Boehner: Dems Not Ready to Deal on Spending

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Boehner: Dems Not Ready to Deal; Qaddafi Makes No-Fly Zone for Rebels; Obama Approval Slides; Mexican Hat Dance at the White House

Boehner Tells Dems to Show Their Cards

“It's really hard to go into a negotiation when the other side doesn't have a position. And I'm hopeful that the Senate Democrats will come up with some position so we can begin to have real negotiations.”

-- House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.”

Democrats announced Wednesday that with a spending shutdown averted for two weeks, Republicans should now come and meet with Vice President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders to talk about funding the government for the remaining 26 weeks of the fiscal year.

House Speaker John Boehner made it clear that negotiations on spending couldn’t begin until the Senate had taken a position. While the White House and congressional Democrats say they want to talk it out, Boehner wants to play poker.

Boehner has laid down his hand – a House-passed plan to cut $61 billion from spending for the rest of the year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, meanwhile, hasn’t shown much other than his disdain for Boehner’s cuts.

The strength of Reid’s hand was revealed a bit on Wednesday when a House-proposed stopgap measure with prorated cuts of $4 billion for two weeks sailed through the Senate with 91 votes. There is little appetite in Reid’s caucus for forcing a shutdown in order to avoid cuts.

But the Senate still hasn’t answered the House on the longer-term plan.

Wednesday’s announcement that President Obama and Reid wanted Republicans to come to negotiations directed by Biden fell flat. With no Democratic plan on the table, Republicans scoffed at the idea of making a counterproposal. The GOP is still waiting for Democrats, especially the White House, to show its cards.

House GOP aides tell Power Play that until Democrats have an opening bid of their own, there will be no bipartisan negotiations.

But an invitation proffered at a press conference wasn’t likely designed to produce a meeting, but instead inspire stories about how Republicans were refusing to negotiate. If Biden, Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Obama budget boss Jacob Lew and White House Chief of Staff Richard Daley meet on the Hill today, they can count on sympathetic news outlets to talk about Republicans being stubborn.

Watch for the White House to lament Republican intransigence today.

But beyond theater, such a meeting does have a purpose.

Pelosi’s opinion doesn’t much matter here, since the only votes in her withered caucus that are in play are those Blue Dogs for whom she does not speak. But Reid and the White House team have some serious work to do.

The Republican plan comes in $100 billion below Obama’s request for the rest of the fiscal year and $61 billion below Reid’s initial suggestion for just maintaining current spending levels.

Many of Reid’s fellow Senate Democrats, especially those vulnerable in the 2012 elections, would like to see some cuts from current spending. So the first order of business is for the Obama team to tell Reid what level of cuts the president will accept and what Reid can deliver.

Obama signed the $4 billion cuts plan Wednesday to keep the government open. In so doing,  accepting the end of the stimulus era he has championed since before taking office.

We now know Obama will accept cuts. What Reid and Biden have to talk out is how low Obama will go.

Once Democrats are in agreement, then the bipartisan bidding can begin.

Qaddafi Advances as Europe Retreats

“March 11”

-- Date on which the European Union will reconsider its posture on the Libyan civil war.

The Libyan rebels are now begging for air support as Col. Muammar Qaddafi uses the remnants of his air force to bombard their positions in the country’s oilfields and seal off access for potential relief.

By bombing rebel airfields, Qaddafi is trying to enforce a no-fly zone of his own.

The Obama administration sought to further tamp down talk of using U.S. resources to keep Qaddafi’s planes on the ground. Hitting back at Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and others who spoke out in favor of a unanimous Senate resolution in support of a no fly zone for the country, Defense Secretary Robert Gates dismissed “loose talk” about the use of American air power.

The administration has expressed concern that blowing up Qaddafi’s defenses would delegitimize the rebellion among the local population, but the other big concern is that our European allies are getting kind of queasy.

Britain seems mostly to be standing firm against Qaddafi, but the nations on the Mediterranean and those with substantial Muslim populations are increasingly anxious about being drawn into a war against the oil-rich Libyan dictator, whom they have long abided.

Since this is not the kind of general unrest that continues to grip the Arab world, but instead a regional/ethnic civil war inside a terrorist state, many American analysts favor the idea of supporting the rebels. But many of the same analysts caution that the moment to act may be quickly fading.

If Qaddafi can lock down the oil fields in the center of the country, he will have greater leverage against Europe and the chances for the rebels, who have been losing ground since Tuesday, seem to be worsening,

The fear for many American military types is that rather than acting early to aid a rebellion in an enemy country, the U.S. will instead be drawn into a long police action/humanitarian relief effort led by the U.N. long after the chances for decisive outcome have faded.

The last such effort, the 1998 intervention in Kosovo to protect Muslims from a Serbian ethnic cleansing effort, claimed two American lives Wednesday as a Kosovar Muslim opened fire on U.S. airmen at Frankfurt’s airport.

Arif Uka shouted “Allah Akbar” before opening fire on the traveling airmen.

Uka is from Mitrovica, a city once divided between Christians and Muslims that was the scene of fierce fighting during the Balkan war and is now a U.N. refugee center for displaced Muslims 20 years after the open fighting stopped.

Obama Bounce Turns into a Dribble

“10 points”

-- The drop in the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Democrats from October 2010 (49 percent) to the end of February (39 percent) in the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

The comeback kid he ain’t.

President Obama’s job approval rating dropped 5 points to 48 percent in the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, returning to his normal range for the past year. The slip mostly erases the 8-point January bounce that followed Obama’s deal with Republicans to drop his plan for a tax increase.

On the re-election front meanwhile, Obama trounces little-known potential Republican candidate Tim Pawlenty and beats Mitt Romney by 9 points in head-to head matchups. But the number to watch between now and the Republican primaries is Obama’s performance against a generic Republican candidate. There, Obama leads by 5 points, 45 percent to 40 percent. Gorge W. Bush held a 16-point advantage in that measure in April 2003.

The big problem for Obama is again economic. While 40 percent in January expected the economy to get better over the next year, only 29 felt the same way at the end of February. The percent who saw things getting worse went from 17 percent to 29 percent, the highest number since April 2009.

Obama scored adequately on foreign affairs (55 percent thought he was handling the Middle East Crisis well, though only 48 percent thought he was getting it right in Libya) and there were few other sharp changes elsewhere in the poll, so the sputtering economy is likely the culprit.

On government unions and the Battle of Wisconsin, the poll shows that while Americans are quite convinced that public workers are getting too many goodies (68 percent support increasing public workers’ contributions to their own benefits) but leery of curtailing their power of collective bargaining.

Seventy seven percent said they thought public workers “should have the same right to bargain” as their private-sector counterparts.

The loaded wording of the question (an unusual misstep for the generally excellent survey) may have skewed the results. “Right” is the wrong word. Asking about the “power” of collective bargaining would have been better. Certainly asking about “the power to strike” would have produced a very different result.

Using the same word to describe a negotiating tactic not afforded to federal workers or workers in several state governments as is used to describe the first three liberties enumerated in the Declaration of Independence is no doubt confusing to Americans, increasingly few of whom have any personal interaction with labor groups.

But however the wording skews the poll, it also reflects most mainstream news coverage and reveals the challenge for Republican governors seeking curbs on union power. Americans are eager to see public workers get off the gravy train, but don’t like the idea of taking away anyone’s rights.

As to the question of a government shutdown and the ongoing spending dispute in Washington, a plurality (48 percent) are very worried about the federal debt and deficits, a sizable number (36 percent) are very worried about the effect of cuts.

And as for the notion that anyone can win a shutdown, the poll offers a few buckets of cold water. Exactly 21 percent each blame Republicans and Democrats for the impasse and 57 percent blame the parties equally.

Obama Tries to Make Calderon Look Good

"Sounds like the same agenda: do more about reducing drug consumption and arms trafficking. Obama can't do much about either. But he can help Calderon's political standing in Mexico."

-- John Bailey, an expert on Mexican national security issues at Georgetown University, talking to the Houston Chronicle.

President Obama sent a request to Congress on Wednesday for $10 billion to work on suppressing U.S. demand for illegal drugs – some dough for law enforcement, some for counseling.

But Obama knows he’s not getting $10 billion more for anything out of Congress these days. The request is part of the theatrics around the visit of Mexican President Felipe Calderon today.

Here’s how the visit will go:

Obama will ask Calderon why U.S. officials are getting gunned down in the streets of Mexico City and isn’t there something that can be done about the narco-war taking place just south of the U.S. border?

Calderon will say yes -- get Americans to quit buying drugs and selling guns and Mexican cartels will quit selling drugs and buying guns.

Obama will tell Calderon that he’s working on it, and that he’s asked those stingy Republicans in Congress for more money. And by the way, how’s that $1.4 billion we gave you to beef up your security forces working out.

Calderon will then tell the Mexican press that he went up to Washington to give Obama a talking to and explain further that Mexico’s continuing collapse into a failed narco state is the fault of America.

Obama will then tell the American press that he pressed Calderon on Mexico’s security problems and gave him a rather tough time about it.

This oft-repeated waltz is an effort to help the political standing of Calderon, a reformer whose crackdown two years ago touched off the drug war now seeping into the U.S. Mexican patience with Calderon’s bloody drug war has long worn thin and he relies on blaming the U.S. for the nation’s plight to stay in power.

Meanwhile, there is little sign of improvement in the chaos in Mexico as rival cartels continue a war for turf. Death squads roam the streets in northern provinces and Mexicans fleeing the violence (as well as those working as drug mules) continue to sneak into the U.S.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“Look, if you think of the number $61 billion in a budget of $4 trillion with a deficit of $1.6 trillion this year, you know the real issue is in April, when Paul Ryan releases the Republican budget, which we are told will include real cuts in entitlements. That's going to be Antietam.”

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