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Kathy Hochul House Debt Debate Previews Democrats' 2012 Strategy

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KATHY HOCHUL
Kathy Hochul won election in May running against Medicare cuts and embodied Democratic strategy in the debt debate. | AP

WASHINGTON -- The debt-ceiling battle may be a bitter fight in which the entire nation stands to lose, but Friday's House vote also revealed that Democrats think it can hand them a winning political argument next year.

They made that plain in their choice of a lawmaker to deliver the Democratic closing argument: newly elected Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.).

Usually a party lion or leader offers the "motion to recommit" where the minority has its last chance (usually failing) to alter a bill it opposes.

But Democrats went to Hochul to follow Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on the floor instead of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

The reason is simple: Hochul won a heavily Republican district last May in western New York by running hard against the Ryan budget -- the spending blueprint passed last spring by the House Budget Committee's chairman, Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), that would slash and privatize Medicare. It would cost Medicare recipients an extra $6,000 a year by 2021 if the measure passed the Senate, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Democrats think Hochul's campaign is a model for 2012 -- and they think the budget-cutting measure passed by the House Friday is an even better foil to run against. They've dubbed it the Ryan budget on steroids, estimating that it would cost people $2,500 more per year for Medicare than with Ryan's plan.

Further, Democrats argue Boehner's debt bill could even kill Medicare. So when Hochul rose for permission to speak Friday and was asked by the chair if she opposed the Boehner bill, she answered with enthusiasm.

"Oh, yes, I am opposed to this bill," Hochul said.

She then introduced her party's attempt to modify it. It was an amendment that, like Hochul herself, embodied the Democratic argument that the super rich and corporations should give up some of their tax breaks before the government could cut things like programs for children and the elderly.

"My amendment is a simple statement of America's priorities," Hochul said. "It says before we cut education for our children, we first must cut subsidies for big oil and corporate jets."

She used the phrases "big oil" and "corporate jets" repeatedly, in a sign Democrats see those talking points as effective.

"I say slashing programs for seniors, young people, [the] middle class -- all because we're afraid of the influence of big oil -- that is wrong on so many levels," she said.

And she lambasted Republicans for "playing chicken" with America's economy by holding the raise in the debt limit captive to massive cuts in domestic spending.

“Never, never in this history [of America] has there been an intentional disaster, perpetrated by the very people who were elected to be the caretakers of this country, and that is exactly what will happen if we refuse to take action, prevent default and pay our nation’s bills now,” Hochul said.

Republicans on the floor did not appear impressed, and even could be heard laughing at Hochul -- who has been in her office only since June -- when she hit her time limit before finishing remarks about reaching out to the other side.

But the National Republican Congressional Committee saw the campaign potential of her speech, and thought enough of it to blast right back with a statement that her charges were irresponsible and that Democrats would be to blame for default if they refused to accept the GOP spending priorities.

“Kathy Hochul should take a serious look in the mirror because her ‘no’ vote stands in the way of forcing Washington to live within its means and preventing default," said NRCC spokesman Tory Mazzola. "Hochul should be ashamed of herself for using such inflammatory rhetoric that’s not based in fact and puts party loyalty ahead of fixing our nation’s problems.”

Hochul's side, however, thought she got the message across.

"Congresswoman Hochul has already distinguished herself as a member of Congress as an independent champion for the seniors and middle class families of upstate New York," Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill told HuffPost. "Democrats are united in opposition to the Republican Default Act and Congresswoman Hochul crystalized the concerns of her constituents with this motion on the House floor."

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