Weakened Obama Faces off Again With GOP on Taxes and Spending

“First of all, any effort to try to tie Keystone to the payroll tax cut I will reject. So everybody should be on notice… And I don't expect to have to veto it because I expect they’re going to have enough sense over on Capitol Hill to do the people’s business, and not try to load it up with a bunch of politics.”

-- President Obama in a joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper with a non-veto threat to “reject” any plan from Congress that ties extending Obama’s program of reduced Social Security taxes to a Canadian oil pipeline or anything else.

Anyone who thinks that President Obama would really veto the Christmas turkey of spending, tax and entitlement legislation currently being stuffed at the Capitol hasn’t been paying attention for the past few years.

Obama has been forced this month to again engage Republicans on taxes and spending. The president temporarily dropped out of his yearlong battle with the GOP following his August deal with Congress to increase the federal borrowing limit to more than $16 trillion, but he’s been dragged back to the negotiating table.

Obama had initially demanded that the debt limit be increased unconditionally and ended up having to accept a series of reductions to future borrowing and other politically embarrassing conditions, like a mandatory vote on a balanced budget amendment, to get the power.

Having taken a pasting in August, Obama stayed out of the debt-ceiling Super Committee squabble, opting to blame Republicans for its failure and take advantage of his incumbency to stay on the campaign trail pressing his attacks on his foes as puppets of the “1 percent.”

Obama has been able to campaign for almost three months while Republican voters have been busy selecting a presidential nominee with the vigor, and, alas for them, calm, of passengers on a sinking ship looking for a lifeboat. At first, they were picky. Now, they are desperate. It turns out, that the quality of the escape craft matters less and less the closer the ship’s decks are to the waterline.

The summertime slam of Tim Pawlenty as “too boring” now sounds positively quaint. How many Republicans would order plain vanilla right now if given the chance, having given themselves tummy aches with Cain's "Black Walnut," Newt Ripple and Low-Fat, Sugar free Romney-licious Mint.

But even with the Republicans quoting Peggy Lee: “Is that all there is?” Obama still hasn’t been able to do much good with his early campaign blitz. The last Gallup survey before Obama gave his Sept. 8 campaign kickoff in an unprecedented speech to a joint session of Congress showed Obama with 42 percent job approval and 50 percent disapproval – a negative spread of 8 points. The Gallup survey taken this week ahead of his major campaign speech in Osawatomie, Kan. was 41 percent approval, 51 percent disapproval.

Negative 10 is not very much to show for three months of campaigning interrupted only for a big overseas trip, usually a poll booster for presidents. Obama took a bus tour of North Carolina and Virginia, stumped in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada and New Hampshire and never failed to press his message that Republicanism is the root of the nation’s multitude of economic ills. But after all that, the president is still underwater.

Obama may be sinking slower than he would have without the early campaign kickoff, and certainly the overcooked rhetoric at the events, none more so than the Osawatomie speech, has cheered up some disaffected Democrats. But after three grueling months, Obama sees his jobs package dead due to Republican resistance and useless as a political weapon because of Democratic disinterest. Worse, Obama finds himself back at the same impasse with Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over debt, deficits, taxes and spending without a stronger political hand to play.

Democrats are happy that they have won Republican support for extending a payroll tax cut that many conservative economists say is pure piffle not worth the damage it does to the debt. But getting Republicans to support a tax cut, even a bitty one, is hardly a historic act of persuasion.

Democrats have had less success in winning the fight to offset extending the Obama tax holiday for another year by increasing taxes on top earners for a decade. The latest Democratic counteroffer exempts top earners who are really reporting the income of their small businesses and other contortions, while Republicans are getting ready to come back with a series of “pay fors” taken straight out of Obama’s budgets that include means-testing Medicare, selling more broadband spectrum and other Democratic favorites that have fiscal appeal to GOP budget hawks.

The final product will be somewhere between the two, with some other chestnuts, like another extension of long-term unemployment benefits and continuing to avoid mandatory Clinton-era cuts to Medicare doctors, stuffed in the bird before Christmas.

To get Republican votes for this turkey, though, there will have to be some nods, possibly including a move to force Obama to allow the construction of a massive pipeline to bring oil from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

On Wednesday, Obama blustered about not allowing “a bunch of politics” to interfere with… the political process. But he stopped short of a veto threat, most likely because it wouldn’t have been believable.

Obama’s political condition is the same or, more likely, worse, than when he began his autumn campaign against Republicans. The idea that he, who has been getting pushed around since December 2010 (and in many ways by members of his own party since the moment he got to town) would risk a government shutdown, a tax increase for all workers, a massive cut to Medicare payments and the end of the long-term unemployment benefits cherished by Democrats, is absurd. That he would do it to block a pipeline he delayed as a sop to unhappy environmentalists is laughable.

There are two weeks left in the current negotiations, and it’s telling that Obama is already hedging his veto threats. He knows he has to accept whatever Congress coughs up. The president went around the globe from Washington to Osawatomie and came home empty handed.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“Obama has a talent for alienating and injuring friends, allies, Canada, Israel, the British, and appeasing the enemies. And I think it's a pattern the Republicans ought to seize, explain, and run on.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.

 

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace."  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.