McConnell Makes His Stand

“Throwing more tax revenue into the mix is simply not going to produce a desirable result, and it won't pass. I mean, putting aside the fact that Republicans don't like to raise taxes, Democrats don't like to either.”

-- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on “This Week” promising to oppose any tax increases as part of a debt package.

President Obama’s road to an increase in the nation’s $14.3 trillion borrowing limit runs smack through Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and today McConnell will tell Obama what the toll is.

Democrats control the Senate, but will need a minimum of seven members of McConnell’s caucus in order to pass any increase. And that’s only if all 53 Democrats hang together, an open question given the grumblings from the right (Sens. Joe Manchin and Ben Nelson) and the left (Sens. Bernie Sanders and Dick Durbin) of their Senate caucus.

Before any deal can get to the Republican-controlled House, it must emerge, in large part, from the Democratic Senate. There will be some final haggling in conference, but the Senate sets the ceiling and floor for the deal.

That’s just fine for Speaker John Boehner who needs a plan that can attract almost all House Democrats and probably a third of House Republicans. Having the Senate set the parameters will help Boehner convince some conservatives that the deal is the best one possible and help Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer tell liberals to get real about the deal.

And remember, time is running out. If there’s no deal in principle this week, the Aug. 2 deadline for a partial government shutdown set by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will be hard to meet.

If there’s no deal before Independence Day, Republicans’ constituents could soon be receiving ominous warnings from Geithner’s agency about disruptions in Social Security and veteran’s benefits. Since it’s entirely Obama’s call what shuts down, he will exert maximal pressure on the GOP.

Of course, the longer he waits for a deal, the more damage is done to the economy as investors and capitalists live with the dread of not just a shutdown and long-term debt impasse but the size of potential cuts or tax increases. Obama needs to wait to get the best deal possible to enthuse his crabby base, but waiting may do such damage to the economy that he can’t get reelected anyway.

Obama today will meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid before McConnell. The job with Reid is to make sure that almost all the members of his caucus can swallow the broad outlines of the plan sketched out in the bipartisan summits of the past several weeks.

But with McConnell, the task will be tougher. Obama needs something that he can call a tax increase in order to place liberals in the House and Senate, but McConnell and Boehner can’t sell any kind of tax increase.

This may be the last chance for a deal on tax reform in which rates stay the same or drop but loopholes engineered by lobbyists to benefit specific companies or imposed to encourage certain behaviors are closed.

Because short of that, McConnell will absolutely shut down anything that sounds like a tax increase.

And while Obama has worked to establish some camaraderie with Boehner, he and McConnell will be all business.

“Secret Shoppers” Will Check Up on Doctors’ Claims About Obama Health Law

“If federal officials are worried about access to care, they could help us. They don’t have to spy on us.”

-- Dr. Stephen C. Albrecht, a family doctor in Olympia, Wash., talking to the New York Times about a new Obama administration program to send out analysts posing as patients to compile a report on doctor availability.

The Obama administration is hiring people to pose as prospective patients to call doctors’ offices in order to assess the nature of a predicted doctor shortage as the president’s national health care law goes into effect, according to the New York Times.

Doctors are, perhaps a little understandably, freaked out.

Perhaps the biggest looming problem for the president’s law, if it gets enacted, is the fact that if 30 million people are dumped into the insurance-based health care model, the already strained health care delivery system will simply snap.

The problem will be exacerbated by the fact that most of the newly insured will be participants in government programs like Mediciad, currently reserved for the poor and for uninsured children. Forecasts also show millions of Americans, currently covered by private insurance, being dumped into government programs as employers beg off when faced by new requirements.

So, if the Supreme Court upholds the Obama law and the president wins a second term, not only will there be a lot of people who are suddenly insured and vying for medical care but most of them will be in government programs that doctors dislike dealing with because of low reimbursement rates obtained only after arduous paperwork.

As a result, many doctors are opting out of the government insurance system and now accept only private insurance or, in some cases, cash.

The ghettoization of the government-insured is a major charge of critics of the Obama law. Naysayers claim that the law will leave millions of Americans newly insured but unable to obtain care and simultaneously worsen access for those already insured.

One more complicating factor – many Boomer doctors will opt to retire rather than face the new system.

Democrats have targeted corporations and insurers that have offered dire assessments of the consequences of the law, with Rep. Henry Waxman launching inquests into everything from corporate accounting practices to polling methodology.

But doctors will be a harder group to rebut, especially since their claims will involve access to care for anxious middle-class Americans. In the case of a similar law in Massachusetts, those already with insurance have found their lots worsened and the hopes of the newly insured have been frustrated.

The effort to check up on doctor claims of being overstretched looks like an effort to preempt such claims by producing a study in support of the president’s plan that under cuts claims of overburdening.

But like the White House effort to collect email addresses of those spreading “misinformation” about the president’s law, this bit of Big Brotherism will likely backfire politically.

Bachmann Shines Brighter Than Expected

“I was born Iowa. In Iowa, I have a distinct advantage there, I think. And also, I think, since the debate, people have paid attention and they've recognized that I am very serious about what I want to do, because the country is on the wrong track. My goal is to turn the economy around and have jobs created. People recognize I'm serious.”

-- Rep. Michele Bachman, R-Minn., on “Fox News Sunday.”

If Sarah Palin had it all to do over again, she might rather make her appearance on the national stage the way that Michele Bachmann has.

Palin arrived as a Hail Mary pass from the befuddled McCain campaign and she could never live up to the hype. She was a corruption fighting, wolf shooting, hot mamma from Wasilla on the day she was introduced to the nation.

No matter what happened to Palin, the way human expectations and media culture work, it would never get any better for her than it was on the night she delivered a slapshot of a speech to the Republican convention.

Palin’s star power was mishandled by the McCainiacs and she was maligned by the establishment press, but it was never going to be easy toting such huge expectations.

But Michelle Bachmann has taken the opposite route. Bachmann slowly emerged on the nation scene as a proxy punching bag for Palin bashers. The conservative, homespun sounding, Tea Party infused mother and tax lawyer from the prairies of Minnesota was held up constantly as a Palin Mini-Me.

They are, in truth, different in many ways, but for the “Hardball” set, Bachmann was a good stand in.

In time, Bachmann became the embodiment of the Tea Party movement for the American left and establishment press – a shorthand way to describe someone who is flaky, far-right and unqualified for office.

But as she has stepped into the spotlight, she has seemed a far cry from the cartoon painted of her. She has been thoughtful and politic (when she ducked Bob Schieffer’s questions about the nature of homosexuality by saying she was running to be president “not anybody’s judge,” one heard a woman with sound political instincts).

Iowans and Republicans around the country have found her to be far more reasonable and able seeming, and accordingly, Bachmann has blossomed.

As Bachmann announces in Iowa today, she does so in a tie for first with Mitt Romney in this weekend’s Des Moines Register poll of Iowa caucus goers. And she can thank Chris Matthews et al. for getting her there.

Dem Donors Feeling the Squeeze

“This is going to be an arms race like you have never seen.”

-- Democratic strategist talking to Power Play about the expanding scope of outside expenditure campaigns in the 2012 elections.

It looks like Independence Day 2011 is the unofficial start of the independent expenditure wars of the 2012 elections.

Today, Crossroads GPS – the Karl Rove/Ed Gillespie-inspired group that, along with sister organization American Crossroads, spent $40 million shellacking Democrats in 2010 – is making its opening bid with a $20 million campaign zapping President Obama for making light of the missed expectations of his 2009 stimulus spending program.

Along with the ill-timed “Recovery Summer” PR campaign of 2010, Obama’s joke at a North Carolina campaign stop about “shovel ready” projects continues to dog the administration’s efforts to show engagement and connectedness on the foundering economy.

Meanwhile, the Center for Public Integrity reports that the copycat Democrat groups organized by Obama insiders to win another term for the president have raised nearly $5 million in just two months. It doesn’t sound like much compared to the numbers associated with the Crossroads groups, but to bring in that kind of coin so early in a cycle for a brand new group shows serious prowess.

Also on the Democratic side, a new House super PAC is launching a radio buy today targeted at swing-district freshmen GOPers who voted for Paul Ryan’s budget blueprint. At over $100,000 the money involved sounds like small beer compared to the other groups, but again, to have such involvement so early by outside groups tells us that 2012 is shaping up as a different kind of election.

But remember also, that there is a limited universe of campaign dollars. It can be expanded thanks to innovative funding structures in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that struck down a law barring non-candidates from paying to express their political views before elections. But there is a limit.

As the Obama Democrats plunge headlong into soft money after initially trying to use Republican involvement itself as an issue (remember “secret” donations from China), the danger exists that there will be too many horses at the Democratic trough.

Obama himself plans to raise nearly $1 billion for his own reelection and the Democratic National Committee and its affiliated congressional groups have very big cash needs in order to roll out the kind of super-aggressive ground game that the Obama team has envisioned.

The new DNC Chairwoman has had a rocky rollout and raising that kind of party money is no sure thing.

Meanwhile, in their zeal to catch Crossroads, Democrats have organized a four-part soft money operation with segments for the House, Senate and presidency with a separate group established just to dig up dirt on Republicans.

In 2010, Republicans insisted that the surge in fundraising for Crossroads and the U.S. Chamber was doing nothing to dampen the chances of the then-struggling RNC, but it’s clear that the party was a loser in that competition. After all, the soft money groups offer anonymity, more influence on expenditure and less overhead than a large party or campaign apparatus.

Power Play will be watching the quarterly finance numbers due out next week for signs of the winners and losers in the freer political marketplace.

Biden Not a Punchline to Himself

“Ladies and gentlemen, I promise you, I promise you whether Barack Obama or I are president, I promise you the American people know in their gut, they smell it, they taste it. All they're looking for is the vision.”

-- Vice President Joe Biden speaking to Ohio Democrats at their annual state party dinner.

The Joe Biden who has emerged in popular culture – the blabbing buffoon depicted by Jason Sudeikis on “Saturday Night Live” and the white-trash lothario from the pages of The Onion – is certainly every bit as unrepresentative of the real vice president as the Darth Vader image created of his predecessor, Dick Cheney.

Biden is an ambitious man and longtime Washington operator, not just some dolt who likes to take Amtrak.

Not long ago, Biden spoke to New Hampshire Democrats about not forgetting about him in 2016. People thought he was joking. After all, “Sheriff Joe” will be 73 that year and he is most famous for his gaffes (“this is a big ------- deal, etc.), not his leadership.

But after putting himself on par with Obama in a speech to Ohio Democrats and again raising the possibility of a Biden presidency, its clear that this is no gag for the veep.

But remember this: Biden’s two runs for the presidency were improbable runs. His 2008 campaign was doomed even before it began, but Biden, like fellow Sen. Chris Dodd, ground on in an unlikely bid in a crowded field.

While Biden has been a good wingman for Obama, such early expressions of deep ambition should be somewhat concerning for the president’s re-election campaign. If Biden has his own agenda to consider it may shade his thinking on issues and campaign tactics.

Just consider if Cheney had said anything remotely like “whether George W. Bush or I are president. The Washington Post and New York Times would run out of pixels writing about the shadowy hand the grips the White House of George W. Bush. But because they have unfairly decided that Biden is just a goofball, members of the establishment press overlook such remarkable ambition.

***Today on “Power Play w/ Chris Stirewalt”: Jonathan Collegio of Crossroads GPS, Doug Schoen and AB Stoddard. Tune in at 11:30 am Eastern at http://live.foxnews.com/ ***