One of the loudest populist voices in the Democratic Caucus predicted on Thursday that the party may have to forcefully challenge the White House on economic matters if it wants to hold on to power after the 2010 elections.
One day after calling on Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to resign, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) told the Huffington Post that there were a lot of Democrats who were "upset and nervous with" the handling of the economy by the administration.
"It is pretty embarrassing for a Democratic administration and a Democratic Congress to be identified with total attention to Wall Street and nothing for Main Street and jobs," he said. "There are a lot of Democrats who... want to see something more effective done to create employment."
DeFazio insisted that President Obama and, by extension, the Democratic Party were hampered by Geithner's policies for economic recovery. He pointed to the inability of the administration to spur small business lending and the lack of effective TARP oversight as particularly egregious examples of mismanagement. More than anything else, the Oregon Democrat deemed it untenable for the president to continue employing his current economic team given the taint of Wall Street that clings to many of those advisers.
"I have had a number of people say to me, 'I feel the same way you do but I'm not going to say it.' People are worried it will rub off on the president who still enjoys popularity," he said. "I tell them I still support the president. I just think he is being poorly served by his economic team."
"The truth of the matter," DeFazio added, "is that we have not changed the way the money is being used. It is not being used for the purpose it was supposed to be used for. We are not creating jobs and we have not aggressively taken on the culture of Wall Street."
At this juncture, the notion of Obama dumping Geithner remains far-fetched. Officials at the White House say that the Treasury Secretary still has the trust of the president and argue that he has played an instrumental role in righting the nation's economy. At Treasury, meanwhile, aides are acutely aware of the frustration over small business lending. They note that they have increased caps on small business loans, cut taxes for small business and changed the structure of the TARP to make it more open for community banks. If not for the poor reputation of the program, they argue, these banks would be more willing to take the government's money.
For DeFazio, however, the issue is as much one of perception as it is about policy. One of his chief concerns was that the president appeared enamored with the lords of finance. "The administration has, thus far, not threaded the needle here," he said. "They have taken care of Wall Street but not the rest of the country."
There is, the congressman concluded, "an anger" among the working class that could be a major factor in 2010. And without a new focus on jobs and small business from the White House, DeFazio warned, "a faux populist" Republicanism will fill the void.