By returning to Washington to give the green light to another round of taxpayer-funded state aid, congressional Democrats are betting voters will reward, rather than punish, them for helping their cash-strapped states cover the costs of health care programs and teachers’ salaries.
With the House abruptly interrupting its month long recess for Tuesday’s debate and vote, Democrats are casting the $26.1 billion plan as a win-win proposition.
They say the bill does not add to the national debt and - in overcoming Republican opposition - they have saved the jobs of tens of thousands of teachers, firemen and police nationwide.
“Why wouldn’t House Republicans want to keep 310,000 teachers, first-responders and private-sector workers on the job instead of on the unemployment lines?” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Monday.
Mrs. Pelosi made her comment a few days after the Department of Labor released a report showing that the country had shed 131,000 jobs last month.
But GOP leaders have been quick to point up the political risks of the special vote to approve more government spending, in the face of voter sentiment for the government to tighten its belt.
“The American people are screaming at the top of their lungs to Washington, ‘Stop, stop the spending, stop the job-killing policies,’ and yet Democrats in Washington refuse to listen to the American people,” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
On Tuesday, the Democrat-controlled House is expected to pass the measure, which in part relies on ending foreign tax credits for multinational companies and money from last year’s stimulus bill to pay for $10 billion in teachers’ salaries and $16.1 billion for the extension of the Federal Medicaid Assistance Program (FMAP). More than a dozen states are counting on the money to balance their budgets and to keep about 140,000 teachers nationwide on the payroll.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen last week shrugged off the suggestion that approving the measure might come back to haunt the party in the midterm elections this fall.
“It is not a gamble,” the Maryland Democrat told The Washington Times. “It would be gambling our children’s education to have them go back to school and find no teacher in the classroom and with larger class sizes.”
Senate Democrats approved the plan last week on a 61-39 vote after Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins, Maine Republicans, helped to break a GOP-led filibuster and advance the bill to the Senate floor for a vote.
Faced with an unemployment rate hovering at 9.5 percent and the bad news from the Department of Labor, political observers say, Democrats are aiming to reframe the political debate and to put Republicans on the defensive.
Isaac Wood of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia pointed to a recent Pew Poll that, in his words, found “despite some of the idealistic rhetoric, voters overwhelmingly prefer congressmen and senators who bring home the bacon.”
“This bill is yet another way for incumbents to show how they’ve delivered for their districts and their states,” Mr. Woods said. “Democrats desperately need concrete legislative accomplishments on economic issues and this would serve as a notch in that belt. It would also help mute some of the criticism about only big corporations getting government bailouts.
“On the other side of the coin, if the economy remains dour, Republicans can point to this as even more billions of dollars down the drain with no positive impact felt by average Americans,” he said.