The White House on Sunday began harnessing every part of the Democratic Party’s machinery to defend President Obama’s budget and portray Republicans as reflexively political, according to party strategists.
At a time when Capitol Hill has begun to resist the sweep and cost of his agenda, Obama's aides used the Sunday interview programs to launch an aggressive case that his bold budget for health care and other issues will help fuel an economic recovery
On ABC’s “This Week,” White House economic adviser Larry Summers said the president had proposed a “strategic budget” that “will let us have a sound economic expansion” through a combination of “substantial cuts” and new spending on education, health, energy and environment.
The president himself plans to carry that message in the coming week, “engaging directly with Congress more, and speaking more forcefully on behalf of his budget,” a top adviser said.
And officials throughout the party plan to hammer the idea that Republicans are just saying “no” to the president’s budget plans without offering their own alternative.
Vice President Cheney, speaking on CNN's "State of the Union" articulated the harshest conservative case against the president's plans, accused the Obama administration of "using the current set of economic difficulties to try to justify a massive expansion in the government, and much more authority for the government over the private sector."
"I think the programs that he has recommended and pursuing in health care, in energy, and so forth, constitute probably the biggest or one of the biggest expansions of federal authority over the private economy in the history of the republic," Cheney said.
The Democrats' new plan follows the private complaints of some Democrats that Obama let the GOP get the better of him during the debate over pork in the budget bill he just signed, and growing concerns among some Democrats that charges of big spending could stick to the president.
A participant in the planning meetings described the push as a successor to Democrats’ message that Rush Limbaugh is the Republican Party leader. “We have exhausted the use of Rush as an attention-getter,” the official said.
David Plouffe, manager of Obama’s presidential race, helped design the strategy, which includes the most extensive activation since November of the campaign’s grassroots network. The database—which includes information for at least 10 million donors, supporters and volunteers—will now be used as a unique tool for governing, with former canvassers now being enlisted to mobilize support for the president’s legislative agenda.
Others involved in the planning included White House senior adviser David Axelrod; the DNC chairman, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine; and DNC Executive Director Jennifer O'Malley Dillon.
House Republicans, who released an alternative to the stimulus bill, say they’ll issue their own budget proposal in the next few weeks.
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told David Gregory on NBC's "Meet the Press": "The Republicans will have a plan. We had a stimulus plan. Part of the problem with being in the minority is, David, that sometimes your colleagues in the press don't want to cover the ideas that the minority has. We had a plan on the stimulus. It was tailored to small business tax relief. It was focused on what a stimulus plan should be which is the preservation, protection and creation of jobs."
But Democrats plan to speak with a very loud voice as the budget debate heats up.
The Obama grassroots network—now known as Organizing for America, a project of the Democratic National Committee—has launched an e-mail pledge drive on MyBrackObama.com in which supporters sign their e-mail address to the statement: “I support President Obama's bold approach for renewing America's economy.”
The pledge drive was announced with a video called “Ready for the Fight.” Plouffe e-mailed supporters over the weekend with a challenge labeled “The next few weeks”: “In the next few weeks we'll be asking you to do some of the same things we asked of you during the campaign—talking directly to people in your communities about the President's ideas for long-term prosperity.”
This is not an easy message war for Democrats. Obama's budget calls for the largest deficit in U.S. history and a doubling of the national debt to $23 trillion in 2019. That is a big, juicy target for the GOP, which plans to hit this theme relentlessly all spring.
Republicans were successful in making earmarks, which accounted for only a sliver of total spending, the centerpiece of debate over the omnibus spending bill. The GOP sees sky-high deficits as similarly easy to explain to the public.
So the Democratic allies—the administration, congressional leaders, outside groups and the DNC—are uniting for the new push.
Democratic strategists explain that the message is designed to accomplish three things:
—First, it could deflect attention from the size of Obama’s budget and blunt attacks on the ambition of his agenda.
“It helps change the conversation from their criticism of the president’s plan,” a top Democratic official said. “If they want to say he’s going to raise taxes in the middle of a recession or he’s got socialist tendencies—none of which we agree with—one of the easy things for us to come back with is: We have tough choices to make right now, and you have nothing to offer.”
—Second, by painting Republicans as politically motivated, the conservative House Democrats known as Blue Dogs may be less likely to side with the GOP.
“As long as they’re seen as reflexively political—saying ‘no’ to everything—the Blue Dog Democrats can say, ‘I don’t agree with everything the president proposes, but at least he has a plan, an outline of what we should be working on,’” the official said.
—Third, Republicans could look like they’re playing politics in a time of crisis, rather than disagreeing based on substance.
The DNC on Saturday issued a “Party of ‘No’ Update” accusing House Republican leaders of “obstructionist rhetoric.”
In a new Web ad called “No Responsibility,” the DNC argues: “America is facing tough times. Our economy is in need of repair. Millions of Americans are out of work Fortunately, President Obama has offered a plan to get our economy moving again. A responsible plan to create jobs by investing in health care, energy independence and schools. What are the Republicans offering? Nothing. No plan and no ideas.”
In an ad called “Crickets” that begins Sunday, Americans United for Change, a labor-funded ally of the White House, says: “President Obama has proposed a budget plan to turn the page on the failed economic policies of the past – creating jobs and changing the way things are done in Washington. The Republican response?”
Then the viewer sees Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) each saying, “No!”
“So what kind of budget have the Republicans proposed to get us out of the mess they created? Here are the details,” the ad continues. The viewer sees a blank screen and hears the sound of crickets.
Jeremy J. Funk, communications director of Americans United for Change, said: “Building upon our previous ‘Party of No’ ad theme, the new spot calls ut Republican leaders for also being the party devoid of ideas for getting us out of the mess they made.”
The ad will run Sunday through Tuesday on national cable and a mix of cable and broadcast in Washington, the group said.
Kevin Smith, Boehner’s communications director, replied: “If I had to defend the president’s budget—which is being eviscerated by both parties because it spends too much, taxes too much, and borrows too much—I’d probably waste time on fictitious claims like this, too."
Smith said both Boehner and the No. 2 House Republican—Whip Eric Cantor (Va.)—“presented alternative economic stimulus ideas at the White House directly to the President on the third day of his presidency.”
“We will continue to roll out our alternative solutions when we disagree with their plans,” Smith added. “House Republicans will have our alternative budget forthcoming in the next couple weeks.”
A Republican Senate leadership aide responded: “It really is a silly campaign. What are we saying ‘no’ to? Trillions in new spending? An unpopular, earmark-laden bill that the President himself was embarrassed to sign? A new national energy tax? Releasing Gitmo terrorists into the U.S.? We’d like to thank them for reminding the American people that we are saying ‘no’ to those things.”