House Democrats convened Monday afternoon in an underground conference room in the Capitol Visitor’s Center to hear Vice President Joe Biden explain the debt limit deal he helped broker with Congressional Republicans, and to vent to reporters in the strongest possible terms about the deal many of them are being asked to consider supporting.
“They expressed all their frustrations,” Biden told reporters after the meeting. “I feel confident that this will pass.”
He must’ve gotten an earful. The meeting, scheduled to last an hour, dragged on for over two. During that stretch, a steady trickle of Dems, entering and exiting, stopped to complain about the legislation, and the extent to which they’d been closed out of the process of crafting it.
The bill, according to Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) pits “our conscience versus our President…. It’s like a Trojan Horse, with Scylla and Charybdis inside.”
Latecomer Eliot Engel (D-NY) was hard pressed to find a single thing in the plan that Democrats like. He wasn’t even convinced by the argument that Medicare beneficiaries are initially protected from Medicare provider cuts. “It filters down to the beneficiaries,” he said. “It’s disingenuous to say that.”
“You know what we got?” Engel added. “We avoided default. And I’m glad we avoided default. I think that’s something we had to avoid. But if you had told me that this would be the package a month ago, I would have asked you what you had been smoking.”
Asked what she thought of the final bill, non-voting D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said “I don’t think, I cry.”
“How are you?” one reporter asked Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA). “Terrible,” came the response.
The Progressive stalwart, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) emerged from the meeting distributing copies of the Congressional Budget Office’s parsing of the report. He had highlighted a line noting that the proposed defense spending caps would not apply to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Many Dems claimed to still be considering their votes. Few pledged their support.
Biden tried to convince them that this will be a turning point.
“If we had our way and there was a different circumstance in the congress, we would be talking and should be talking about job creation right now,” he said. “There was a sort of a sword of Damocles hanging over everyone’s head. This is the debt limit. And it was — I don’t want to use pejorative terms — but it was used as the means by which, unless certain compromises were made, we would default on our debt…. From the moment this passes, if it passes, when it’s signed in to law, we will talking about nothing from then but about jobs.”
But it must pass first. Republicans will have to provide the bulk of that support, and the remaining question now is whether House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) can whip enough votes to pass this with the help of a Democratic rump.
A Democratic leadership aide says “We are not whipping; we are doing a leadership survey to see where members are.”
Asked if the votes will be there at the end of the night, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) played coy. “You’ll have to ask the Speaker,” she said. “He has the majority.”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.