Can Congress Get Back to Work?; Obama Soars; Clintons Still in the 90s

Congress Wonders How Soon is Too Soon

“Our hearts are broken but our spirit is not. This is a time for the House to lock arms, in prayer for those fallen and wounded, and in resolve to carry on the dialogue of democracy.”

-- Speaker John Boehner in a House session held in tribute to the victims of the Tucson, Ariz. shooting.

President Obama lifted the nation’s spirits with his words of hope on Wednesday night and America rejoiced at the news that the target of Saturday’s homicidal rampage, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., continued her miraculous recovery by opening her eyes for the first time.

As the nation and the Congress come to terms with last week’s tragedy, the question swirling in Congress is how soon is too soon to get back to work.

One of the best signs that Congress was getting back to business was that Democrats tried to score a hit on Speaker John Boehner for not attending the Tucson memorial service where Obama spoke. Using friendly news outlets and blind quotes, staffers accused Boehner of rejecting a ride with Obama on Air Force One to schmooze with Republican National Committee members in town for the organization’s winter meeting.

To launch such an attack just hours after Boehner had spoken so tenderly about Giffords and so plaintively for a more collegial tone in the House was a sure indication that many in Congress had no intention of changing the slash and burn culture of the body.

Boehner insiders seemed taken aback that the decision to stay in Washington would prompt such hissing in Politico, which passed along word of Boehner’s “unmistakable misstep,” and other outlets. The speaker had long planned to stay in Washington on Wednesday, feeling it was more important to tend to the session honoring Giffords and the concerns of members than be seen in Tucson.

“Glad to see that the speaker’s message about disagreeing without being disagreeable made such an impression,” one Boehnerite told Power Play of the perceived cheap shot.

So, while many are obviously ready to get back on the attack, the question of just how to get back to work remains a difficult one.

There is a growing, bipartisan sense that there is lots of work to be done and that waiting more than a week to get down to the business of governing would be letting a madman dictate the congressional calendar.

Barney Frank and other Democrats have begun to give voice to the idea that Congress has a job to do and must be about its business.

This echoes the sentiments from Boehner, expressed in his tribute on Wednesday, that decent Americans must “have the last word” and carry on.

But where and when to begin? The only bill ready to go is the Republican repeal of the Health Care bill, but members are clamoring for legislation aimed at improving their own safety, expanding or contracting access to guns and even addressing mental health issues.

As FOX News colleague Chad Pergram has learned, some Hill Democrats are suggesting that getting down to real lawmaking with anything other than security-related legislation next week would be too soon.

So far, Republican leaders are staying mum on what their plan is, likely preferring to wait until after the weekend to see what the sense of the Congress and the public is about the body getting back to work.

Certainly, Giffords’ improving condition and the increasing evidence that psychosis, not politics, was behind the attempted assassination of the congresswoman will both argue for a return to work sooner, rather than later.

But, still to be answered is the question of whether Republicans can move directly to their agenda or if they will opt for some legislation spurred by the Giffords incident. While it is appealing for Republicans to consider a limited action on firearms or their own security, the concern is that their entire agenda would get tipped over as lawmakers fought over emotionally charged issues that might also provoke divisions among Republicans.

Obama Finds His Voice in Tucson

“It is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy – it did not – but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation in a way that would make them proud.”

-- President Obama calling for a more civil national discourse at a memorial ceremony for the victims of the Tucson, Ariz. shooting rampage.

President Obama called for a better national dialogue not to prevent tragedies like the Tucson, Ariz. shooting, but to honor its victims and their love of public service.

Obama avoided political blame gaming and even had a swat for his supporters who jumped to attack conservative rhetoric for motivating the shooter. It was an elegant, appropriate effort commensurate to the moment.

And it was hard to do. The event itself was an awkward affair that sometimes seemed like a pep rally and other times seemed like a funeral. Any time an invocation -- in this case an American Indian affair featuring bird feathers in a bandana – is interrupted by cheering, you know that it’s a different kind of event.

But Obama pulled it off with great poise and aplomb. He spoke tenderly of the victims and the nation. And while he succumbed to his oratorical tendency to speak too long, he avoided his most common pitfall when giving speeches: inserting himself into the narrative. No mentions of what his election to the presidency meant or what it said about America.

While some outlets cast the speech in juxtaposition with Sarah Palin’s Web address earlier in the day, the two were totally different affairs. Palin was defending herself against her own detractors and defending her right to challenge the political status quo, while Obama was talking about the nation.

Her use of the term “blood libel,” coined to describe an ancient slander against Jews of using the blood of Christians in their religious rites, has sent Palin obsessives in the press off on another round of apoplexies. But that too, shall pass.

As much as many outlets are yearning for a Palin-Obama fight on every issue, they just couldn’t manufacture it in a moment of mourning.

Do Clintons Still See Vast Right Wing Conspiracy?

“Based on what I know, this is a criminal defendant who was in some ways motivated by his own political views, who had a particular animus toward the congresswoman.”

-- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talking to CNN about Arizona shooting suspect Jared Loughner.

Bill and Hillary Clinton seem to be very much stuck in the 1990s when it comes to the significance of the Tucson attack.

As President Obama was preparing to give a speech that warned against jumping to conclusions about the motives of a madman and said that “none of us can know” what drove the killer, the secretary of state was offering her thoughts on a motive in a CNN interview.

She called the crime “political,” despite vast evidence that suspect Jared Loughner was more obsessed with grammar and math than anything about politics. The depth of his mental illness becomes plainer each day, as does his remove from the world of politics.

The former president was more explicit in his evaluation of motive, warning in a BBC interview that in politics “we must be careful about the things we say” because of the “echo chamber” that may reach potential mass murders.

He also picked up an oft-held claim on the left that conservatives questioned the patriotism of liberals: “This is an occasion for us to reaffirm that our political differences shouldn't degenerate into demonization, in the sense that if you don't agree with me you're not a good American."

While Obama seems to be looking for a way forward out of the shooting, the Clintons seem to be framing the incident in the same terms as they did the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, which they blamed partly on the political attacks on them from the right.

Brawl Brewing in RNC Race

“This race is wide open.”

-- An undecided Republican National Committee member talking to Power Play about Friday’s election for RNC chairman.

The Republican National Committee has gathered in Washington to select a chairman, and Power Play has no idea how it’s going to turn out.

Frontrunner Reince Prebius has stumbled of late amid charges that he inflated fundraising numbers as chairman of the Wisconsin state party and did nothing in his role as the committee’s lawyers to impede Chairman Michael Steele’s downward path.

Dark horse Maria Cino suddenly looks viable after a flurry of endorsements from committeemen and some very public politicking of members by her most prominent backer, Speaker John Boehner.

Also still viable are former party Co-Chairwoman Ann Wagner and former Michigan Chairman Saul Anuzis.

Some suggest that out of the chaos, even Steele himself, long considered out of the running, could even have a shot at getting the 85 votes he needs to win another term.

The deal making and horse trading is already well underway at the National Harbor resort in suburban Maryland and a sampling of a handful of committeemen suggests to Power Play that the field is wide open.

Food Prices Set to Spike

"The markets are very, very tight. There is concern, no doubt."

-- Joseph Glauber, chief economist for the USDA, discussing an expected spike in food prices.

Flooding of biblical proportions in Australia. A Russian drought. An extension of ethanol subsidies in Washington. The changing Chinese palate. The stirrings of recovery in the American economy.

It all adds up to a more expensive pound of hamburger for American consumers, and potential problems for the tentative economic recovery.
The Department of Agriculture revised Wednesday its global crop estimates, an acknowledgement that the dire forecasts of many economists who predicted food shortages and cost spikes.

Just as we’ve seen oil prices climb as increased demand and a regulatory clampdown by the Obama administration on drilling conspire to push crude prices toward $100 a barrel, so it is with food.

American consumers are getting back to their old ways, which means more hamburger, less Hamburger Helper. And in China, the emerging middle class continues to discover that meat is, in fact, delicious.

An increase in meat consumption means more demand not just for cattle and hogs, but for the corn and soybeans used to feed them.

The horrific floods in Australia follow a long drought in Russia. The two events together have put a serious cramp on the world wheat supply.

Top it all off with greater demand for corn because of an extension of an ethanol tax subsidy pushed through during the lame duck session of Congress, and you have a price crunch coming.

There are some concerns of global food shortages and Third World riots like the ones that erupted in 2008, but the more immediate worry is about costs to consumers in the developed world.

Costs could be up 4 percent this year. Along with a rise in fuel prices, that could fuel the inflation that might kill off the economic recovery. A very liberal monetary policy at the Federal Reserve, historically low interest rates and higher prices on staple goods, all amid 3 percent growth, seems like the perfect recipe for a punishing decline in the value of a dollar.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“By the time she had the video on her website, the debate was over. The left, which had launched these accusations, had been completely defeated, ‘refudiated,’ if you like, and disgraced over this. There wasn't a shred of evidence and the battle was over. It was a rout to make the Pickett's Charge look like a draw.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier” discussing Sarah Palin’s video response to the Arizona shootings.