Obama Courts the Democrats on the Hill
President Obama loped up the stairs inside the Capitol on Wednesday, running a few minutes late for a lunch with Democratic senators. The standing ovation as he entered the room masked an undercurrent of friendly but distinct differences within.
As he presses Congress to keep his ambitious agenda intact, Mr. Obama is navigating multiple constituencies within his party. Centrist Democrats in the Senate are trying to organize into a muscular bloc that is already putting its stamp on the president’s $3.6 trillion budget.
At the same time, liberal groups, with tacit encouragement from the White House, are pushing back, trying to keep Mr. Obama’s core domestic initiatives — on health care, climate change and education — from being watered down in the legislative process.
The divisions are no greater than those that existed within the Republican Party when it was in power, and at this point they do not threaten Mr. Obama’s ability to win the main elements of what he is seeking in his budget.
But they bring to life a paradox of political success: As a party expands its ideological and geographic reach, as the Democrats have in the last two elections, it becomes harder to hold together, forcing its leaders to spend time papering over internal differences even as they confront a smaller but more unified opposition.
Faced with just such a challenge, the White House unleashed a broad offensive on Wednesday, a mix of muscle and negotiation, in an effort to contain the varying viewpoints within the Democratic Party, split the difference and move forward.
The muscle came in new television advertisements urging centrist Democrats, many of whom have a streak of fiscal conservatism that makes them leery of the increases proposed by the president, to support the budget.
The spots are being broadcast in 11 states and urge moderate Republican senators as well as Democrats to support the administration’s budget priorities. The campaign is paid for by Americans United for Change, a group financed largely by organized labor, and was organized with the permission of Democratic strategists close to the White House.
At the same time, Mr. Obama’s former campaign team has urged supporters to call their members of Congress.