Dems still dogged by infighting

Some Democratic members of Congress are challenging their leadership; their reasons include a desire for a more moderate agenda.

Published March 10, 2009 7:25PM (EDT)

Democrats haven't stopped bickering amongst themselves just because they now control the Executive and Legislative branches of government. Part of the problem is ideological; part is actually a consequence of their newfound power.

Congressional Quarterly reports Tuesday that the centrist New Democrats are flexing their muscles in order to slow or stop big items on the Obama administration's agenda. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., for instance, hesitated to support the omnibus spending bill now wending its way through Congress. Bayh's move was part of a series of factors that left Senate Democratic leaders with no choice but to delay a vote on the legislation for fear it would go down to defeat. The New Democratic Coalition could also have an important voice in issues like health care reform and cap-and-trade, CQ says.

Of course, as the Washington Post noted in a separate article, there are some influential Democrats who are opposing various parts of their party's agenda for their own, more personal reasons. New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, for instance, held back his vote in one important roll call over a proposal to ease restrictions on business with and travel to Cuba. (His parents are Cuban immigrants.) And Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson might pose a problem when it comes to expanding Pell Grants, as federal support for private lending would be cut back to pay for the expansion, and a big company doing that work is in his state.

Meanwhile, there continues to be some tension between Democrats in the Senate, who have to make more concessions to centrists and Republicans, and their counterparts in Congress' lower chamber. On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer warned the Senate not to alter the House's version of the omnibus bill, threatening senators with the loss of some of their prize projects.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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