Strains in Party Threaten Democrats’ Plans

Lawmakers Feel Pressure to Respond to Voters’ Economic Pain as White House, Allies Focus Efforts on Passing Health Overhaul

The Wall Street Journal
November 21, 2009

WASHINGTON — The Democratic Party’s broad ruling coalition is starting to fracture as lawmakers come under increasing pressure from the left to respond to voter anger over joblessness and Wall Street bailouts.

Tensions boiled over this week, with an angry party caucus meeting Monday in the House, and black lawmakers Thursday threatening to block legislation in protest of President Barack Obama’s economic policies. Along the way, members of both parties grilled Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner over his ties to Wall Street, and some called on him to resign.

The squabbling is turning up pressure on the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress to respond, a challenge when their focus is on passing a health-care overhaul. That appears less important to voters than finding solutions to economic woes, suggesting the weak labor market could overwhelm Mr. Obama’s domestic agenda. The dilemma facing party leaders: trying to keep core supporters excited without undermining more conservative members from right-leaning districts.

“The 2008 election wasn’t about health care. It was about the economy,” said David Beattie, a Democratic pollster whose clients are running for office in competitive states including Colorado, Florida and Georgia. “But we’ve been addressing health care and energy. People are hurting, and they want something done to alleviate that.”

Mr. Obama’s aides and his allies are scrambling to mollify supporters and minimize anxiety among independent voters who are fleeing the Democrats over economic issues. Congress is seeking to pass a bill in December aimed at creating jobs, although concerns about the deficit will likely keep it limited in scope. Congress is also looking to speed the much-delayed passage of a transportation bill, which could encourage spending on infrastructure projects.

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