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GOP Opposition to Tax Deal Grows, Screwy Senate Schedule, Wikifriends Strike Back; Bond Prices Climb on Debt Worries; China Blows Off US on NorKs
"It's kinda like we're the Titanic here in America, and everybody says, ‘The bar's open. We'll just have a party the next two weeks. We're gonna spend another $900 billion...'"
-- Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) on the Senate floor.
As the president and vice president work feverishly to get Democrats on board for a tax/stimulus plan forged with Senate Republicans, conservative opposition to the deal is emerging.
While only two Republican senators - Ohio's George Voinovich and South Carolina's Jim DeMint - are on the record as "nay" votes, opinion makers like Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Sarah Palin and Senator-to-be Rand Paul are starting to express grave concerns about the deficit spending in the measure.
Senate Republicans are universally supportive of extending the current tax rates and reining in the estate tax, but other parts of the deal, like almost $60 billion to extend unemployment benefits and money to provide tax rebates to non taxpayers, have some on the right barking for spending cuts to offset the costs.
That adds urgency to the White House's efforts with Democrats. The longer this deal stays on the table, the less appetizing it will be to Republicans.
When Vice President Biden called on House Democrats Wednesday, he was insistent on the point that the deal was not subject to change. Members said that it was presented to them as an "up or down deal." If even a word of the proposal was changed, Biden warned, Republicans would bolt, leaving Democrats holding the bag.
Democrats may have raged at Biden, but they seem certain to come around to the White House's way of thinking.
Having made the political calculation to wait until after the midterm elections to take up the issue, Democrats fear that they will take a public pounding if the deal breaks down and taxes spike across the board on Jan. 1. Then, newly empowered Republicans could craft their own tax plan and offer President Obama the unappealing choice of vetoing a bill to hold down taxes.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a cautious vote counter, must believe that he and Majority Leader Harry Reid can find 60 "yeas" even after the left and right peel off. But all bets are off if House Democrats seek changes to the plan.
That's why the White House left open the possibility that Obama himself might pay a call on House Democrats to get them to sign off on the deal "as is." It's also why the administration is trumpeting warnings about what might happen to the economy if the deal fizzles. Outgoing economic advisor Larry Summers even used the most dreaded modifier of our times - "double-dip."
Democrats know that economic stagnation or worse will surely mean more losses for their party in 2012.
That knowledge, and the very fact that figures of liberal contempt like Palin, Coburn and Paul are complaining, should help the administration get Democrats to the altar in this shotgun wedding.
That leaves two questions: Will Nancy Pelosi prevent tweaks to the plan and will the GOP revolt widen?
"I think all these things on the Democrats' agenda, including the DREAM Act are check-the-box type issues. They made promises to certain constituents."
- Sen. John Thune (R-SD) on "Hannity."
For all of the fierce urgency on the dangling tax extension debate, you couldn't tell it from looking at the Senate schedule today.
Wednesday saw votes on a measure to send $250 in free money to all Social Security recipients and a bill to grant public safety unions the power to strike. Both bills failed, as predicted.
Today, the Senate will take up the DREAM Act, which offers amnesty to illegal immigrant young adults and a multi-billion plan to create a fund for those workers who say they were sickened by toxic debris in the aftermath of 9/11.
Both of those measures are expected to be defeated, mainly because Republicans are holding on to their promise to filibuster anything that isn't about setting tax rates and funding the government until those tasks are done.
It is telling that Reid is holding back things that he really wants and actually might pass - like a defense funding bill that includes a rider that would allow gay members of the military to express their sexualities and the president's nuke treaty with Russia - until the GOP blockade is lifted.
Scheduling these votes now is a martyrdom exercise. Reid knows that they will lose, but can demonstrate the intransigence of the GOP and Democratic support for special interest groups important to their base.
The House, meanwhile, is chopping plenty of wood. The DREAM Act squeaked through and lawmakers even tossed in a year-long, trillion-dollar spending plan for good measure.
The DREAM is considered dead in the Senate and there is no chance for the long spending bill. Senate Republicans will not allow anything more than a stopgap measure until reinforcements arrive in the House to craft a new budget.
For now, Reid is just killing time until he is sure that House Democrats can pass the Obama tax plan. Once he gets the high sign from Speaker Pelosi, Reid will put the afterburners on the tax plan and try to get it passed before too many Republicans start feeling their Tea Party oats.
Reid could bring the matter to the floor to start debate as soon as today, but the timing is very tricky. If he starts too soon, he could get marooned by the House. If he starts too late, he could run out of days.
"No wonder others are keeping silent about [Julian] Assange's antics. This is what happens when you exercise the First Amendment and speak against his sick, un-American espionage efforts."
The Internet war over Wikileaks rages on as hackers battle each other in cyberspace.
After Wiki foes successfully shut down the site and harassed those who provided services to it, Wiki friends shut down MasterCard's site in retaliation for cutting off founder Julian Assange and committed electronic vandalism of Sarah Palin's family after she called for his prosecution.
Power Players, this is a glimpse of the future. As we become completely tech dependent, hacker wars will be more and more destructive.
Meanwhile, Wikileaks, via the Guardian, delivers another blow to U.S. credibility with newly released cables that show American diplomats knew intimate details about Shell's infiltration of Nigeria's government.
In a dispatch from the U.S. embassy about a meeting between a Shell executive and U.S. ambassador Robin Renee Sanders over keeping Chinese and Russian firms out of Nigerian oil fields a diplomat explained:
"[The Shell executive] said the GON [government of Nigeria] had forgotten that Shell had seconded people to all the relevant ministries and that Shell consequently had access to everything that was being done in those ministries."
"You could argue that we are at a new stage where the global cost of capital goes higher and higher."
-- Steven Major, global head of fixed income research at HSBC, to the Financial Times.
The price that America must pay to borrow money has been climbing quickly since October, signaling international worries about the American debt load and worsening the nation's short-term fiscal outlook.
The rate that the government pays on its standard 10-year Treasury bond climbed to 3.33 percent Wednesday, up a full point since October and reaching a six-month high.
That means the long-term cost of deficit spending will be dramatically higher.
Word of the deficit-swelling tax deal between President Obama and the Senate helped fuel the flight from U.S. bonds, forcing the Treasury to sweeten its offer. But underlying concerns about U.S. debt and a belief that the Federal Reserve may not be able to execute its plan to print $600 billion and buy up debt have been driving bond prices higher for weeks.
Meanwhile, U.S. banks are smarting from the opposite problem. Low interest rates set by the Fed are making it hard for banks to make money on loans, causing capital to remain locked up.
"Those persons making accusations against China, I ask what kind of efforts has he done to promote regional stability and peace. Military threats cannot solve problems and can only increase tensions."
-- Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Jiang Yu rebuking Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for accusing China of "myopia" in dealing with North Korea.
Kim Jong-il received China's foreign minister today, and the two proclaimed "important consensus" following the meeting.The only discernable consensus is that the two communist nations are not impressed by calls from the U.S., South Korea and Japan for Beijing to take a firmer hand with their rogue cousins in Pyongyang.
While South Koreans worried about the imminent threat of a full-scale war following an artillery exchange on disputed islands in the Yellow Sea may be relieved that China is calming the situation, it is a bad sign for American diplomacy.
The Chinese visit confers legitimacy and likely the promise of continued aid to the despotic regime and constitutes a serious rebuke to calls for a united diplomatic front against Kim's aggression.
But with America desperately seeking buyers for an expending pile of debt, any response to China's brush off seems unlikely.
And Now, A Word From Charles
"It would be insane -- which means, normally, you would say no. But these are Democrats."
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he serves as the host of "Power Play" on FoxNews.com and makes daily appearances on the network including "America Live with Megyn Kelly," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace." Most recently, Stirewalt provided expert political analysis during the 2012 presidential election.