Senate Dems Ignore Bubba’s Debt Warning

"The Democrats want to cherry-pick issues and make it just about Medicare, whereas the challenge for Republicans is to broaden it to make it about economy, jobs and making government solvent, and Medicare is part of that"

-- Republican strategist David Winston, talking to the Wall Street Journal.

Former President Bill Clinton provided a stark warning to his fellow Democrats about the consequences of failing to take the lead on issues of debt and deficit.

“The Democrats are going to have to be willing to give up maybe some short-term political gain by whipping up fears on some of these things if it's a reasonable Social Security proposal or a reasonable Medicare proposal,” Clinton said at a bipartisan debt forum in Washington. “We have to deal with these things. You cannot have healthcare devour the economy.”

Clinton also downplayed administration warnings that the current impasse over raising the government’s maxed-out $14.3 trillion credit limit.

His message, made more explicit in a caught-on-camera exchange with Rep. Paul Ryan recorded by ABC, was that Democrats shouldn’t let their Tuesday victory in a three-way race in a Republican-heavy House district in Western New York go to their heads.

Democrats have been crowing non-stop about the win and, as Vice President Joe Biden told supporters that night in New Hampshire, bashing Ryan’s budget proposal and his overhaul of Medicare is the primary path to Democratic success in 2012 (along with taking lavish credit for the mission that killed Usama bin Laden).

Neither had the Big Dog’s message seeped in at the Democratically controlled Senate by Wednesday evening. Senate Democrats forced Republicans into an explicitly political vote on Ryan’s budget plan. The result was a bit of a surprise. Rather than jumping away from the plan, Senate GOP mostly embraced the plan, with only five members voting against it.

The four most liberal Republicans, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted against the measure. And Rand Paul of Kentucky, now fully exploring his role as the skunk at the Senate garden party, also voted against the budget plan, but he said it was too wimpy.

But even Paul’s budget alternative did better than Obama’s. Paul got six Republicans to join him in his plan, which makes Ryan’s austerity proposal look like the New Deal. The slashing seven are: Paul, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch of Utah, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, David Vitter of Louisiana and, most interestingly, Senate Majority leader (and fellow Kentuckian) Mitch McConnell.

No Democrats, though, cast any votes for any budget proposal – not even President Obama’s proposal for 2012, which garnered zero votes.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has maintained it is not necessary for Democrats to have any budget plan whatsoever, despite it having been more than two years since congressional Democrats put forward any annual spending plan.

When Paul’s budget can draw more support in a Democratic Senate than Obama’s one begins to see what Clinton was warning about. Remember, even though Obama’s budget got low marks from fiscal conservatives for punting on long-term debt drivers, the president still took heat on the left for being too aggressive on debt reduction.

While Obama might not like the idea of Clinton looking to reach a separate peace with Ryan and the Republicans, potentially forging a deal that would diminish the current president, it’s also clear that the status quo of bashing Republican plans for fiscal reform while crying only for tax increases is not a sustainable plan.

Republicans, now aware of the costs of their support, are going to hold the rope on fiscal reform. The Obama Democrats, unwilling to embrace Clintonian triangulation on the subject, seem to be paralyzed by their own desire to retain fodder for negative campaign ads.

House Republicans today will lay out a broad proposal for tax and spending overhauls that Team Boehner says will kick-start the sputtering economy.

Whatever Happened to Liberal PATRIOT Act Opposition?

"He's fighting for an amendment to protect the right – not of average citizens, but of terrorists – to cover up their gun. It he thinks that it's going to be a badge of courage on his side to have held this up for a few hours, he's made a mistake."

-- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on the Senate floor denouncing Sen. Rand Paul’s efforts to amend the PATRIOT Act.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday went beyond questioning Sen. Rand Paul’s patriotism, accusing the Kentucky freshman of trying to aid terrorists.

Paul wants an amendment to the extension of the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 that makes clear the gun-purchase records already shielded from prying federal eyes must remain secret.

Reid, some of whose members would be forced into politically damaging votes on an issue important to Second Amendment activists, pulled off an end run around Paul by tacking the entire PATRIOT Act onto an un-amendable House small-business bill.

Paul, rising to his own defense, made the point that the bill, passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, has never been given proper scrutiny and that Congress hasn’t addressed potential unintended consequences and was derelict in its duty.

It was a stunning reversal from the days when Republican congressional leaders had to hold the line on PATRIOT against fiery denunciations from liberal lawmakers who warned that the law gave the Bush administration the power to snoop on the library records of opponents of the Iraq war and the power to listen in to the conversations of ordinary Americans.

With Obama in power, Democrats have lost their appetite for warnings about Big Brother and instead are accusing libertarian-minded Republicans of coddling terrorists.

To make his point, Paul may hold up passage of the four-year extension long enough for the legislation to technically lapse. The political consequence for Democrats of the high-profile fight may be further disheartening their supporters who backed Obama in 2008 and the Senate class of 2006 because of their opposition to what Democrats then said were Bush’s civil-liberties violations.

“Undecided” Leads GOP Field By A Mile

“It doesn’t hurt to keep your options open. And Lord knows, she’s got options.”

-- Longtime Republican strategist talking to Power Play about murmurs about a potential Palin 2012 campaign.

Power Play doesn’t put too much stock in a new Gallup poll out today that shows Sarah Palin in second place for the Republican nomination.

What the poll really shows is how little known Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty still is and how unsettled the Republican electorate still remains. Palin was in a statistical tie with Mitt Romney – she at 15 percent and he at 17 percent.

The point of the poll is there is no Republican frontrunner. In a survey that asked about 10 candidates, there was still 22 percent undecided. Palin has a core constituency among conservative Republicans while Romney is well known and liked by moderates in the party, but the poll doesn’t show anyone generating a wave of excitement.

Certainly it doesn’t seem to be coming from a resurgent Newt Gingrich campaign. A day after announcing a new campaign team, including former Democratic Georgia Gov. Zell Miller, Gingrich’s efforts to recover from the self-induced injury of calling Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan “radical” and “right-wing social engineering,” was derailed by new revelations about the former speaker’s massive credit line with jeweler Tiffany & Co.

Reuters reports that the no-interest credit line was provided at a time when the luxury jeweler was lobbying the House Agriculture Committee for which Gingrich’s wife worked as chief clerk (Ag oversees the Forest Service, which oversees regulations of mining of silver on federal lands). The Washington Examiner, meanwhile, reports that a former aide to Gingrich on the Hill, is a lobbyist for Tiffany.

On the trail in New Hampshire Wednesday, Gingrich shut down a “town hall” meeting after just a few minutes of questioning.

The poll was put in the field before Pawlenty started his week-long straight talk tour aimed at winning the respect of conservatives, who are already expressing admiration for his stances on ethanol, entitlements and bailouts intentionally delivered in hostile environments, but his 6-percent rating in the poll shows how far he has to go in getting his name identification up among the GOP base.

What the poll says about Palin is that she would have an automatic constituency of she were to run, but also that despite diminishing ratings overall she still enjoys serious clout among a core group in the GOP – the role that could make her (along with Mike Huckabee) one of the key kingmakers of a divided, little-known GOP field.

Certainly her recent moves – reportedly getting a house in Arizona, appearing in a new biopic, overhauling her staff – suggest to her fans and the establishment press, which hates her, that she is going to mount a campaign. But these could also be the moves of a woman who is trying to strengthen her influence ahead of what promises to be a wild and wooly nomination process.

Can Killing Qaddafi Re-inflate bin Laden Bounce?

"The American people watched him execute the decision -- not only putting the lives of those special operators on the line, but his entire future on the line as president of the Untied States of America. And he didn't hesitate."

-- Vice President Joe Biden at a New Hampshire fundraiser discussing the political value of killing Usama bin Laden.

President Obama’s rhetorical shift on the Libya war has taken another turn. The president has now migrated from “a matter of days not weeks” when first discussing what was billed as a humanitarian intervention to on Wednesday in Britain describing “a slow, steady process” aimed at deposing Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi and his fellow tribesmen.

As the administration looks for more ways to take political advantage of the commando raid that killed terror boss Usama bin Laden in his Pakistani hideout, Obama has been taking a tougher line on Libya and edging closer to public support for the so-far shaded mission to target and kill Qaddafi.

In his speech to Parliament, sounding like far more of an interventionalist than George W. Bush ever was, Obama scoffed at the notion that concerns about “sovereignty” should have restrained America from plunging into Libya.

It puts Obama on the same page as his European counterparts who have been pushing for more U.S. involvement and a deliberate effort to rub out Quaddafi. As the G-8 meets in France today, Obama’s turn to tougher talk will surely be greeted as a welcome sign.

It will, however, add some strain to his ongoing efforts to strengthen ties with Russia. Obama is meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev today. Medvedev, facing a potential showdown with his former patron Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, will be hard pressed to show he can back down American military adventurism. Since Medvedev looks like Rocky compared to Putin’s Ivan Drago, he has to hit harder against America to avoid being seen as weak by a Russian population that celebrates strength.

But whatever Libya does to the Russian “reset” Obama needs a speedier resolution to the stalemated war as members of Congress grow increasingly agitated about the unauthorized, open-ended commitment the president has made. While killing bin Laden looks tough and decisive, slogging through a bloody stalemated tribal conflict (with Islamists for allies) looks less politically inspiring.

While issues of debt and battered currency may cast shadows over the G-8 talks, the main issue for Obama must be charting a way forward in Libya. Since there is little sign that the rival tribes can cohabitate a government even if Western forces can kill Qaddafi and his family, Obama is surely looking for fresh commitments from the Europeans, who, along with Hillary Clinton, pushed hardest for American involvement.

Obama needs to make sure it will be Europeans propping up the new government(s), not primarily Americans. Killing the man behind 9/11 is good for a re-election bounce. Fighting with Congress about the legality of a North African police action is not.

Team Obama Seeks to Rebrand Regulation Push

"‘I just want you to know that we are working on [gun control]. We have to go through a few processes, but under the radar."

-- President Obama in a private conversation on the March 30 anniversary of John Hinckley’s attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan according to a Washington Post account from Sarah Brady, the leading gun control advocate and wife of Reagan press secretary James Brady, who was badly injured in the attack.

White House regulatory czar Cass Sunstein is out on a publicity blitz in support of the administration’s effort to overhaul the federal regulatory code.

You may recall that in January, as part of a brief, but widely acclaimed, move to the middle following his 2010 shellacking, the president called for an end to "unreasonable burdens on business -- burdens that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs."

But, conservatives say what Obama and Sunstein are really up to is a shell game in which the federal government drops pages from the regulatory code but increases the regulatory clout of the executive branch by coming up with innovative way to legislate by executive fiat.

Sunstein, a controversial figure on the right for his support for heavy regulation, will make his case to the conservative American Enterprise Institute today a day after facing a skeptical audience in the Republican House.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“[Republicans] now own this. Get the one man who can explain it, argue it and actually change minds on this. You need this or the Republicans will sink on this.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier” advising the GOP to rally behind Rep. Paul Ryan.