Impotence No Obstacle to Gas Talk on Hill

“Not only can I not vote for it, it’s laughable.”

-- Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., on a plan by her party’s leaders to end tax breaks for oil companies

Just because Congress can’t do anything to bring down gas prices ahead of the summer spike doesn’t mean they can’t try to take political advantage of it.

Today, Senate Democrats are summoning the heads of all the major private American oil operators in front of a hearing intended to highlight the tremendous profits being made by the industry.

The goal is to box in Republicans who are expected to vote against a White House-backed plan that would end an estimated $4 billion in tax breaks for oil companies and spend the money on President Obama’s pet green-energy projects.

Republicans (and some Democrats) protest that the tax breaks given to Exxon and the other biggies are no different than the tax loopholes provided for other businesses, including the president’s patron, GE. Democrats counter by saying that the oil companies should pay a premium for being in an objectionable business. They consider it just if those who profit from the sale of a product they believe is causing global warming are punished by being forced to finance projects favored by members of the global warming movement.

The executives are well-compensated and can count their millions in their minds while receiving lectures about corporate rapacity and melting icecaps from Democrats in high dudgeon but unable to act. Mr. and Mrs. America, meanwhile, will keep paying $50 to fill up their fuel-efficient sedan.

If the Democratic plan were put in place, prices would likely go up. Exxon paid $11 billion in taxes last year. Adding another $1 billion to the ticket would probably mean more pain at the pump. But the plan won’t pass, especially since Democrats themselves don’t agree on it. Not only would it be bad for oil producing states, but the tax revenues would be spent, not used to reduce the deficit.

Similarly, a suite of House legislation aimed at lifting an administration moratorium on offshore drilling is both doomed for passage and not a strategy for reducing gas prices in the short term

Both sides can argue that their plan would lower prices in the long run, but today’s activities are much more about finding political cover then reducing pump pain.

Gas prices are high for a lot of reasons beyond the government’s control (global demand, Middle East unrest, etc.) and some things that are American-made (a weak U.S. dollar and consumer habits) but Congress won’t do anything about those things today.

Romney Tries to Push Past Massachusetts Plan

“What he's saying is, 'I've clearly had some experience wrestling with this problem, and here's what I learned: Government's role is to organize an efficient market, not run the system.’”

-- Mike Leavitt, a former Utah governor who was Health and Human Services secretary under President George W. Bush, talking to the Wall Street Journal about Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney will try today to start overcoming the first and perhaps largest obstacle to his bid to win the Republican presidential nomination.

In a speech at the University of Michigan, Romney will lay out his plan for repealing President Obama’s national health care law and replacing it with a quintet of Republican policy points involving tort reform, tax breaks for those who buy their own insurance and interstate competition for insurance sales.

As governor of Massachusetts, Romney was the architect of a 2006 universal coverage plan for the commonwealth that features a requirement that all residents either buy private insurance or be enrolled in a government program. As Obama is fond of pointing out, that program was a model for his own national program.

Romney is tackling the issue head on by trying to force other presidential contenders to address the subject. Romney’s plan may not be popular, but he has more policy experience on the subject than anyone else in the field. Since Republican leaders know they must offer an alternative vision to the president’s plan, Romney hopes to turn a negative into a positive.

As one Romney backer put it to Power Play: “If you want to fix a car, you need a mechanic who’s been under the hood.”

Other candidates-- except for perhaps the wonkish Newt Gingrich who is looking for some attention after a balky campaign launch – will be unlikely to respond. They will let Romney tote his albatross for a while longer.

Romney’s hope, though, is that when the conversation eventually turns to health care, he has a well-tested pitch to offer voters.

New York House Race Hinges on Democrat Turned Tea Partier

"He screams like an eight-year-old girl -- which is how old Jane Corwin was when she was claims to have been a ’successful businesswoman' -- and that's it."

-- Curtis Ellis, spokesman for New York Republican-turned-Democrat-turned-Tea Party congressional candidate Jack Davis, talking to the New York Daily News about a Republican video that shows Davis and a campaign aide assaulting a GOP operative

It’s getting even weirder in the May 24 special election to replace New York Rep. Chris Lee, who resigned after being caught using a shirtless picture to troll the Web for adulterous action.

The Western New York district is heavily Republican but GOP nominee Assemblywoman Jane Corwin is struggling to close the deal because a longtime Democrat used the state’s multi-line ballot rules to run as a Tea Party candidate.

With conservative voters split by the candidacy of Davis, a businessman who is mounting his fourth consecutive run for the seat (once as a Republican, twice as a Democrat and now on the Tea Party line) Democrats have been hammering Corwin for her support of a House Republican plan to overhaul Medicare.

If Corwin distances herself from the plan, she opens herself to Davis and his newfound Tea Party zeal. Davis’ head-snapping turn from Obama Democrat to Tea Party activist may be confusing, but in low-turnout special elections every vote is valuable.

But if Corwin goes too hard in favor of the plan, Democrats will be able to peel away Republican senior citizens who are most subject to scare tactics on entitlement issues.

Davis, though, may be in trouble. He declined to participate in a debate this week – a good strategy for a candidate whose success relies on Tea Party branding not policy specifics. But when a Republican video stalker confronted Davis in a parking lot about the decision, Davis popped him in the head and then an aide went after the operative with a binder or clipboard.

That’s never good, but responding by boasting over the incident and then comparing a female opponent to “an eight-year-old girl” is not the best way to keep a low profile.

The more publicity that Davis gets, the worse it will be for him and Democratic nominee Erie County Clerk Kathleen Hochul. Now that Tea Party leaders and even Carl Paladino (!) have come out against Davis, his days may be numbered.

Showy Bipartisanship Unlikely to Yield Debt Deal

“This is his version of bipartisanship: getting Republicans in a room and giving them a lecture. Later, he’ll say he tried, but Republicans wouldn’t listen. It’s like his line at [the U.S.-Mexico] border about the moat: set ups for cheap shots. He lectures us about what we’re doing wrong and then tries to score points by saying we won’t engage in an ‘adult’ conversation. So, no, I don’t expect much in the way of dialogue.”

-- Senate Republican aide discussing a debt meeting to be held today between the president and Republican senators

President Obama huddled with Senate Democrats on Wednesday in a bid to mend deep cracks in the party over how to address Obama’s request for an increase in the government’s $14.3 trillion borrowing limit.

Democratic aides were mum on the nature of the meeting, but public statements suggest that the Senate majority isn’t closing in on a deal. And there seems to be limited urgency to make a deal. The government will exhaust its credit with the current round of borrowing by the Department of the Treasury, but has enough reserve cash to operate at full tilt until August. After that, the government has to begin shutting down operations in order to avoid defaulting on existing debt.

Business groups released a statement Wednesday calling on lawmakers to not engage in brinksmanship on the debt limit and act quickly to extend the government’s credit limit. But Democrats are in a tizzy over the issue and Republicans are holding their fire until the final negotiation begins.

The Republican-Democratic fight can only begin after the Democrat-on-Democrat bout concludes. But today, Obama is summoning the 47-member Senate Republican caucus for a talk about debt and budgets.

Given the partisan pumping that Obama has been doing of late – including using the killing of Usama bin Laden to raise money in Austin, Texas – Republicans are not in much of a mood to listen. Obama will, however, have a chance to sketch out for them the political consequences he can deliver if they do not deliver a deal once Democrats have finished their squabbling.

Un-Common Praise for President

“From one King's dream he was able to Barack us

One King's dream he was able to Barack us

One King's dream he was able to Barack us.”

-- Closing stanza of a rap/poem delivered by Common for the president and first lady at the White House

The unreported scandal from the Wednesday night White House poetry slam may be this: If this is the best of American poetry, we’ve got serious problems.

Power Play professes no great knowledge of modern poetry, but is fond of the work of Billy Collins, the former poet laureate, who also read at the event. The rest of the evening included an ode to Barack Obama by a rapper/actor/Microsoft pitchman who calls himself “Common” and another poet performing a verbatim reading of New York traffic reports (seriously).

Collins’ tender, sometimes funny work is thoroughly American and always thought provoking. His poem about Sept. 11 still delivers a psychic shock when read a decade later.

But if the rest of the crew constitutes the very best of American poetry, the cultural desert is expanding all around us.

Common, who grew up a middle-class kid and studied business in college, may have posed as a voice of the cop-killer and spoken against interracial marriage. But every indication is that he is very much in the mainstream of vegan, environmentalist, corporate approved, liberal Hollywood. Those are values that have often been espoused in Obama White House events. Even Paul McCartney used a cultural event to rip on George W. Bush.

But that Common would be celebrated as a poet is puzzling. Whatever McCartney said, he wrote “Yesterday.” Common’s poetical offering was a rap/rhyme about how great Barack Obama is, delivered to… Barack Obama. For the president’s fans it will likely be iPod material, but as poetry… not so much.

Common leaves Washington with his career forever enhanced by the attacks of conservatives. What could help a Hollywood career more than being denounced by Sarah Palin? But he leaves behind a city no richer in the arts for him having visited.