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Obama Faces Some Unhappy Democrats

U.S. President Barack Obama's domestic political challenges appear to grow more complicated each day.  In addition to facing virtually unanimous Republican opposition on issues like health-care reform, the president must now contend with a growing chorus of discontent on his political left, from liberals within his own Democratic Party. 

The prospects for health-care reform took a major step forward this week when Democrats in the Senate mustered enough support to cut off debate, making it highly unlikely that Republicans will be able to block a bill supported by President Obama.

In trying to get health-care reform through Congress, Mr. Obama and Democratic congressional leaders have been forced to make a series of compromises in hopes of overcoming unified Republican opposition.

But for some of the Democratic Party's leading liberal voices, the president's willingness to compromise has gone too far.

Former party chairman and onetime presidential contender Howard Dean is among those unhappy with the concessions from liberal Democrats on the health care bill.

"This is not health care reform," said Howard Dean. "It is not close to health care reform."

For months now, Mr. Obama has been trying to hold together a fragile Democratic coalition in Congress to pass his number-one domestic priority-reforming the nation's health-care system.

"We simply cannot allow differences over individual elements of this plan to prevent us from meeting our responsibility to solve a long-standing and urgent problem for the American people," said President Obama.

But the liberal discontent is not limited to compromises over health care.  It also involves strong doubts about the wisdom of the president's decision to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

The Democratic Speaker of the House, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, recently said that the president would have to make his case to fellow Democrats to win funding for the troop increase. 

That skepticism is reflected among Democrats nationally in public-opinion polls, says Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown.

"But it is clearly true that among self-identified Democrats, a sizable majority do not want an increase in troops in Afghanistan and are much wary of our future involvement than are independents and Republicans," said Peter Brown.

Several recent opinion polls suggest political warning signs for the White House.  Mr. Obama's approval rating, which was very strong when he first came to the presidency, now hovers around or just below 50 percent in some polls.

In addition, a recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News survey found that more people now believe it is better to pass no health-care plan than approve the one now before the Senate. 

Some of Mr. Obama's core supporters who fervently believed his promise of change in last year's presidential campaign are now questioning his commitment to follow through on those campaign pledges.

Robert Borosage is with a liberal activist group called the Campaign For America's Future.

"He did not do what I would have done, which is really led the charge and forced Democrats to unify and then forced Republicans to face whether they simply wanted to be looked at as the party of 'no'", said Robert Borosage.

The declining popularity of the president's health-care proposal presents a difficult political challenge for Democrats as they prepare for the 2010 midterm congressional elections.

Stuart Rothenberg is publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report and a frequent guest on VOA's 'Encounter' program.

"Do they run away from the president?  Do they demonstrate their independence?  Do they vote against Democratic initiatives on Capitol Hill?  Or, do they say, as some Democrats are saying, look, we cannot win elections by weakening our own president.  We have got to support President Obama," said Stuart Rothenberg. "We have got to vote with him.  That will strengthen him and make him look like a stronger leader.  If he looks weaker, we as a party will be weaker.  So Democrats have to figure out how to deal with this."

Republicans have rallied against the president's health-care plan as too costly and too much government interference in the private economy.

Many political experts now expect Republicans to gain seats in next year's congressional elections, in part because conservatives have been re-energized by their opposition to Mr. Obama's domestic policies.

Robert Borosage says Democrats face a major challenge next year in trying to rally their core supporters.

"We know the Republican right is energized," he said. "They want to come out and vote, but they are a very small percentage of the population.  The question is whether Democrats are going to be energized, and this is unclear at this point."

Republicans also appear to have history on their side as they plan to make gains in Congress next year.  In the 15 congressional midterm elections since 1948, the president's party has lost House seats 13 times. 
 

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