Obama Casts Blame on Fellow Dems

“There’s no reason for the government to shut down, unless we've made a decision that politics are more important than folks like J.T. Henderson.”

-- President Obama at a late-night press briefing lamenting the politicization of spending negotiations by accusing Republicans of jeopardizing the future of a Kentucky family awaiting a tax refund profiled by ABC News

President Obama is working hard to stay outside of the blast radius if House Republicans and Senate Democrats are unable to cut a deal to keep the government open when current emergency funding expires at midnight Friday.

Congressional Democrats have noticed that in his efforts to avoid blame for what is shaping up as a procedural pileup, the president has increasingly been highlighting their failure to pass, or even put forward, a budget last year.

This week, Obama has mentioned multiple times that the current debate was over an issue that should have been resolved “six months ago.” That was when congressional Democrats opted to operate the government on stopgap measures rather than have a messy budget debate in advance of bruising midterm elections.

An aide to a Democratic House member told Power Play that the president was “being a little unfair.”

“We did everything that was asked of us,” the aide said, referring to the president’s proposals on health care, bank regulations and, in the House, global-warming legislation.

Many congressional Democrats would argue that the reason no budget was produced in 2010 was that the White House agenda was so large and so time-consuming that it didn’t leave time or political will to begin a budget process.

A former Democratic member of the House who lost in 2010 amid sharp opposition to Obama’s health care law told Power Play that having already dealt with the unpopular climate and health bills, lawmakers spent the spring and half of the summer of 2010 wrangling the Dodd-Frank bank bill demanded by Obama. When that work was done, there was little hope for taking up a budget.

“There was a real sense of exhaustion,” the former member said.

Even with major majorities in both Houses, Democrats knew they would be unable to push through a budget. Obama, particularly with health care, had overloaded the circuits.

In casting himself as above the fiscal fray and bemoaning the lingering budget problems, Obama is casting implicit blame on his former congressional colleagues.

It’s a trend that will likely accelerate as 2012 approaches and Obama looks to reclaim the “change” mantle. Obama will continue to distance himself from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, particularly as a divided Congress bogs down.

Democrats, especially in the more moderate Senate, will happily reciprocate. It’s not for nothing that nine Senate Democrats voted Wednesday for a failed amendment that would have blocked Obama from using the EPA to enforce his global-warming policies for two years.

Three Democrats – Joe Manchin, W.Va., Mary Landrieu, La., and Mark Pryor, Ark. – joined Republicans in voting to permanently strip Obama of the power. That amendment fell 10 votes short of passage.

A Deal At Hand, But Procedural Problems Persist

“As a historian, it always occurred to me the smart thing for government was always to pay the guys with guns first.”

-- Defense Secretary Robert Gates talking about congressional spending negotiations on what “will probably be [his] last” visit to the troops in Iraq

The growing sense on Capitol Hill is that Senate Democrats and House Republicans are near a package that would cut about 2.5 percent from the projected $1.65 trillion for the current fiscal year.

Such a package would represent a big win for House Republicans whose original proposal was for a four percent deficit reduction. The original position from the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was for no cuts, then .52 percent cuts, then two percent cuts.

But there are lots of things to be worked out, still mostly pertaining to from whence the cuts come.

Democrats got to their two percent offer through the use of some gimmicky accounting, so the final package likely will include the gimmicks and another $6 billion or $7 billion in actual cuts. The task today is for Senate appropriators to find those dollars.

For Republicans, the challenge is determining which policy-targeted cuts – known as riders – they can live without. The House-passed spending bill includes many riders, but the final version will likely include only one or two. The leading contender for final inclusion is to eliminate the federal subsidy for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s leading provider of abortions.

But as the final deal goes through the meat grinder, the clock keeps counting down.

House rules require that legislation be on offer for part of three calendar days, meaning a bill introduced today could be voted on at 12:01 a.m. Saturday; one minute after the current funding bill expires.

So, House Republicans have to get something in the pipeline today in order to limit the shutdown to a technicality of a few minutes or hours.

The most popular plan in the House is one backed by Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor that would provide for one more week of funding in exchange for another $12 billion in cuts while providing funding for the remaining 25 weeks of the fiscal year at current levels to the Pentagon.

Senate Democrats have likened this proposal to blackmail and the White House dismissed it out of hand. But, if it is the only plan on offer in the wee hours of Saturday morning, it might find the 13 Democratic votes it needs in the Senate in order to pass. This is the “bad cop” proposal.

House Republican leaders could also offer up a one or two day emergency funding measure at current levels that would avoid a shutdown. Under this scenario, Republicans could put that plan in the pipeline today and offer it up only if a final deal for the rest of the year is ready to go but being held up by similar scheduling problems. Such a proposal would require Democratic votes to pass and might also have to include full-year military funding. This is the “good cop” proposal.

House Republicans could also opt to break their own rules on having legislation on offer. But not only would doing that weaken the House bargaining position in future negotiations, but also leave freshmen members furious over breaking a transparency rule that they trumpeted in their 2010 campaigns. This only happens if Republican leaders are going to take a bath on the final deal anyway – a scenario that looks less likely – and just want to be done with it.

The other scenario would be just to let the government be in shutdown mode over the weekend as the final deal moves through the procedural hoops in the House and Senate. This is a risky route, though, because a technical shutdown can always morph into an indefinite shutdown if the negotiations fall apart or someone behaves in a way other than expected.

Victory for House Republicans here likely means passing a 2.5 percent cuts package with at least one key policy rider and doing so with the refusal of only about a quarter of their caucus.

One House leadership aide said that even then, “there will be a great amount of displeasure inside the family for ‘cutting a bad deal.’” That’s why Boehner needs a deal that will let him keep two thirds of his caucus on board.

That’s also why their show of support for him this week was so important. In backing Boehner on the $12 billion, one-week plan, House Republicans empowered their leader to get more from Democrats and turned up the pressure on Senate Democrats.

Right now, the chances of a shutdown, particularly a substantive one, seem to be fading. But keep in mind that Reid has failed so far to pass any spending legislation in the Senate other than temporary measures.

If You Think This is Hard…

“62 percent”

-- Portion of registered voters in a new FOX News poll who would rather see the government shut down than see an increase in the federal debt ceiling

As President Obama has taken to pointing out, the sums involved in the current government shutdown negotiations are comparatively small.

But if lawmakers are prepared to shut down the government over a difference of two percent of just one year’s deficit, imagine what lies ahead when the federal government overruns its credit limit sometime in the next five weeks.

While the current fight will plow some furrows for planting new bargains on the debt ceiling, it will mostly sew salt in the fields of bipartisan compromise.

When then Sen. Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats demagogued President George W. Bush’s request for more credit and voted no in a spirit of great fiscal indignation there was great political advantage to opposing a debt ceiling increase.

As the trillions in debt have piled up, though, the political opportunity has mounted too. The latest FOX News poll suggests that even when faced with the possibility of a government shutdown, and even when acknowledging that a shutdown would affect them personally, a huge majority of voters oppose increasing the debt limit.

So, for those of you exhausted by the current war over a relative pittance, get ready for the mother of all battles. When Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner starts bleating louder about looming fiscal calamity, shutdown etc. it will be on.

Obama must now regret having taken such a tenor of indignation with Bush over the debt ceiling.

Well, over a lot of things, really.

Unions, Liberals Bemoan Obama Flip-Flop on Trade Deal

“Colombia remains the most deadly nation in the world in which to be a trade unionist. In the past 25 years, more than 2,850 trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia. Last year alone, 51 trade unionists were murdered, an increase over 2009. Six trade unionists have been murdered so far this year, including two in the past week.”

-- Statement from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka opposing President Obama’s reversal on a free-trade agreement with Colombia

In Colombia, it is hard to discern the difference between a civil war, tribal unrest, narco cartel turf wars and labor dispute. Whatever you call it, it has lasted for decades and left thousands dead.

But over the years, the unionists, communists and indigenous peoples have often found common cause against the U.S. backed government. That has often led cocaine cartels to fund these rebel groups in order to keep the central government destabilized and less able to interfere with their trillion-dollar business.

Anyway, labor unions have not been very popular in Colombia and their organizers have frequently been killed by government forces/vigilantes/corporate goon squads. It is on these grounds that many Democrats have opposed a trade deal with Colombia first negotiated by President George W. Bush.

President Obama today will welcome Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, a fellow Harvard man, to the White House to announce Obama’s reversal on a free-trade pact with Colombia that would eventually eliminate tariffs between the nations and open up an appealing market for U.S. farmers and heavy-equipment manufacturers.

This is the third big Obama flip-flop this year – first on Bush tax rates, then on Bush terrorism trials and now on Bush trade.

Obama will cite promises by Santos that fewer unionistas will be killed over the years to come as the reason for the flip, despite having hammered Hillary Clinton and John McCain for their support of Latin American trade deals when he was trying to get elected.

But the best motivations for Obama is more likely that he sees a way to add a billion dollars a year to U.S. exports and to try to get Republicans off his back for sitting on the deal and a similarly shelved pact with Panama.

In addition to the murdered unionista, American Big Labor opposes the flip because they fear a continued migration of manufacturing jobs. As was the case with NAFTA, it eventually becomes cheaper to just make the stuff there then to ship it. Then it becomes cheaper to ship the products back to the U.S. than pay union wages here.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“Make it ostentatious, make a speech on the floor of the House: ‘We have to keep the government open’ and send it to the Senate. I would call the Democrats' bluff on this. If the Democrats say no and the government shuts on Friday night, it will be obvious who caused it. And all of the arguments about, you know, ‘it should have been done six months ago’ and the process of how a budget is supposed to be done are not important.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier” advising House Republicans to pass a one-week government funding plan without any policy stipulations