“The discussion with Democrats will continue, but the House has an obligation to be ready if the White House and Senate Democrats choose to shut down the government.”
-- Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, discussing plans for an emergency, one-week spending bill
Senate Democrats thought they had House Republicans cornered on a government shutdown.
Media reports had established the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as being in support of a plan to meet the hot House halfway to its proposed 4 percent reduction in the $1.65 trillion deficit projected for the current fiscal year.
“But, but…” House Republicans sputtered. But the Democrats cuts rely on some accounting gimmicks! But the plan doesn’t include specific instructions to take the money from controversial programs, like the $300 million annual subsidy for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s leading provider of abortions. But the Senate hasn’t even passed a bill – none of it is in writing.
But nothing. By the time you get past “agreed to meet halfway” on a fiscal compromise, the rest becomes kind of white noise for most news consumers. It’s boring stuff and folks tune out quickly on minute detail. House Republicans were losing the message war and were heading into a calendar squeeze play.
Speaker John Boehner’s rules require that all legislation be on offer for three days before a vote – a reaction to the legislative sluiceway of Nancy Pelosi’s speakership. With a partial government shutdown set to kick in at midnight Friday, that would mean Boehner would have to have a bill to operate the government for the final 25 weeks of the fiscal year in place by Wednesday afternoon.
Boehner likely has enough votes to pass the cuts compromise sketched out by Democrats if he relies on more moderate members of the Blue Team to put it through. But not only does Boehner want to avoid losing half of his own caucus on a high-profile vote, he also wants more cuts and to preserve the pro-life language in the bill.
Democrats also knew that many House Republicans had vowed to accept no further stopgap funding measures. Since Democrats failed to produce any budget last year, Congress has passed six “continuing resolutions” since Sept. 30, 2010.
While the ones produced since Republicans took over the House have been prorated versions of the party’s 4 percent deficit reduction plan, conservative members had loudly declared that they couldn’t keep kicking the can with stopgap measures. Aside from shielding Planned Parenthood, the emergency spending plans were eating up easy cuts and leaving hard ones until the end, decreasing the chances that they would be enacted.
Many Democrats are quietly rooting for a shutdown on the belief that it will make Republicans look extreme and saw the members of Boehner’s caucus about to run out of other options.
And to make it worse, Senate Democrats and White House talking heads continued to cast Boehner as itching to sell out his freshmen firebrands but just looking for a way to get away with it. Democrats saw a path to retake the momentum on spending and destroy the credibility of the new speaker all at once.
But Team Boehner flipped the script last night and came up with an audacious counter offer. Rather than prorated cuts of $2 billion a week in exchange for continuing resolutions, Boehner’s budget team is offering up a $12 billion slash in exchange for just one week of continued operations.
The plan also includes a request by a bipartisan coalition of hawks to fund the Pentagon for the rest of the year. That takes defense spending out of the equation and keeps the likes of Sens. John McCain and Joe Lieberman on board.
The conservatives who had declared themselves unwilling to do anymore stopgap measures were suddenly singing a different tune. It seems likely that Republicans will back the plan if only to stick it to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. If Senate Democrats refused another $12 billion in cuts they would be shutting down the government over a relative pittance. And the emergency bill can be up and ready for posting today with a vote on Thursday.
Boehner is headed to the White House today as President Obama joins the negotiations over funding the rest of the fiscal year. On Monday, Democrats thought they had Boehner over a barrel. On Tuesday it looks like it’s their legs over the keg.
Now, the three-day clock that Democrats believed would trap Boehner creates a scheduling problem for Obama. Unless Democrats want to have to vote down a $12 billion cuts plan and shut down the government, they need to come up with an offer that Boehner likes today.
Ryan Reopens Obamacare Debate
“The president's recent budget proposal would accelerate America's descent into a debt crisis. It doubles debt held by the public by the end of his first term and triples it by 2021. It imposes $1.5 trillion in new taxes, with spending that never falls below 23% of the economy. His budget permanently enlarges the size of government. It offers no reforms to save government health and retirement programs, and no leadership.”
-- House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan writing in the Wall Street Journal
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan will lay out today his plan to slash deficit spending by $6.2 trillion over the next decade compared to President Obama’s request for the same period.
While Ryan’s proposal – that he rather immodestly dubbed “The Path to Prosperity” – does call for spending cuts, it focuses its energies on the two biggest fiscal train wrecks ahead for the nation’s health care system: Medicare, the entitlement insurance program for senior citizens, and Medicaid, the welfare program for poor Americans.
These programs were already in dire fiscal shape. Later this year, for example, Congress will have to again address the “doc fix” – a trap door built into doctor reimbursements by Clinton-era lawmakers and then dutifully dodged for the next 16 years.
But the programs are headed for an ever-steeper cliff in the wake of Obama’s national health care law. The Obama plan requires $500 billion be taken from Medicare to pay for the welfare component of the law. The president’s law also will shift hundreds of billions of dollars in costs to states by dumping millions of Americans into the Medicaid system, which is jointly supported by federal and state dollars.
Ryan refused to back the proposal of Obama’s debt and deficit commission because it didn’t address the president’s health care law. Ryan wouldn’t vote for a plan that assumed the law’s future existence in its current form.
Ryan’s budget directly challenges the president’s signature law, which on Monday night Obama touted in a phone call with supporters as evidence that he has been the most successful president at lawmaking in a half century.
It may not pass in its entirety, but it will open the door to some very interesting discussions with Senate Democrats who are uneasy about the provisions of the Obama law and those that are part of a group working in secret to force an entitlement and welfare fix.
The president, meanwhile, will need to oppose Ryan’s proposals because they would jeopardize Obama’s historic achievement.
Oil Lubricates Libya Negotiations
“Rather than calling for unity and reconciliation, everyone would like to participate in the loot."
-- Libyan Oil Minister Shukri Ghanem to the Wall Street Journal discussing international efforts to buy oil from the country’s rebels
The first oil tanker to arrive in Libya to pick up crude from the rebel forces is filling up now, and could bring $125 million for the struggling insurrection.
It is not coincidental that Italy has now joined France in representing the coalition of Cyrenian rebels and Jihadists as the legitimate government of Libya. While Germany and Britain tap the North Sea for much of their crude, Italy and France rely heavily on the previously massive production from their neighbors across the Mediterranean.
While the Libyan civil war is affecting gas prices for everyone, it is causing the biggest problems for the nations on the Mediterranean. That’s why they are in a great hurry to see the war end. If it is some power-sharing agreement and partition, so be it, as long as the oil flows.
Even with the U.S. trying to organize the rebels into something more like a conventional army, the anti-Qaddafi forces don’t seem likely to obtain a decisive victory.
It seems increasingly likely that the same international community that got us into this war will soon call for us to help enforce a truce between the long-warring tribes of Libya.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested joining the war was America’s reciprocation for the Europeans’ support of the decade-long Afghan war. With new terror ties popping up all around Libya, the Europeans’ war is looking more and more costly to their American partners.
Israel and Obama: Frienemies Forever
“…if Israel attacked Gaza we would declare war against the Zionist regime."
-- Egyptian presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei, quoted by Israeli news site Ynet
Israeli President Shimon Peres is headed to the White House today for a working lunch with President Obama. But just ahead of Peres’ arrival, the White House broadly condemned the continued construction of homes by Jews in lands claimed by Muslims.
This is an intentional snubbing likely intended to reassure Muslims living in Israel and the members of the Palestinian Authority that the Obama administration is still being even-handed in its view of the conflict.
The message from the administration has generally been that the series of uprisings targeting U.S. allies in the region should encourage Israel to agree to the creation of an official Palestinian nation inside of Israel’s borders.
The message from the Israelis is that radical Islam is very much on the march in these uprisings, all of which are supported by Iran. They see this as the time to cover their flanks, not lean forward into an uncertain embrace.
The relationship between Obama and Israel has gone from bad to worse as the president has helped push out Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and squeezed the Saudi royal family – the most reliable partners in keeping peace between the Muslims and the Jews.
It seems likely that Israel will respond to pressure from Obama the same way the Saudis have – quiet neglect. Meanwhile, the tiny Jewish nation is on high alert and ready to unleash hell if the Arab upheaval brings trouble to their door.
Bitter Holder Clings to Gitmo Shutdown
“Do I know better than them? Yes.”
Attorney General Eric Holder lashed out at the bipartisan majority in Congress that has consistently opposed President Obama’s efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay prisoner of war camp and import the inmates.
But do bear in mind that what Congress has done isn’t to make closing Guantanamo illegal but instead to deny money from being appropriated to the closure and importation.
Holder likely could have found the money to bring Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the rest of the 9/11 gang here and hold a trial in various contingency funds.
The decision to nix the civilian trials was Obama’s in a bow to the unpopularity of the idea of bringing those folks here when they were perfectly safe down in Cuba.
Moreover, Holder botched his plan early on when he declined to offer the reassurances to members of Congress about his civilian trial plan. The early high-hat from the attorney general deepened opposition among those who should have been friends of the administration.
Holder has little reason to stay on as attorney general having failed in his central policy goal and to have seen the president decline to back him up.
As Obama swings fully into campaign mode, look for liberals to sound more and more like Holder – embittered at the political realities that make their goals unpalatable to an incumbent who is upside down in the polls.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“This time, I think (President Obama) will suffer from the enthusiasm gap. He was historic last time, and this time he'll have none of the buzz and swooning in the aisles and augmented by a media feeling thrills up their legs. That's not going to happen. But on the other hand, he is the incumbent. So what he gives up in enthusiasm he makes up in rent seeking.”