Key Votes on Spending in Senate Today

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Senate Vote Will Tell the Tale on Spending

“71 percent.”

-- Percent of investors with more than $10,000 in assets who said in a new Gallup survey that the federal budget deficit was hurting the American economy “a lot,” tied for first place with unemployment

The Senate today will vote on two proposals to cut spending for the final 28 weeks of the federal fiscal year. The House-passed Republican plan would cut $57 billion. The White House-backed plan from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would cut $4.7 billion.

Dems originally touted the Obama-Reid as a $6.5 billion cut, but the Congressional Budget Office sheared $1.7 billion off the number Monday, saying that some of the purported reductions were derived from not continuing emergency funding that isn’t part of baseline spending.

But forget about all of the fuzzy math and gimmicky accounting that has plagued the process to this point. Today you will have votes on two plans. The Republican plan would reduce the projected deficit for the current year of $1.65 trillion by about 3.7 percent. The Democratic plan would reduce the deficit by about one half of one percent.

Reid has no doubt predicted accurately that both the 3.7 percent deficit reduction and the .52 percent deficit reduction would both fail, but how they fail will matter a great deal.

How many moderate Democrats will vote for the House GOP plan? Will fiscal ultra hawks like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., vote for the Republican plan even though it falls well short of a proposal he backs that would cut the deficit by nearly one third?

When we have answers to these questions, we can start to get a better idea of what a final compromise will look like. And that’s precisely why Reid and President Obama wanted to start negotiations before this vote and why Reid sounds so sour about the process. The less Republicans know about the attitudes of the Senate Democrats, the better for the no-cuts crowd.

Republicans will be able to count on the votes of any Democrats who vote for the House plan, and those Democrats who vote against the Obama-Reid plan for being too paltry will be identified as potential converts once the horse trading begins in earnest.

So watch three categories closely today: Democrats in favor of the House plan, Republicans opposed to the House plan and Democrats opposed to the Obama-Reid plan. Once we separate the sheep and the goats, we can figure out where the final Senate number will fall.

And then, the negotiations with the House begin anew. And it’s all got to get done by March 18 when the next potential government shutdown looms.

(And, yes, Power Play knows that the money involved is a relative pittance and the real issue is long-term entitlement reform, and thanks its readers for so frequently and enthusiastically pointing that out. But as Calvin Coolidge said, “When you don’t know what to do, do the work in front of you.”)

Bachmann Targets $105 billion in Obamacare Funding

“…if we do not fight, we cannot win. We must fight. Taxpayers are counting on us.”

--Blog post from Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., promising to push legislation to defund future spending on President Obama’s national health care law

A study by the conservative Heritage Foundation has added up the appropriations for implementing President Obama’s national health care law over the next decade and found that the bill passed in March 2010 provides more than $105 billion for putting the law in place.

Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, currently mulling a presidential run, and Rep. Steve King of Iowa, a likely kingmaker in the Iowa Republican caucuses, have embraced the study and are now pushing for a bill that would strip the funding from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Appearing on “Hannity” last night, Bachmann promised to push the issue into the current three-part fight on spending in Congress. Lawmakers are currently locked in combat over funding the government for the remainder of the fiscal year, a budget for the next fiscal year and a looming vote to increase the federal debt ceiling of $14.2 trillion.

The House has already voted to strip current-year funding for implementing the president’s law, but Bachmann and King want a House vote on clawing back the funding until 2019.

That will cause headaches for the Republican leaders trying to keep freshmen members focused on dealing with current spending levels before taking on new fights.

Qaddafi Seeks Stronger Hand Before West Steps In

"I want to send a very clear message to those who are around Colonel Qaddafi. It is their choice to make, how they operate moving forward, and they will be held accountable for whatever violence continues to take place there."

-- President Obama speaking to reporters during a photo opportunity with Australia’s prime minister

Perhaps Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi is a Vietnam history buff, because his current strategy of bomb then negotiate seems to be an homage to the Nixon-Kissinger approach.

What Qaddafi and his loyalists are trying to do is get the best deal possible once foreign powers and the United Nations intervene to end Libya’s civil war. The country is poised to split into two or three parts, and Team Qaddafi wants to make sure they get the drumstick on this turkey.

The portion of the country most loyal to Qaddafi is, unsurprisingly, the members of his tribe from the south-central part of the country. The good news for Qaddafi is that most of the oil is in that region. The bad news is that oil, without a way to process or ship it, is worthless. The rebel tribes from the northeast currently hold the ports to which the oil pipelines flow and from which the country’s income derives.

So while Qaddafi makes Mubarak-like noises about transition, his side first needs to have some of the means of production in hand before the U.N., U.S. and the Eurocrats most dependent on the country’s 1.2 million barrels a day of oil production start redrawing the map.

With President Obama calling for regime change and NATO coming around to the idea of a no-fly zone, Qaddafi and his loyalists know that there’s no going back to the old days of a unified Libya with Qaddafi’s tribe repressing the other tribes. Despite the Sheen-like ramblings and Lady Gaga outfits, Qaddafi seems to be acting in a perfectly rational, if immoral, fashion.

The West, especially Europe, needs his country’s oil and therefore needs stability. As long as Qaddafi falls short of atrocities in the Saddam style, there is a chance that one of his seven sons or at least his fellow tribesmen will get a share of the new deal.

The tribes in rebellion now looked for the same deal 40 years ago when Qaddafi deposed the king who operated the country to their benefit and to the disadvantage of Qaddafi’s people.

The Islamists and the liberalizers both hope to use the current upheaval to their advantage and may do so in time. But first, another round of the centuries-long inter-tribal conflict must play itself out.

Obama was careful to say Monday that the members of Qaddafi’s team would be held accountable for “whatever violence continues to take place there.” The message: cool it on the civilian bombing if you want to be part of the new government and not on trial at The Hague. What happened before can be chalked up to crazy Qaddafi, but his lieutenants will be held accountable for what happens going forward.

Obama Completes Super Slow Gitmo Flip Flop

"Today's executive order institutionalizes indefinite detention, which is unlawful, unwise and un-American.”

-- Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union

In a flip-flop so slow that it was at times barely perceptible, President Obama on Monday ordered the resumption of military tribunals for the enemy combatants being kept at the Guantanamo Bay prisoner of war camp.

It’s a huge reversal from the president’s campaign rhetoric and his showy signing of an order calling for the closure of the prison by January 2010. But it’s hardly a surprise. After trying, sometimes halfheartedly, all the ways to hold civilian trials in the U.S. for terrorists like 9/11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, it eventually became clear that Obama would have to follow in George W. Bush’s footsteps and use military justice at the prison camp.

Civil libertarians and those liberals who were sincere in their opposition to the Bush policy bitterly lamented the completion on Obama’s Guantanamo pirouette. Those on the left who bleated about Bush’s Gitmo policy primarily because they hated all of Bush’s policies were mostly silent.

Republicans, though, were too quick to declare victory.

Obama’s order applies only to the 172 prisoners held under “indefinite detainment” in the prison. And, in fact, the decision to proceed may allow many of the small fry to be released.

Obama has also now committed the U.S. to international conventions on the treatment of future enemy combatants. The Bush administration avoided this (as did Obama for two years) because it opens up American war fighters to the vagaries of European international justice. If a baddie gets roughed up in Afghanistan, America may have to answer for it in some European tribunal.

But the biggest question is what happens to the combatants taken captive since Obama took office. They have been held in secret prisons and generally shuffled about. The president is trying to close Gitmo through attrition, so he hasn’t been adding any new guests.

As this very slow roll on Gitmo shows, Obama is a patient poker player. While he may have accepted defeat on reversing Bush policy, he still has yet to play his cards on his policy going forward. This loss likely sets up a new policy.

Obama Has Limited List of CEOs for Commerce Pick

“Can’t Jeff Immelt hold both jobs at once?”

-- A business lobbyist joking to Power Play about the General Electric CEO who leads President Obama’s jobs council

With news that Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, will be the next ambassador to China, we must assume that the administration has someone to replace Locke. The current ambassador, former Republican Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is on the job for another month, so there was no huge hurry.

By sending Locke, the former governor of Washington, Obama not only puts a Chinese-American face on the U.S. legation in Beijing but also gives himself a chance to burnish his credential as a pro-business Democrat.

The speculation in Washington centers on which executive Obama will pick to run Commerce. It’s a second-tier cabinet post and has little practical effect on economic policy, but it is highly symbolic. The White House is doing little to tamp down the CEO speculation, showing the difference from 2009 when all three Obama nominees for the job (a scandal sidetracked New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and policy disagreements led Republican Sen. Judd Gregg to withdraw) lacked private-sector experience.

But, Obama’s comfort level with the business world is evidently limited. He has shown comfort with Wall Street types (especially of the Goldman variety) but seems most at ease with the CEOs of technology firms and those from the green energy sector.

They represent the economy that Obama is selling in his “Winning the Future” 2012 campaign kickoff. The subsidies and spending Obama has proposed to help these favored sectors were dead on arrival, but represent the core of the vision he wants Americans to embrace of a low-emission, high-tech future in which government and business are partners.

Obama’s evident favorite is General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, whose appointment to the president’s jobs panel produced howls about conflicts of interest of having an executive in a position to push policies beneficial to himself.

But since Immelt is not likely to give up the sweet gig he has at GE to oversee the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies in Commerce, Obama had to find another executive from his approved list.

He needs a name big enough to make a splash and someone from a Democrat-friendly corporation. He also needs someone who is ready to step into public life.

Google’s Eric Schmidt is available, but there are already too many questions about the search engine’s infiltration of the government. Maybe Cisco’s John Chambers? We will know soon enough.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“The Obama administration [implied] that it was Peter King who was stigmatizing and demonizing an entire community. I'll tell you who stigmatizes the Muslim community, the Fort Hood shooter, who jumps on a table and shouts ‘Allah Akbar’ as he shoots 13 American servicemen. That is a way to stigmatize and demonize a community.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report w/ Bret Baier” discussing hearings by Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., into the radicalization of American Muslims