While President Obama and his White House staff have taken a drubbing in the media for their lack of initiative in proposing or heavily influencing Congressional legislation, their fingerprints are all over one bill that should come into focus in the very near future: the Defense Department appropriations bill, which has cleared committee and is awaiting passage by the Senate.
The White House is keen to have the DOD appropriations bill passed, ideally before Obama makes a decision on the Defense Department's recommendations on military strategy in Afghanistan, but it is also pressing for passage of an increase of the national debt ceiling to more than $13 trillion. The House has already passed a debt-ceiling bill and is awaiting the Senate's version.
But Democrats, particularly less liberal Democrats in the Senate, are nervous about a debt-ceiling vote that they are certain Republicans will make political hay with. Which is why, according to Senate Appropriations Committee staff and Senate Democrat leadership staff, White House legislative director Phil Schiliro, and his deputy in charge of the Senate, Shawn Maher, supported the idea of attaching the debt limit increase as an amendment to the DOD bill, one that will garner far greater bipartisan support than a stand alone deficit increase bill would.
"We need the DOD bill passed and we need the debt ceiling increased," says a Democrat leadership aide. "I don't think Republicans want to be seen not supporting our troops and at the same time potentially destroying the economic recovery we see emerging."
That is exactly what Democrats see as what another Senate staffer called a "win-win" for them. "Maybe we are exposed for playing politics with our troops by attaching the debt ceiling to the DOD approps, but right now, no one in our caucus is necessarily ready for that kind of fight, revisiting the debt debate. If we can avoid it, we're going to do it. And the White House supports us all the way on this one. They have been very active on this."
Some Democrats and Republicans in the Senate want some kind of trigger inserted in the debt-increase bill that would require reductions in spending and the national debt. But because the House has already approved its debt bill, it would have to go back for another vote on the trigger amendment, one that House leadership does not want, particularly with the 2010 election cycle approaching quickly.
Dede Scozzafava's financial support to fund her collapsing Republican bid for the New York 23rd Congressional District is now almost exclusively being drawn from the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, and according to NRCC sources, her staff is, essentially, "four paid staff and her family," adding ruefully, "and I'm not so sure about the family."
Scozzafava's campaign hasn't had a good week, taking hits almost daily from conservative grassroots organizations and websites and in the media. Last week, just about every major conservative political website and organization called on Scozzafava to step aside after it was revealed that her husband called the cops on a Weekly Standard reporter who was politely asking the candidate tough questions about her support for card check legislation. Scozzafava's husband also approached local Democrat party leaders earlier this year about the possibility of her running on the Democrat party line should the Republican nomination not take shape.
Now, recent polling by the NRCC indicates she is running behind Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, who is raising, according to campaign sources, about $50,000 a day online to fund an aggressive media campaign across the district. And in response to those bad polling numbers, the NRCC is attempting to organize a petition demanding that Hoffman end his campaign so that a Republican can win the race. NRCC staff deny that they are behind the phone calls and petition for Hoffman to step aside.