List Democratic Revolt May Slow Obama Agenda By Alan K. Ota, CQ Staff Democratic Reps. Jim Matheson of Utah and Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona have joined a quiet revolt in the House that could slow some of President Obama’s fast-moving priorities. The two are among 49 Democrats from congressional districts that backed Republican Sen. John McCain ’s 2008 presidential race and whose support for the Democratic majority’s progressive agenda is increasingly not assured. A dozen of them were among 20 House Democrats who voted against the $410 billion discretionary fiscal 2009 spending package (HR 1105) on Feb. 25. Another group later forced House leaders to sideline a contentious bill (HR 1106) to allow bankruptcy judges to modify home loans. Although only a handful of moderate and conservative Democrats abandoned their leaders during party-line votes on the economic stimulus law (PL 111-5), the group of vulnerable Democrats branded the omnibus spending bill as a budget buster and questioned whether the mortgage bill would raise interest rates on average home-owners and cause some struggling homeowners to rush to bankruptcy. The defections could cause heartburn for Democratic leaders charged with ushering through Obama’s three biggest priorities: a health care overhaul, a cap-and-trade system to curb carbon emissions and his fiscal 2010 budget blueprint. The president might also have trouble winning their votes for an anticipated second financial bailout package. “My job is not to be a rubber stamp for the president or Democratic leadership, but to be a voice for the people that elected me,” Giffords said. “I voted for the stimulus, but found I could not vote for the omnibus.” She faces a tough 2010 campaign in a state that will be dominated by McCain’s expected re-election to his Senate seat. For his part, Matheson echoed Giffords’ concerns about an increase of $31 billion, or 8 percent, in discretionary spending in the nine bills contained in the omnibus measure. Like Giffords, he also has raised concerns about the mortgage bankruptcy bill, which many banks oppose. “A lot needs to be done to help people keep their homes. But I’m just not sure about this bill,” Giffords said. John B. Larson of Connecticut, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said party leaders would respond to recent defections by trying to slow the pace of bills to allow more time for hearings and debate. “Everything’s coming at them fast and furious. The more that people get an opportunity to go back and forth . . . the greater the comfort level they will have,” Larson said. Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer , D-Md., acknowledged the defections, saying: “We have a very diverse party, with diverse opinions. We’re working on it.” Many of the 49 Democrats in the group have particular concerns about Obama’s call for allowing the Bush-era tax cuts for wealthy families to expire. “I don’t agree with the administration about letting all those tax cuts expire for upper-income families,” said Harry E. Mitchell , D-Ariz. He argues for retaining the current 15 percent rate on capital gains and for permanent reductions in the estate tax. Midterm Targets Republicans are eyeing the group of 49 as prime targets in their party’s push to expand the 178-seat minority in the 2010 elections. They are betting on “bailout and stimulus fatigue” and ramping up pressure by launching early attack advertising in their districts and daring them to line up behind Obama’s ambitious to-do list. “All Republicans voted ‘no’ on the stimulus. Almost all Democrats voted ‘yes’ on the stimulus. They own it. And before it’s over, the public is not going to like the stimulus,’’ a senior House GOP aide said. Kevin McCarthy , R-Calif., who heads recruitment efforts for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said: “We are looking for candidates that fit these districts. We think we have a good chance to win some of them back.’’ Matheson could face a special challenge in coming days over his vote on a bill that would give the District of Columbia a full voting member in the House. House Democratic leaders are pushing for fast action on its version (HR 157), which would leave Utah’s three existing districts alone and create an at-large seat in Utah. But the Senate version (S 160), passed Feb. 26, would create a fourth congressional district in Utah, a largely Republican state, and could force Matheson and two home-state GOP colleagues to run in reconfigured districts in 2010. Regardless of what happens in Utah, GOP strategist Grover Norquist urged loyalists at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference annual convention to step up attacks on the Democrats “in districts that actually want to elect Republicans.” “We need in 2010 to win 40 House seats held by Democrats, some of them masquerading as conservatives but every one of them a [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi liberal in their voting and their impact,” he added. Norquist serves as president of Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative watchdog group. GOP leaders are optimistic that Republican Jim Tedisco, minority leader of the New York Assembly, can defeat Democrat Scott Murphy in a March 31 special election to fill the vacancy created by the Senate appointment of Kirsten Gillibrand , D-N.Y. “After the March 31 election in New York, we’ll need 39 seats,” Norquist predicted. With the 2010 midterm campaigns off to a fast start, Matheson, Giffords and the other vulnerable Democrats face tough choices. Still, Democrats gained some leeway last fall by winning what temporarily were 257 seats: They can lose as many as 37 Democrats on a given bill and still see it pass. Now, there are three House vacancies, created when Gillibrand moved to the Senate, former Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois became Obama’s chief of staff and former California Rep. Hilda L. Solis became Labor secretary. But signs of trouble loom. Just seven Democrats — six from districts carried by McCain plus liberal Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon — voted Feb. 13 against Obama’s biggest early priority, the $787.2 billion economic stimulus. But a day after the 20 Democrats voted against the omnibus spending bill — including 12 from districts carried by McCain — a larger group of conservative Democrats forced party leaders to pull the mortgage bankruptcy measure. In a symbolic protest, a group of 26 dissident Democrats — including 18 from districts carried by McCain — sided with Republicans when the House narrowly adopted, 224-198, a procedural motion (H Res 190) that had the effect of postponing action on the mortgage bankruptcy bill. A modified version of the legislation is likely to go to the House floor this week.