Democrats quick to drop Obama's calls for party unity 

Despite the enthusiastic applause President Obama received from his party during his State of the Union speech, his influence over House and Senate Democrats has weakened considerably as lawmakers begin to panic over the midterm elections 10 months away.

While Congress is eager to pass the jobs legislation Obama called for in his speech, there is little appetite for a health care reform bill or climate change legislation he asked them not to give up on.

"The three top issues on our agenda this year are jobs, jobs and jobs," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he has not figured out a way to proceed on a health care bill and no one is even talking seriously about moving climate change legislation.

Democrats in the Senate expressed anger over Obama's repeated calls in his speech for the Senate to act on House-passed bills that are languishing in their chamber.

"His continuing call out of the Senate to respond to the House was not helpful," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. "I'm not happy about it. The president doesn't realize the asset the Senate could be for him. If he really wants to change the tone and govern in a bipartisan way, he might want to understand the Senate is a good place to practice that."

Democrats gave a lukewarm reception to Obama's pledge in the address to work with Congress to overturn the "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding openly gay members of the military, a political hot potato for many swing-state lawmakers.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Friday sidestepped the question of when she would introduce a bill on gays in the military. She faces strong opposition from Republicans and Democrats, including the Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Ike Skelton, D-Mo., who wants to keep the ban in place.

"Repealing it has been something that has been very important for many of us," Pelosi said Thursday, refusing to give a timeline.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told The Examiner he plans two hearings on the matter in February but said passage is uncertain.

"It can get voted on yeah but that doesn't mean it gets done," Levin said.

The party's shaken faith in Obama was evident on Thursday when 11 Democrats voted against his nomination of Ben Bernanke to a second term as Fed chairman.

"Bernanke's decisions over the last eight years helped set the fire that destroyed our economy," Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said. Bernanke was confirmed by a vote of 70-30.

Hours earlier, the Senate voted to increase the federal debt limit to $14.3 trillion, a historic increase of $1.9 trillion that Republicans say is being used to bankroll wasteful spending.

Obama has called for a domestic spending freeze to help offset the debt, but Democrats do not agree on how to accomplish that. Pelosi wants to extend the freeze to some defense projects, but Levin called such a move unlikely.

"That's kind of hard to do in the middle of a war," he said.

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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