Democratic leaders and their rank and file were deeply divided over the budget that was worked out in a deal with House Republicans. Not only among themselves but with President Obama, too, whom they bitterly blamed for their deep losses in Congress.
Democratic Party discipline has been eroding fast as a result of Obama's growing unpopularity, but last week the
Democrats were deserting Obama in droves. And word ran like wildfire through their ranks that from now on it's every Democrat for themselves.Their party's widening split wasn't contained to Capitol Hill, either. It quickly spread to the presidential nominating battle, too, where liberals were repudiating Hillary Clinton and throwing their support to ultra-left wing Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. More on this in a moment.
The $1.1 trillion budget bill that passed late Friday night contained two provisions, engineered and pushed by the Republicans, that were poison to the Democratic caucus: They included language that rolled back key parts of the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010 that excessively regulated Wall Street and the nation's financial laws to the detriment of the economy. And relaxed campaign contribution limits that will allow wealthy donors to contribute three times the present legal limit to the national political parties. The omnibus budget bill, in which these provisions were buried, was worked out behind closed doors with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Obama not only decided to support it, but personally lobbied Democrats to send it to him for his signature to avoid yet another government shutdown on his watch.
In the end, 139 Democrats, out of 201 members, ignored Obama's pleas for support and voted against the budget package which passed by a narrow margin.
It sailed through the Senate on a bipartisan vote of 56-to-40, But not before a fiery speech by Warren who called on party liberals to block the provisions to deregulate the Dodd-Frank bill and significantly enrich the Republicans' campaign war chest for the 2016 elections.
"Enough is enough with Wall Street insiders getting key positions after key position and the kind of cronyism we have seen in the executive branch," she said. "Enough is enough with Citigroup passing 11th-hour deregulatory provisions that nobody takes ownership over but that everybody comes to regret."
Warren's speech is resonating strongly throughout her party's liberal ranks, triggering growing calls for her to run for president.
Last week, more than 300 former Obama campaign officials released a letter urging her to oppose Clinton in the party primaries, declaring that "We want someone who will stand up for working families and take on the Wall Street banks and special interests that took down our economy." At the same time, the liberal, on-line group MoveOn.org -- a major force in the party, announced that it was pouring at least $1 million into its campaign to draft Warren.
Despite months of timid, vacuous speeches across the country, Clinton has yet to spell out any economic agenda to deal with a long, underperforming economy, declining incomes and a struggling middle class that's been falling behind for the past six years.
More recently, she delayed formally entering the race, pushing off a public decision until the spring of 2015 -- and fueling a variety of anti-Clinton narratives.
Privately, there was a growing buzz in liberal circles who caution that her husband Bill Clinton -- her chief campaign strategist -- slashed capital gains tax rates and signed free trade agreements, acts that went against Democratic party orthodoxy. And that she might do the same.
"What we saw over the last couple of days is an example of a debate that is probably going to go on for a while in the party," said Democratic strategist Jim Manley, who was a high level aide to Harry Reid. And right now that debate is picking up a head of steam that has triggered political tremors throughout a leaderless party that is now largely in ruins, both at the national and state levels. And building a potential groundswell for Warren to build upon and, quite possibly, take hold of a party looking for a leader who can rekindle the Democrats' liberal passions.
Warren, a former Harvard professor who is a freshman senator with no executive experience, is enjoying the calls for her to run and continues to make headlines in a party searching for a liberal leader who believes the answer to our troubles is all-out-class warfare and a great deal more government than we have now.
But Democrats face a much bigger political obstacle in the 2015-16 election cycle. They gave us Obama who has been an unmitigated disaster as president. And whoever is their nominee will be someone who cannot deny that they supported him and his policies for eight, long, unbearable years.