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Democrats Find Deficit Spending A Tough Sell

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Democrats Find Deficit Spending A Tough Sell

Politics

Democrats Find Deficit Spending A Tough Sell

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON: Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen is the head of his party's campaign committee, and he knows Democrats have a tough argument to make.

CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: It's absolutely essential that we continue to focus on jobs acceleration, but also take steps today to make it clear that we're on a predictable path toward spending and deficit reduction. And while those messages sometimes get mixed in the public debate, the fact is they are perfectly consistent.

LIASSON: Here's Vice President Joe Biden.

JOSEPH BIDEN: On the larger question of deficit versus job creation and stimulus, it's kind of an important point that understandably - I'm not being a wise guy when I say this - understandably difficult to sort of - it's not intuitively arrived at.

LIASSON: And it may not be just a communications problem. There are some in the White House who are beginning to think it may no longer be possible to pass any more stimulus bills unless they are very narrowly targeted and largely paid for. That's because the public is no longer receptive to the Keynesian idea that adding to deficit will ease the recession.

STENY HOYER: Debt is a dominant part of the political landscape now.

LIASSON: Here's the Democratic majority leader in the House, Steny Hoyer, acknowledging the new reality.

HOYER: This month, a Gallup poll asked Americans to name the greatest threat facing our country. Two answers tied for the top choice: one was terrorism, the other was debt. This is a remarkable moment, I think, in our political history.

LIASSON: A remarkable moment, Hoyer said, when $9 trillion of publicly-held debt troubles Americans as much as another terrorist attack.

JIM KESSLER: I think the Democrats are in a bind.

LIASSON: Jim Kessler is the vice president for Policy at Third Way, a moderate Democratic think-tank that was the venue for Hoyer's speech last week.

KESSLER: So in the short-term, you want to see more spending because you've got to continue to stimulate this economy, and you've got to makes sure that we are creating jobs. But constituents right now are very deficit-sensitive, whether it is short-term or long-term, and they're putting pressure on members of Congress to put on the brakes.

LIASSON: It used to be hard to vote against extending unemployment benefits in a recession, but not any more, when you explain the way Republican leader Mitch McConnell did on the floor of the Senate last week.

MITCH MCCONNELL: What we're not willing to do is to use worthwhile programs as an excuse to burden our children and our grandchildren with an even bigger national debt than we've already got.

LIASSON: Again, Jim Kessler.

KESSLER: I think we're in a situation right now where the American public isn't really believing things that are coming out of Washington. And I think that skepticism is running up against this deficit fever.

LIASSON: On Sunday at the G-20 meeting in Canada, a frustrated Mr. Obama warned the GOP that soon they'll have to put their money where their mouth is.

BARACK OBAMA: Next year, when I start presenting some very difficult choices to the country, you know, I hope some of these folks who are hollering about deficits and debt step up, 'cause I'm calling their bluff. And we'll see how much of the political arguments they're making right now are real and how of it was just politics.

LIASSON: Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.

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