GOP’s Plan for Debt Reform: Win in 2012

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Senate GOP Doesn’t Believe Obama on Big Debt Deal

“There’s only one thing that is going to change the long-term trajectory on debt and spending in the federal government: the next election.”

-- Aide to a Senate Republican leader to Power Play on the way forward on debt-ceiling negotiation

As the chances for a big deal on debt and deficits evaporate in the heat of deadline negotiations, fiscal hawks are growing increasingly frustrated.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is releasing his “Back in Black” plan for massive debt reduction and four of his former compadres from the Gang of Six are rolling out their less-ambitious deficit plan.

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House Republicans, meanwhile, are pushing through the conservative-backed proposal for deep cuts now, spending caps later and a balanced budget amendment farther down the road.

None of these big-ticket items seem to be going anywhere before a projected government shutdown begins sometime in the next few weeks, so why bring them up now?

Part of it is the hope for a miraculous ending to this months-long debate in which a very liberal president and very conservative members of Congress decide to ditch their dogmas in the name of bipartisan compromise. It’s never happened before, but hey, there’s a first time for everything, right?

Part of it is the desire to be able to say “I told you so” when the grubby, short-sighted final product is produced. By putting a plan out now, lawmakers can take the high ground later on. “My plan would have tripled the [cuts/taxes on millionaires and billionaires/savings/etc.] compared to the compromise package.”

Part of it is also posterior covering. If the necrosis of a government shutdown starts to spread and the bond markets get jittery, Republicans and Democrats both want to be able to say that they had a plan to avert disaster, but the other side wouldn’t agree. Look for another round of this if a deal isn’t done this week as House Republicans quickly pass a short-term cuts and borrowing package.

The grinding reality of a divided government at the outset of a massively consequential presidential election is this: big deals don’t get done.

Fiscal hawks are angry that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is working on a plan with Majority Leader Harry Reid that would make a total of $2.4 trillion in staggered debt-ceiling increases automatic unless Congress votes to withhold them.

The president likes this plan because it gets him through the election without facing a government shutdown. McConnell likes it because he gets to force multiple votes on a subject that Democrats hate. Imagine the ad: “Senator Gasbag voted four times to increase the national debt…”

McConnell also gets a new panel to provide suggestions for fiscal reform and spending oversight, a body that would likely continue to serve up policy offerings and judgments that frustrate liberal Democrats determined to block entitlement overhauls.

A top Senate aide explained the thinking to Power Play thusly:

“It comes down to whether you trust Barack Obama. Do you believe that the president is a closet moderate who is waiting for an excuse to be a fiscal reformer?” the aide asked. “If you do, then you would be right to work with him on a big deal.”

But the consensus among top Republicans is that Obama is not really interested in substantive cuts and is wedded to the idea of tax increases now and only modest changes to Medicare and Social Security later.

“If you believe that Barack Obama is a liberal who wants to use a second term to continue his reckless course of government expansion, then the right thing to do is to make sure he loses the next election,” the aide concluded.

Both Sides Losing Debt Debate, But Obama Has More at Risk

“32 Percent”

-- The portion of independent voters in a new Pew Research Center poll who agree with President Obama that it is “absolutely essential” to raise the debt ceiling by Aug. 2

The consistent problem for President Obama in his fiscal wrangling with stubborn House Republicans has been that he has more to lose.

The president and his team have worked hard to develop the meme that Obama is the “adult in the room,” trying to get a bunch of unruly children to act above selfish interests. That may serve the president’s campaign hagiographers, but it also sets the president up as the doltish daddy if a deal doesn’t get done.

A new Pew Research Center poll shows the problem for Obama. Democrats were thrilled that the survey showed Obama with a -1 on public confidence on the debt debate compared to a -17 for Speaker John Boehner.

But Boehner has only been elected by the voters of suburban Cincinnati and the members of the House. Only a handful of the 50 million Republicans in the nation have ever had to express their support for Boehner in anything more demanding than a public opinion poll. More than 90 percent of the Democrats, meanwhile, have cast a vote for Obama. They’re more deeply invested.

Boehner can also take solace in the fact that he looks good compared to the other members of Congress in the survey: Mitch McConnell -21; Eric Cantor -22; Harry Reid -30; Nancy Pelosi -31.

Aside from having more stature at risk, Obama also has the problem that voters, especially the independents who will decide his fate next year, don’t seem to believe him that “Armageddon” looms if his debt demands aren’t met on his timetable.

Independent voters, like Republicans in the survey, mostly agree that the president’s Aug. 2 deadline is not a matter of calamity. That can be changed if the administration increases the scare tactics with more warnings about cutting off Social Security, but again, that requires the adult to be the one to decide that seniors don’t get checks.

NLRB Set to Strike Major Blow for Labor

"One of the most important duties of the National Labor Relations Board is conducting secret-ballot elections to determine whether employees want to be represented by a labor union. Resolving representation questions quickly, fairly, and accurately has been an overriding goal of American labor law for more than 75 years."

-- NLRB Chairwoman Wilma Liebman in a statement on a union-backed plan to allow snap labor elections at businesses

Unions could find recompense for all of the frustration and disappointments of the Obama era if the National Labor Relations Board acts to change the rules for workplace elections.

The agency is in its second day of public hearings on proposed rule changes that would speed up labor elections at employers targeted by unions; a change that labor leaders say will help them reverse the tide of private-sector defeats that have left their movement dependent on government workers for dues.

The measure would also allow the electronic filing of membership petitions, a move that business leaders fear is the next step toward allowing online elections.

Online elections are a point of concern for employers because it would raise the same concerns as the doomed “card check” legislation that would have given unions the chance to organize workplaces by petition, rather than secret ballot elections.

This move comes amid the ongoing controversy over the agency’s effort to block the expansion of Boeing’s South Carolina operations because workers there voted to quit the machinists union.

The agency is on something of a rush schedule because President Obama’s controversial recess appointment of labor lawyer Craig Becker will expire at the end of this year, leaving the agency without enough members to undertake such rule changes.

Since there would be bipartisan opposition to any Obama nominee who followed Becker’s ideology, the clock is ticking on the agency to make the big changes labor has demanded.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“Obama has managed to spin this into ‘I am reasonable and the extremists among Republicans are going to put us into default.’

It seems to me there is one way out. It's sitting there. I'm shocked that the Republicans haven't acted on this. They need to pass a short-term increase -- again, say half-a-trillion dollars: ‘We will give you five months, cuts only.’ There is no way Obama can veto it with any reasonable argument.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report w/Bret Baier.”

***Today on “Power Play w/ Chris Stirewalt”: Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, A.B. Stoddard of The Hill and the latest news on the 2012 election. Tune in at 11:30 am Eastern at ***