Dem Candidates Tepid on Obama Transit Plan

Dem Candidates Tepid on Obama Transit Plan

By Scott Conroy - September 8, 2010

Amid a growing consensus that their chances for retaining control of the House of Representatives have waned in recent weeks, Democratic Congressional candidates appear less than thrilled about the timing of President Obama's proposed $50 billion plan to jumpstart transportation infrastructure projects.

The plan, which Obama announced in Milwaukee on Labor Day, would attempt to stimulate the still faltering economy with $50 billion in federal funds that would be targeted to spur job growth through upgrades in the nation's transportation system.

But Congressional Democrats have already said that it is unlikely that the House will take up the measure before Election Day, and a new Rasmussen poll conducted before the proposal was announced found that only 31 percent of likely voters supported a new government stimulus.

Even though the White House is not calling the transportation plan an "additional stimulus," pollster Scott Rasmussen said that Obama's proposal will play into concerns that the White House and Congressional Democrats are proposing more government spending at a time when the nation is falling further into debt.

"It's something that will make Democrats a little nervous, especially in competitive districts, and especially at a time when they're trying to demonstrate their independence from the president," Rasmussen said. "If you're in a swing district or a Republican district, it's not going to help."

Indeed, the public mood has left Democratic House candidates who are mired in competitive races hesitant to embrace the White House's new proposal.

Wisconsin Democrat Julie Lassa, who is locked in a tight battle against Republican Sean Duffy to succeed retiring Wisconsin Rep. Dave Obey, on Tuesday launched a new television advertisement that is overtly critical of the Democratically-controlled Congress.

Lassa declined to endorse Obama's transportation plan and raised questions about its fiscal impact in a statement to RealClearPolitics.

"I would like to see what the President's infrastructure plan would mean for middle class families in Wisconsin's 7th district, but I'm concerned about the level of spending and debt," Lassa said.

Democratic incumbent Rep. Harry Mitchell, who is running in a tough reelection race in Arizona's GOP-leaning 5th District against Republican David Schweikert, was similarly noncommittal.

"While the Congressman reviews the President's proposal and looks forward to seeing more details, including how the President proposes to pay for it, he believes that we need to extend key tax cuts that will encourage investment and stimulate growth that creates jobs." Mitchell's press secretary Melissa Hodgdon said.

More than a dozen other Democratic House candidates who are in some of the most competitive races in the country declined to comment on the president's proposal.

In his daily press briefing, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Tuesday granted that passage of the infrastructure proposal was unlikely before Election Day but framed the plan as just one part of Obama's broader set of new economic proposals.

"Congress doesn't stop thinking about what it's going to do after November," Gibbs said. "The president is putting on the table a series of what he believes are important economic ideas."

Indeed, Obama will lay out in Ohio on Wednesday a plan to give businesses greater leeway in writing off new investments, a plan that appears to have a much greater chance for bipartisan support but is equally unlikely to come to a vote during the election season.

In private conversations, national Democrats expressed exasperation over the administration's timing and complained that the White House's transportation initiative was ineffectively communicated.

A top campaign aide to a Democratic congressional candidate running in a tough race in the northeast complained that the White House has not presented its economic plan "in a unified way that people can understand."

"Nothing translates better to jobs than projects on infrastructure, but that being said, when we have only eight weeks until the election, this is just not what people want to hear," the aide said. "And I don't think anybody who's up for reelection really wants to try to sell this."

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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