- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Senate Democrats released their election year agenda Wednesday, hoping to turn attention away from the embattled health care law and toward their plans for the middle class — but they were still unable to dodge questions about the latest Obamacare delay.

Their legislative wish list includes education and child-care subsidies, manufacturing incentives and tax increases to pay for new spending. The agenda mirrors priorities President Obama laid out in his State of the Union address earlier this year.

Lawmakers said they will first tackle raising the minimum wage, then move on to bills designed to boost women’s pay.

Yet despite trying to shift focus to their newest agenda that promotes “a fair shot for everyone,” Democratic leaders still had to answer questions about problems with the president’s health care law, especially a delay of the March 31 enrollment deadline announced Tuesday night.

“Our priorities reflect the priorities of the middle class. We believe in fairness and opportunity for all,” Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, told reporters. “Republicans are stuck in the past, fighting the same old battles they continually fight. They’re complaining about Obamacare.”

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said Democrats’ agenda has little chance of passing, but is designed to appeal to their political base.

“To put it in a word, they’ve given up,” he said on the Senate floor. “They’ve given up legislating and are going to spend the next several months holding a series of show votes, which are in essence those designed to highlight poll-tested messages.”

Regardless of what happens in the Democratic-controlled Senate, Republicans hold the House and Speaker John A. Boehner said Wednesday that he and his troops will continue to focus on jobs. He called on the Senate to pass some of the dozens of bills the House has already sent over to cut government regulations or aid small businesses.

Both sides are jockeying ahead of November’s elections, with Democrats playing defense against headwinds that favor Republicans.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat, insisted that the help for the middle class, not problems with the Affordable Care Act, will dominate voters’ minds in the mid-term elections later this year and will help Democrats keep the Senate.

“This agenda is what the American people want to hear, and you all just want to ask about Obamacare,” he said.

For his part, Mr. Reid dismissed Democrats’ loss in a Florida special congressional election earlier this month.

“That race was not lost because of Obamacare. That was a district that was very, very white and quite old. It’s a district that had been Republican for 60 years,” he said.

Mr. Reid did say there will be some bipartisan bills on the floor this year, including a plan to extend federal unemployment benefits. Other potential legislation would include improving energy efficiency, restructuring sentencing laws and boosting manufacturing.

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