveOn.org and Americans United for Change, the labor-backed organization that serves as the White House's chief third-party operation, began airing ads Wednesday urging moderate Democrats in both the House and the Senate to get on board with the president's budget.
Among the targets of Americans United for Change is Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who declared the ads "not very helpful."
"The liberal groups need to understand that we are not elected to represent the president," Pryor said. "We're elected to represent our states, and we are trying to reflect the attitudes and values of the people who sent us to Washington."
Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) is also unhappy with the friendly fire. Bayh announced last week that a group of centrist Democrats had come together to negotiate as a bloc with the White House and party leaders on major legislation. He promptly found himself targeted by an ad accusing him of "standing in the way of President Obama's reforms."
"We literally have no agenda," Bayh shot back. "How can they be threatened by a group that has taken no policy positions?"
But liberal groups that worked hard to elect Obama are unhappy with the prospect of having moderate Democrats like Pryor, Bayh and the Blue Dogs in the House trying to slow down his agenda.
"We are going to need almost every Democratic vote to pass the budget," said MoveOn Executive Director Justin Ruben. "Our ads ensure the voices of our 5 million members and the millions of other Americans who support this budget can be heard over the army of lobbyists."
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a registered independent who leans far left, complained that "so-called moderates have the threat of voting with the Republicans" while "those of us who believe in protecting the needs of middle-income working families don't have that luxury."
But the Democrats under attack in the new ads claim that they, too, are watching out for working-class families. "My concern is that we have this mountain of debt," said Pennsylvania Rep. Jason Altmire - one of the targets of the MoveOn.org advertising campaign. "We have a short-term fiscal crisis that we need to dig ourselves out from. Is this the right time to put three massive initiatives in the budget?"
Leadership aides were grumbling about the liberal advertising campaigns. Asked if the ads were unfair, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said he hadn't heard them yet and that it would depend on how they were phrased.
And while Pryor and Bayh were put off by the spots, some of the other targets took them in stride.
"I don't mind hearing from folks on either side of the issue," said Virginia Sen. Mark Warner. "I'm going to do what I think is right."
"They're just expressing their views," said Louisiana Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, another target. "It's not views I necessarily agree with, but there is no bad blood here on our end."
Democratic House and Senate budget writers released their own budget proposals this week, and they punted on some of the toughest choices set forth in Obama's plan. Neither bill sets aside fast-track consideration for health care reform or a controversial cap-and-trade program. The House bill also included balanced budget protections long sought by the Blue Dogs.
Republicans are expected to oppose the final budget bills en masse whenever they come to the floor.
On Tuesday, Boehner told his rank and file that their goal should be to delay consideraton of the budget because the longer it sits around, "the worse it smells," according to people who attended the closed-door caucus meeting.
On Wednesday, he unloaded on the Blue Dogs, saying they'd done nothing to work with House Republicans and ought to "get off people's laps and actually do something."
Boehner's remarks - made at a Yale Club event - sparked a sharp response from Blue Dog co-chairman Charlie Melancon, who said that Boehner and the Republicans had done nothing to restrain eight years of big government spending under George W. Bush. He said the Blue Dogs would "continue working in a productive manner to moderate legislation and offer common-sense policy alternatives."
By Patrick O'Connor and Manu Raju