PHILADELPHIA—President Obama will strike a defiant tone today at a gathering of House Democrats, calling on Congress to roll back sequestration cuts and jabbing Republicans for threatening funding for the Homeland Security Department.
Obama plans use the party retreat to preview his budget proposal, which will be released Monday. While the plan has no chance of making its way through a GOP-controlled Congress, it's a vehicle for Democrats to outline clear policy priorities—which many leaders believe the party failed to do during the 2014 midterms.
The White House jumped on a quote this week from Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart that it wouldn't be "the end of the world" if DHS funding lapsed. "[T]he president will join the Democrats in Congress in vehemently opposing that dangerous view and calling for a clean funding bill to ensure we are funding our national security priorities in the face of cybersecurity and security threats abroad," said an administration official.
Obama wasn't alone in challenging Republicans to pony up the funding. "Republicans willingness to put their political security ahead of national security is a disgrace," Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, the newly named head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told reporters at the House Democrats' retreat. "The American people deserve better."
The White House has threatened to veto a GOP plan that extends DHS funding while reversing Obama's executive actions to protect illegal immigrants from deportation. Republicans have said they don't want the department to shut down, but they strongly believe that Obama's executive actions are illegal and should be blocked by Congress.
Meanwhile, Obama will call for an end to sequestration, the automatic and indiscriminate budget cuts that went into effect in 2013, slashing expenditures for almost every federal agency. Obama "will propose to end the across-the-board sequester cuts that threaten our economy and our military," said the White House official. "The President believes we should end the era of manufactured crises and mindless austerity."
Even before its release, Obama's proposal drew praise from Democrats on the Hill. "Arbitrary cuts through sequestration never made sense, and House Democrats have consistently supported replacing them with a smarter, more balanced approach to long-term deficit reduction," Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen said in a statement.
Democrats gathered here said their caucus needs to get better at drawing distinctions with Republicans, drawing policy contrasts despite serving in the minority. Rep. Steve Israel cited a middle-class tax cut proposed by Van Hollen a few weeks ago as a step in the right direction, and party leaders will no doubt use Obama's budget priorities to similar effect.
Israel, among others, said Democrats are eager to rally around Obama's State of the Union address to guide the party's goals for the year. "[Obama] set the table, and now we've got to dish out the meal legislatively," he said. "That was the perfect launch for a message that we can all galvanize and mobilize around."