Thune: Obama has 'Reached the Limits' of Sway with Democrats; GOP May Want War Spending Paid For

ABC News' Rick Klein reports: With legislative action slowed to a crawl in the Senate amid concerns over deficit spending, Democrats are beginning to balk at taking direction from the White House, a leading 2012 Republican contender said today.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said on ABC/Washington Post’s “Top Line” that Democrats are starting to buck the White House in joining Republicans, as they voice growing concerns about deficit spending.

“There's less and less of an appetite to do things now that are gonna involve spending money that's not paid for -- that's not offset,” Thune told us. “So, you know, my view is that there are things that can get done, but there're gonna have to be ways … to pay for it. And that's kind of the difference of opinion we have about the legislation that's on the floor of the Senate right now.

“But my sense is, too, that the president has sort of reached the limits in terms of his ability to influence Democrats on Capitol Hill. I think congressional Democrats are concluding that their electoral prospects are very much in jeopardy if they continue to vote for and support spending that's not paid for, and adding more and more to the federal debt.”

Thune also suggested that concerns over government spending could extend even to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, at least among Republicans. He said there’s a “growing consensus” inside the GOP that “supplemental” funding measures for military operations be brought inside the regular federal budget process.

“I think that the problem, again, is all the other things that get added on to these war supplementals, and the fact that it's not paid for. There are -- Republicans are increasingly, I think, dug in on the issue of making sure that new spending is offset,” Thune said.

Pressed on whether that means Republicans will insist that war funding will be paid for by cuts elsewhere in the budget, Thune said: “I don't that that's necessarily a consensus position, even among Republicans. Republicans in the past have viewed Iraq and Afghanistan and the war effort as something that truly is an emergency, although it's hard to say now that we don't know what these costs are gonna be….”

“Frankly, I think that there is even a growing consensus among Republicans that we need to start budgeting for this, we need to start figuring out how to pay for it. And I think that's kind of the majority view among Republicans now, but I wouldn't say it's a unanimous view. I think that the question of whether or not you have to pay for the Iraq and Afghanistan funding component of that overall supplemental bill that passed in the Senate is -- that's an open question.”

Asked about his 2012 presidential prospects, Thune said: “At the moment, we aren't anywhere on that. But we are focused on 2010. Haven't you guys heard?”

(Thune is up for reelection this year, though Democrats were unable to find a candidate to run against him.)

Asked whether he’d wait as long as President Obama did in delivering his first Oval Office address, Thune responded: “I think that waiting this long -- and it took a crisis to do that -- the president, I think right now, is feeling a lot of pressure, obviously, politically. And his people thought they needed to get him out there, get him in front of the American public on this. But it probably should have happened a lot earlier.”

We also got Thune’s reaction to the president’s push for comprehensive energy legislation, plus his own bill that would extend a series of tax cuts by enacting corresponding spending cuts.

Watch the full interview with Sen. John Thune HERE.

For our “Post Politics” segment, we chatted with Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post about Nevada GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle’s trip through Washington, plus the fallout from the president’s address last night.

Watch the discussion with Karen Tumulty HERE.

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