Bye, Bayh

Barack Obama’s lurch to the left is costing him some support among centrist pundits, but now he’s lost a prominent Democratic Senator, Evan Bayh. Bayh writes in the Wall Street Journal:

This week, the United States Senate will vote on a spending package to fund the federal government for the remainder of this fiscal year. The Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 is a sprawling, $410 billion compilation of nine spending measures that lacks the slightest hint of austerity from the federal government or the recipients of its largess.

Bayh rails against the excess in the omnibus spending and the lack of fiscal responsibility, but his attack is equally applicable to the president’s even less fiscally responsible effort, the 2010 budget. Bayh explains:

The omnibus debate is not merely a battle over last year’s unfinished business, but the first indication of how we will shape our fiscal future. Spending should be held in check before taxes are raised, even on the wealthy. Most people are willing to do their duty by paying taxes, but they want to know that their money is going toward important priorities and won’t be wasted.

Last week I was pleased to attend the president’s White House Fiscal Responsibility Summit. It’s about time we had a leader committed to addressing the deficit, and Mr. Obama deserves great credit for doing so. But what ultimately matters are not meetings or words, but actions. Those who vote for the omnibus this week — after standing with the president and pledging to slice our deficit in half last week — jeopardize their credibility.

As Indiana’s governor, I balanced eight budgets, never raised taxes, and left the largest surplus in state history. It wasn’t always easy. Cuts had to be made and some initiatives deferred. Occasionally I had to say “no.”

Did he try to warn the White House and get rebuffed? Is that why he is going public? One thing is clear: he has others on board as well. Politico reports a meeting of fourteen centrist senate Democrats  (I didn’t know there were so many):

Asked when he’d reach his breaking point, Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, said: “Right now. I’m concerned about the amount that’s being offered in [Obama’s] budget.”

Another attendee, Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.), said she expected the newly formed caucus to shape Obama’s budget proposal as it moves through Congress.

“We want to give the president a chance, but our concern is going to be on the budget, looking forward,” Landrieu said. She added that she agrees with Obama that there needs to be “fundamental change” in fiscal policy, but she said “we do have to keep our eye on the long term, on intermediate and long-term fiscal responsibility.”

Bayh and Nelson both pushed back against the idea of raising taxes in a recession. Presumably there are more legislators who are not ready for this lurch to the left.

This is potentially a turning point, as Democrats step forward willing to say, “Enough!” Whether they succeed in dragging the president back to a more centrist and sensible agenda remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: the center, at least in the Senate, is closer to the Republicans than to the Obama administration when it comes to fiscal sobriety and taxation.