The Bayh message to Democrats

Gerald Seib:

Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, the very embodiment of calm understatement, seems an unlikely character to play the role of scold. But in recent weeks—particularly after last week's Massachusetts mauling—he has been scolding his Democratic Party, and sternly.

His message: Democrats and their president need to move decisively to the political center and root themselves there by showing they are serious about controlling spending and the deficit, which angry mainstream voters see as the real sign that Washington is out of touch.

Thus, while many Democrats complain that the Obama administration's problems arise because it hasn't been aggressive enough in pursuing a liberal agenda, Mr. Bayh arises to make the opposite case.

President Barack Obama, Mr. Bayh said in an interview, needs to "step it up" in his State of the Union address Wednesday and get tougher with Congress. Here's his message to the White House: "My strong advice is for you to draw a line in the sand on spending in the State of the Union, and to have the president pledge to veto spending bills that exceed the limits he puts out." The White House may be tacking in that direction; officials say it's preparing a plan to freeze some domestic spending.

Many in his party, Mr. Bayh said, are "tone deaf" about the real message voters are sending, which is that Democrats have "overreached rather than looking for consensus with moderates and independents." He added: "It is amazing that some people here in Congress still don't get it.…For those people it may take a political catastrophe of biblical proportions before they get it. I don't think we'll get to that. But we might."

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But Mr. Bayh bored in on this: "Part of it is anger at fiscal irresponsibility in Washington. People are having to make hard choices.…They don't see Washington joining in that."

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He apparently has at least heard the message from the voters on spending, but a freeze of non discretionary spending is not going to be enough. There also has to be no earmarks in the defense appropriation bill. Earmarks in general are going to have to be stopped if we are going to get control of the spending. Repealing the remaining spending in the stimulus bill should also be on the table. Beating up on banks is not going to be enough.

Bayh claims his poll numbers suggest he will be reelected but a recent poll shows him trailing Rep. Pence by three points. I think he is smart enough that he will be tough to beat. His health care vote will hurt him.

Michael Barone looks at the recent polling showing Bayh in trouble.

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