Obama Swats Boehner, Boehner Swats Back

“The president is certainly entitled to disagree with our budget, but what exactly is his alternative? If he wants to have an ‘adult conversation’ about solving our fiscal challenges, he needs to lead instead of sitting on the sidelines.”

-- Statement from Speaker John Boehner released Wednesday morning blasting President Obama for neglecting long-term fiscal issues

President Obama is out on the campaign trail today talking to Pennsylvanians about wind power and attending an awards ceremony hosted by Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.

But real the topic for the president’s day isn’t green energy or racial injustice. It’s dealing with House Speaker John Boehner and the prospect of a looming government shutdown.

After a White House meeting with Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Tuesday, Obama went to the press room to rip Boehner for playing “games” with the process and “quibbling around the edges” of the nation’s fiscal problems.

Boehner then responded with a press conference of his own saying that Republicans would not be “put into a box” by the president and said Democrats are using “smoke and mirrors” to create the false appearance of spending cuts.

Today is the crucial day if lawmakers mean to avoid a government shutdown. House rules require three days for legislation to be considered before a vote and Senate Democrats have been unable to produce their own plan for funding the government when the current emergency measure expires on Friday.

That means if a shutdown is to be averted, Reid and his caucus would have to get busy today and produce a bill that can draw at least the seven Republican votes in the Senate needed to advance and head to the House.

In the six weeks since House Republicans passed their spending plan for the rest of the fiscal year – now just 25 weeks – the Senate has been stuck and the government has been operating on emergency measures to stave off shutdowns while negotiations continued.

Boehner shocked Democrats on Tuesday when he won the support of Tea Party members of his caucus for yet another emergency one-week extension. Boehner won their backing by attaching a $12 billion cuts package and promising full-year funding for the Pentagon in the measure.

That proposal was quickly dismissed by the White House, but shifted the balance of power on the shutdown debate. Now, Democrats are refusing a Republican plan to keep the government open without a counter offer.

Obama sought to reclaim the momentum with his press conference blasting Boehner for not acting like a “grownup” and casting Republican objections as petty.

Obama’s narrative is that the issues and sums involved are trifling considerations compared to the larger fiscal and economic issues facing the country. Obama repeatedly pointed out that the spending debate was over “last year’s budget.”

Boehner couldn’t agree more. His point is that Democrats failed to produce a budget last year despite controlling the White House and both houses of Congress. It was the first time Congress completely whiffed since new budget rules went into place in 1974. Democrats punted as the 2010 elections drew near and preferred to just keep current spending levels instead of opening a bruising debate over deficits and spending priorities.

Boehner also seems to agree with Obama over the relative significance of the cuts. The House Republican proposal would mean a four percent reduction in the projected $1.65 trillion deficit for this year. Obama’s original proposal would have reduced the deficit by about a half a percent.

That’s small change compared to a $14.2 trillion national debt.

Obama needed to come out and say something about the long-term fiscal situation on Tuesday because Boehner’s Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., was out on a media blitz selling his deficit reduction plan. The Ryan budget would trim $6.2 trillion from the deficit spending sought by Obama over the next decade by making huge changes to Medicare and Medicaid.

That left the president fighting short-term cuts sought by Boehner and without an answer to Ryan’s long-term proposal. Obama has been broadly criticized for failing to address the nation’s fiscal problems in his own budget proposal or to embrace the recommendations of his own debt commission. The president still doesn’t have a position on these issues, but did promise Tuesday a “long conversation” on the subject.

Obama tried to fight his way out Tuesday by saying that he was in favor of the same level of cuts Boehner had originally sought, referring to the initial cuts package backed by the House leadership of reducing current spending levels by about $35 billion for the rest of the year. Freshmen members balked at that number and pushed through a bill that almost doubled the original proposal.

While the exact nature of the Obama plan is still a mystery, Republicans say that the cuts likely include some billions obtained by changing accounting practices for things like the rate of depreciation on government holdings, etc. The GOP wants cuts to programs, not changes to accounting.

Obama also said that Republicans shouldn’t use the process to try to advance policy aims, referring to GOP measures that would strip funding from programs like the subsidy for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s leading provider of abortions.

But Boehner’s members would almost certainly rather have a government shutdown than vote for a budget that includes funding for an abortion provider. Boehner’s argument is that where the cuts come from matters very much indeed.

Plus, since the last White House-backed spending proposal got spiked in the Senate, Republicans are openly skeptical that Obama and Reid can deliver on their negotiated promises.

Obama and Boehner are both looking to avoid a government shutdown on Friday but both also know that the winner of this contest will be strengthened for future battles, like the conflict over the 2012 budget and the looming fight over Obama’s request to increase the national debt limit again.

While Obama said he would call Boehner back to the White House for another round of negotiations, the sticking point remains in the Senate where Reid’s Democrats have so far been unable to act.

Wisconsin Could be the Model for a Shutdown

“If a shutdown goes on, there will be federal employees who are going to be hurt financially. They should know before the eve of a shutdown what is happening and it should be done orderly and not in a last-minute rush.”

-- John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 500,000 federal employees, talking to the Washington Times

The largest union for federal employees has sued seeking more disclosure about which positions would be declared “non-essential” in the event that government shuts down at midnight Friday.

The last time the government shut down during the 1995-1996 standoff, much of the drama came around the interruption of federal services. This time, though, the heat could surround federal workers.

There are now two million federal workers and nearly half of them are unionized, reflecting a national move toward the expansion of government unions.

As we saw in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio, state workers allied with Democrats made it hard on Republicans pushing legislation to curb union power.

President Obama on Tuesday warned about the disruptions that would be caused by the temporary layoffs of hundreds of thousands of state workers, but another side effect might be to have those workers marching on the Capitol to demand to have their checks restored.

If the government does close, look for federal unions to try to replicate the confrontational tactics we saw play out in Madison.

That could be bad news for Obama who would likely rather talk about disposed widows and orphans than the hardships of well-paid federal workers.

Goodbye Gates, Hello…?

“[Defense Secretary Robert Gates] enjoys an excellent relationship with King Abdullah, to the point where he has been invited to essentially drop in on the king whenever he is in the region.”

-- Pentagon Spokesman Geoff Morrell talking to reporters about Gates’ visit today in the Saudi capital of Riyadh

The greatest personnel success of the Obama administration has been in getting Defense Secretary Robert Gates to remain in his post.

As President Obama’s struggle to win public and congressional support for the U.S. entry into the Libyan civil war has shown, Obama often struggles to make his own case on matters martial.

Gates, a Bush appointee and an old Washington hand, has provided bipartisan reassurance about Obama’s nation-building surge in Afghanistan, withdrawal strategy in Iraq and the expansion of a secret war against al Qaeda around the world.

And, as he has done in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Gates has been an important reassurance to longstanding military allies that regardless of sometimes confusing rhetoric from the president, the U.S. is a stalwart friend.

Gates, though, has announced his decision to depart this year and his current flurry of international visits has the feeling of a curtain call – visits to China, Russia and Israel and to inspect the troops in Afghanistan.

As Gates is leaving, tensions are already mounting between the Pentagon and the White House.

There is widely-reported resentment among the military leaders over the Libya war, a conflict Gates warned against entering. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a proponent of intervention, won out.

There is also high anxiety over this summer’s scheduled Afghan troop drawdown. While Gates and others in the war business have dramatically downplayed the June deadline for starting the American withdrawal, the White House has stuck to Obama’s promise of a time-limited surge with substantial reductions in the 100,000-man U.S. military presence starting this summer.

This all comes as Gen. David Petraeus’ rotation as Afghan commander is about up. As Obama’s Afghan project becomes increasingly unpopular, with many Republicans now questioning its wisdom, the president will lose two publicly trusted figures on the conflict.

Don’t forget either that the term for Adm. Mike Mullen as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is about through too.

There is speculation in Washington that CIA Director and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta may be the president’s pick to lead the Defense Department -- an odd pick, but one that would certainly reduce friction between the State and Defense departments.

Then, as multiple sources have told FOX News, Petraeus could be tapped for CIA director. This would also be an odd choice since Petraeus’ background is in strategy and field command, not spooky stuff. But it would also be something to do with the popular general who may have saved the president’s bacon when Gen. Stanley McChrystal had a PR meltdown, but is nonetheless seen as outside of Obama’s narrow comfort zone and therefore unsuited to replace Mullen as the top commander in the military.

Getting Petraeus out of uniform but still under orders as the Afghan drawdown begins might help prevent awkward public utterances from America’s best-known general. What is unclear is whether Petraeus would have an interest in becoming a spymaster.

But such speculation is only a parlor game – and one easily rigged by disinformation and misinformation. The inescapable truth, though, is that Obama’s struggles on national security will soon deepen as Gates leaves.

Slim Lead Better Than a Loss for Wisconsin GOP

"There is little doubt there is going to be a recount in this race."

-- Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser in late-night remarks to supporters

Wisconsin Republicans showed their continued clout on Tuesday and may have preserved a conservative majority on the state Supreme Court ahead of a make-or-break decision on a controversial law that strips power from government worker unions.

But before the case is heard, a recount may further fray the state’s already tattered political fabric.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will soon hear the legal fight over a recently passed law that strips the power of collective bargaining from state workers. Labor groups are suing to block the law because they say it was passed without the proper public notice and procedures.

Republicans passed the law after a nearly month-long abscondment by Democratic state senators who fled Wisconsin in order to block the vote. Under siege from protesters, Republicans opted to push the legislature through on a procedural end-around after negotiations to get Democrats to return to the state fell apart.

Unions rushed to support the effort by Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, a specialist in discrimination and environmental law, to unseat Justice David Prosser, the former Republican leader in the state assembly.

Only one justice in the past 43 years has been unseated, but with the court set to hear the collective bargaining case, Kloppenburg found lots of support for her bid. The seven-member court currently leans conservative by one vote, and unions made defeating Prosser a crusade and a proxy war in their battle with Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Conservatives rushed to back Prosser, who has been on the bench since 1998, while liberals and unions pitched in millions to help Kloppenburg. Don’t buy in, though, to stories that suggest that spending in the race exploded. The $3.5 million spent on the race is up only a click from the $3.35 million Supreme Court contest of 2008.

The vote counting stopped with 99 percent of precincts in and Prosser clinging to a lead of fewer than 600 votes out of nearly 1.5 million cast. A recount and contested result looks all but inevitable, with the case headed for, you guessed it, the state Supreme Court (Prosser would excuse himself).

Prosser’s current term doesn’t end until Aug. 1, meaning that the collective bargaining lawsuit could come before the court with the election process still raging.

The squeaker in the Supreme Court election may not look like a very commanding performance for an incumbent, but Republicans were desperately worried that Prosser would get pickled like a herring amid the backlash against Walker’s union law.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“[House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi didn't only say it would hurt seniors and children, she said it would starve seniors. She said it yesterday even before the budget was released. You know what's coming, and it looks as if [President] Obama is in on the gang attack on Ryan. They're going to demagogue this all the way to November 2012.”

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