Dem House Win Kills Entitlement Reform Hopes

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One Sure Thing From Dems’ N.Y. House Win: Entitlement Reform is Dead

“It sends a clear message that will echo nationwide: Republicans will be held accountable for their vote to end Medicare.”

-- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in a statement on the Democratic victory in New York’s 26th Congressional District.

Democrats are exultant over their win in the Republican-rich 26th District in Western New York not just because it breaks a long season of defeat for the party, but because it vindicates the Democratic plan to bash Republicans for suggesting changes to Medicare.

It took a massive push by the national party and the presence on the ballot of a Tea Party candidate of dubious extraction to make it happen, but Democrats proved that they could make Republicans pay the price for endorsing any alterations in Medicare.

Republicans learned the potency of attacking any changes to the entitlement health insurance program for older Americans in 2010 when they spanked Democrats for backing President Obama’s national health care law that calls for slashing spending on the popular program in order to finance a new welfare benefit.

The 26th District, which covers suburban Buffalo and Rochester, is loaded with elderly voters. That’s what makes it so Republican, but also why it is fertile territory for “Mediscare” tactics.”

Democrats didn’t need much convincing to embrace this line of attack, but the victory is sure to have a chilling effect on Republican calls for entitlement reform. Having seen the consequences of backing the proposal of Rep. Paul Ryan, who has called for creating personal Medicare subsidies to allow seniors to buy their own insurance.

The results are already being wildly over-interpreted, but it is, at least a bracing splash for Republicans looking forward to the 2012 election. While President Obama’s presence at the top of the ticket probably means trouble for congressional Democrats in swing and red districts, the victory by Kathy Hochul shows that all this entitlement talk is an effective weapon. Any notion that 2012 will look like 2010 should be erased for the GOP.

Democrats may be tempted to believe that the Ryan budget will be a swing district silver bullet, but they should bear in mind two variables – the absence of Obama and the presence of a high-name ID pseudo-Tea Party candidate – that won’t be reliable factors next year.

The other consequence is that any flickers of hope for reforming the insolvent system ahead of the looming fiscal crisis have been dashed. Democrats see an opportunity to hold the Senate and close the gap in the House. Republicans see the same thing. That will be enough to keep any progress from being made before 2013, when the costs of repair will be even greater.

Debt Vote Kick Starts Debt Talks

“I'm confident we can achieve a trillion dollars (in cuts) and more.”

-- House Majority Leader Eric Cantor talking to FOX News colleague Chad Pergram.

Senate Democrats were patting themselves on the back for having scheduled a vote on the House budget blueprint, including Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to remake Medicare.

(How focused are the Senate Democrats on keeping their majority in 2012? When President Obama’s controversial banking adviser Elizabeth Warren was on the Hill for a brutal session with House Republicans that devolved into a bitter exchange of accusations, Senate Democrats were talking about having the Harvard professor mount a run against popular freshman Sen. Scott Brown.)

But House Republicans came up with a most effective rejoinder to the Senate Mediscare vote: giving the president exactly what he asked for on his requested debt limit vote. Weary of Democrats accusing the House leadership of blocking a “clean” increase to the $14.3 trillion debt limit, the House GOP is serving up a bill that would provide the $2.4 trillion in borrowing necessitated by President Obama’s spending plan for 2012 and are offering it “clean” – that is to say without preconditions.

While such a vote will demonstrate the unanimous opposition of the House Republicans, it will also draw minimal support among House Democrats. It would be surprising if even half of the House Democratic caucus went for the plan.

The establishment press has been hammering away at the idea that Democrats and Republicans are at an impasse over the debt limit vote. The reality is that Democrats are in deep disagreement over how to proceed. That family feud in the Democratically controlled Senate has to be resolved before the Republican controlled House comes into play.

There’s little doubt that the majority of votes for the final plan in the House will be Democrats with just enough Republicans – perhaps as few as 24 – coming over to help get the Obama-backed proposal through.

The results of the Republican “clean” vote gambit were evident within the day. Vice President Biden emerged from talks with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl suddenly brimming with optimism and touting a deal for the first $1 trillion in cuts needed to win bipartisan approval for any debt hike.

Cantor emerged with good words too, a change from his terse comments about the bipartisan talks so far.

The Republicans laid the groundwork with Speaker John Boehner’s terms: every dollar of new borrowing power equals a dollar in real spending cuts in the next five years. Democrats, meanwhile, are still pushing for a “trigger” in which automatic spending cuts would kick in if deficit spending gets to high… unless a future Congress decides to block the cuts.

The president needs at least $2 trillion in order to avoid a similar situation before the 2012 election, so one might charitably assume that the negotiations were halfway home. Not so.

Biden and Cantor both made clear that the issue of taxes is unresolved. Democrats are determined to push through some kind of tax increase, since a cuts-alone debt deal enacted after President Obama already agreed to ditch his plan to hike taxes on upper income earners would be a gut punch for the liberal base.

But there would be almost no Republican support for any kind of tax increase on anyone. There is considerable support for a plan that would close tax loopholes and deductions, which would allow lawmakers to reduce rates but obtain more revenue. But, as the sputtering Gang of Six negotiations show, such a large-scale compromise is unlikely to be obtained in the 9 weeks before the current debt impasse begins to force a government shutdown.

Having learned their lesson from the fight over the Bush tax rates, though, the Senate leadership and the White House will need to show their core supporters that they went to the mat for a tax hike. While an early deal might save heartache in early August, it wouldn’t satisfy the donors and foot soldiers crucial to Obama’s re-election hopes.

Pawlenty Runs Like a Guy With Nothing to Lose

"We're here to look them in the eye, and look young people in the eye, and tell them what needs to be done. These are reasonable things that can be done, but we need to tell the truth about it."

-- Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty in Coral Gables, Fla., talking about the need to raise the Social Security eligibility age and deny cost-of-living bump to wealthy seniors.

In two consecutive days Tim Pawlenty has talked about cutting ethanol subsidies in Iowa and raising Social Security eligibility in Florida. Is this a presidential campaign or a suicide mission?

The evident truth is that Pawlenty has decided that he needs to convince Republicans that he can deliver the blunt talk members of the party very much like. They don’t love Chris Christie because of his Springsteen tickets: they love him because he tells it like it is. They didn’t flirt with Donald Trump because of his “birther” blather but because he was willing to kick President Obama right in the rhetorical rump.

Pawlenty has gotten the message and has embraced the straight-talking style Republicans are yearning for. There are many risks, as Newt Gingrich discovered in his attacks on conservative precepts as “radical,” but for Pawlenty, the benefits win out. Pawlenty is seen as too mild and too nice to be the guy who sticks it to Obama, whom Republicans believe has gotten away with so much because he has gone mostly unchallenged by the establishment press and establishment Republicans.

For Pawlenty to risk business and agricultural Republican votes in Iowa by calling for a curtailment of the government subsidies that keep the corn-fired ethanol business running and lay himself open to Social Security scare tactics in senior-stacked Florida shows a campaign ready to make some big bets in order to stay relevant. What’s next? A Trip to New Hampshire to denounce the Red Sox?

The straight talk could be the way Pawlenty convinces the conservative GOP base to stop waiting for Superman to arrive and trash Obama but to instead start closing ranks behind him as the best bet to defeat the more moderate Mitt Romney.

Bibi at Tough Act to Follow for Barack

"Netanyahu denied us all our rights. We must work to adopt an Arab and Palestinian strategy based on the right of resistance."

-- Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Palestinian terror group Hamas, talking to the Associated Press about Israeli Prime Minister.

Congress went bananas for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of the House and Senate.

When Netanyahu talked about the impossibility of President Obama’s proposed peace plan at the White House, he got icy stares. When he did so on Capitol Hill, he got sustained, bipartisan standing ovations.

While the speech was a triumph on Capitol Hill, it inflamed Israel’s detractors in the Middle East and Europe. That kind of tough talk is exactly why those at the U.N. and in the Arab League believe Israel is the impediment to peace with the Palestinians.

But Netanyahu knows that short of Israel folding up shop, the momentum for international recognition of Palestinian statehood without preconditions is a foregone conclusion.

The message to Obama is that the Israelis will not accept preconditions to negotiations when the Palestinians are guaranteed a big win this fall as the UN welcomes them to the brotherhood of nations. He is not interested in trying to earn the favor of Eurocrats and UN grandees who will never support his country anyway.

Obama today is sure to touch on Israel as he makes an address to Parliament. Having seen his plan for Israel making concessions to demonstrate their worthiness for international consideration greeted with bipartisan disapproval back home, Obama will be hard pressed to sell it convincingly abroad.

Opposition Grows to Libya War

“Though officials from your Administration have committed that your Administration would consult with Congress on policy in Libya, and conduct military operations in a manner consistent with the War Powers Resolution, these commitments have not been fulfilled.”

-- Letter to President Obama from Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind.

President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron will work hard today to present a united front on the Libyan war, but the strains on the special relationship are deepening.

Lawmakers in Congress are considering placing restrictions on the war in a pending defense spending bill even as Britain and the U.S. are escalating their efforts to kill Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi.

The barrage has not produced timely results for Obama, who would obviously like to have the months-long American mission there shifting into a new phase. The administration has seemingly abandoned its claims last week about the “non-kinetic” and limited nature of U.S. involvement with the admission this week that the U.S. is still flying a quarter of the NATO raids.

The original framework described by Obama of military strikes designed to protect civilians and then letting sanctions squeeze Qaddafi from power has also been abandoned. The stalemated civil war between Islamist-allied tribes in the east and Qaddafi-loyalist tribes in the west has devolved into a stalemate. NATO is trying to break the stalemate by pounding the strongholds of the western tribes, even those in populated areas.

This is all perhaps because Obama has come to see a divided Libya with a cornered, desperate Qaddafi as an unacceptable outcome. But as the escalation continues, Obama is also facing a countdown in Congress. He needs to have the matter concluded in 25 days or face an uprising in Washington as the window for unauthorized presidential military commitments provided under the War Powers Resolution comes to a close.

While war boosters Sen. John McCain and Sen. John Kerry have been given the blessing of the White House to obtain some kind of congressional authorization for the war, it is hardly clear that there is enough support to pass such a measure, at least not without precedent-setting restrictions on presidential military prerogatives.

Just a Reminder: Politicians Lie

"The story is false. It's completely untrue, ridiculous."

-- Then-presidential candidate John Edwards talking to reporters on Oct. 12, 2007 about a National Enquirer report that he was having an affair with a staffer.

If Barack Obama hadn’t won Iowa in 2008, Democrats might have actually nominated John Edwards for their presidential candidate.

The opposition to Hillary Clinton in the party’s base was far stronger than anticipated and a shocking win by Edwards in Iowa might have set him on a path to nomination. It’s far from certain but it’s also far from implausible.

Iowa came three months after the first allegations emerged that Edwards was carrying on with a staffer being paid with the donated dollars Edwards was working so hard to hustle.

Edwards strenuous denials silenced speculation, especially since it seemed so farfetched that a man who had used his wife’s cancer as his rationale for running for president again would be cheating on her via the campaign her illness inspired. Who would be so rotten?

Now that Edwards will face criminal charges for his gross-out antics, reporters should bear that shocking episode in mind the next time a politician uses the implausibility of an accusation as a defense.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“The moral is, demagoguery works, especially on entitlements.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier” discussing the special election in New York’s 26th congressional district.