Senate Dems Distance Themselves from the Obama Agenda

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The Senate votes Wednesday on a measure that would delay the “swipe fee” provisions of the financial re-regulation bill. The vote, which essentially pits bank backers against supporters of retail chains, will be close.  But the thing that interests me about it is its sponsor: Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana. Tester’s measure is the latest in a series by vulnerable Senate Democrats up for reelection next year to repeal, amend or distance themselves from the agenda Democrats pushed the first two years of the Obama Administration.

Earlier this year, the Senate voted to repeal the controversial 1099 provision of health care reform by a vote of 87-12. Forty Democrats, including 16 of the 17 Democratic incumbents, voted for the measure (Bernie Sanders was the only incumbent up for reelect who didn’t).

One Democratic senator, Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, has even voted to reappropriate stimulus funds to pay for unemployment benefits.

A whopping 23 Democratic Senate seats are up in 2012 – 17 incumbents and six open seats. Many of these incumbents – especially those elected in 2006 – ran as populists, criticizing the Republicans’ lack fiscal responsibility in Washington. They now find themselves defending their own fiscal records in an era where the government has grown – many would argue by necessity to avoid disaster – more than at any other time since Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. Which is why to curtail that criticism so many Senate Democrats have taken trimmers to the bills they helped passed. And many more are voice outright opposition to some of the Administration’s outstanding priorities.

When running in 2010 to fill the remaining two years of Bobby Byrd’s Senate term, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin famously took a rifle shot at a copy of the Senate’s carbon cap and trade bill. He’s not the only Democrat to express unhappiness with the bill. Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill all hail from coal producing states and are up for reelection. Not unsurprisingly, the bill has languished in the Senate after passing the House.

When the DREAM Act, another Obama top priority, came up for a vote earlier this year, five Democrats helped the GOP kill it, including Tester and Nelson. Manchin skipped the vote altogether.

President Obama’s 2012 budget was unanimously voted down in the Senate last month in a move that underlines how Democrats have become increasingly concerned about their record when it comes to fiscal responsibility. McCaskill went so far as to introduce an alternative bill with Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, which placed spending caps on Medicaid that West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller criticized as even more draconian than Paul Ryan’s budget.

Already in 2010, many Democrats ran against the President and Democratic leaders in Congress. Unless the economy picks up, it would seem that trend will continue and deepen in 2012, despite Obama’s presence on the ballot.