Obama Doubles Down

What's A Sputnik?; Paul Ryan on the Rise; Obamacare Repeal Vote Ahead in Senate; Priebus Cleans House at RNC

Obama Picks a Fight With GOP on Energy, Spending

“Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail.”

-- President Obama in his second State of the Union address.

In his second State of the Union speech, President Obama pushed ahead on the unfinished parts of his ambitious agenda, particularly on global warming and stimulus spending.

While Obama offered congratulations to Republican House members for their massive victory in the midterm elections, the president then called for massive spending on green energy and infrastructure programs.

Obama also defended the controversial national health-care law that contributed heavily to the 63 Democratic House defeats last year and gave Republicans control of the lower chamber.

In his speech, Obama set the stage for a long, brutal battle with Republicans over spending and national priorities. He also set the tone for what promises to be an audacious reelection campaign.

Obama did sound notes of fiscal discipline when he proposed a five-year freeze on 20 percent of the federal budget. He also suggested that unspecified long-term changes to Social Security and Medicare would be necessary to prevent future insolvency.

He also suggested that he might be open to changing the way corporate taxes are levied as long as the total tax income for the government stayed the same or increased. Obama also called for streamlining government to be more efficient so it could do more with existing resources.

But Obama’s focus was on reshaping the national economy to the environmentally friendly, technologically driven one he has described throughout his 14-year career in public office.

One of Obama’s proposals for partly funding his new green energy programs came with restating his proposal to end tax breaks for oil companies. Obama has long supported closing tax loopholes that benefit the petroleum industry.

Meanwhile, Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department are implementing stricter limits on access to coal and oil reserves. The EPA is also preparing rules that would impose tough limits on carbon emissions the agency says are disrupting the earth’s climate. This is similar to what Obama sought in his failed legislative proposal to force companies to pay new global warming fees but achieved by executive action.

Congress is expected to act soon on proposals to curtail the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon emissions.

Republicans are unlikely to go along with any of the new energy proposals. And given the concerns about the rising costs of energy already, many Democrats are expected to join the move to limit the Obama EPA’s authority.

Out of Obama’s priority list upon taking office, the most glaring defeat was on his global warming and green energy agenda. To suggest massive spending on that controversial plan at a moment when Congress is more focused on spending cuts suggests that Obama is not willing to retreat despite the defeat of 2010.

What lies ahead are fights on spending, with Obama and his Senate Democrat allies pushing back against Republican cuts, and on energy, with Republicans and a handful of Democrats blocking the president’s environmental initiatives.

A Sputnik Moment Without A Sputnik

"The problem is we’ve had countless Sputnik moments in recent decades that have created little more than space junk."

-- Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., in response to President Obama’s call for a “Sputnik moment” on government spending for research.

Since 70 percent of Americans (including Barack Obama) were not alive when the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite into low-earth orbit, Power Play offers a primer on what the president meant when he called for “a Sputnik moment” on green energy and government-funded research.

A “Sputnik moment” is a surprising defeat that causes Americans to take seriously the larger threat from a previously underestimated enemy.

When the Soviets launched a 184-pound ball of metal with a radio receiver inside into orbit on Oct. 4, 1957 it conveyed a terrifying message – the nuclear rival and ideological enemy of the Free World had begun unrivaled space exploration.

While certainly national pride was wounded by the fact that it was a Soviet, not American, rocket that had launched the Space Age, what motivated the trillions of dollars subsequently spent on space exploration by the U.S. was the concern that allowing the Soviets to dominate this new frontier would mean defeat in the Cold War.

Both countries were soon hurling dogs, monkeys and all manner of livestock into orbit in a race to prove dominance in space. And as the Cold War went on, space did play a crucial role. The ICBMs that promised mutually assured destruction were space-bound vehicles. And, it was Ronald Reagan’s threat of a massive space-based system to shoot down those missiles that helped finally win the arms race and the war.

The Space Age did spur broad innovation, helping develop the Internet, microchips and delicious Tang breakfast beverage. But that only happened because the military industrial complex was shoveling cash into the program with utter abandon, all with the goal of preventing the Soviets from dominating the new, fourth arena for human conflict. John Kennedy’s mission to the moon was about claiming the territory before the Soviets could, not just something that could be cool to do.

But there is no Sputnik, per se, in Obama’s new “Sputnik moment.” The president referred only to “this” as the moment. He was talking at that point in his speech about the need for government investment in research and development. The “this” he was referring to, though, seemed to be about the generally poor state of the national economy.

It is unclear how a recession triggered by a fiscal panic brought on by imprudent home mortgage borrowing and lending is like the Soviets jumping out to an early lead in the space race. So, Obama may have been alluding to the pending fall of the United States from our position as the number one economy in the world. He may not have wanted to put such a down note in his speech. Plus, China becoming number one is something widely expected and long foretold, not a surprise defeat. So, “this” may really just have been the lousy economy.

As Obama tries to rally bipartisan support for government spending on green energy and technological research he may find that the differences between the real Sputnik moment and the current national situation prove problematic.

Sputnik provoked wide national anxiety that stimulated bipartisan support for a massive program aimed at doing one particular task – dominating space. The other benefits that sprang from that program, like the Internet, had far-reaching effects but were ancillary to the original mission.

Obama seems to be asking for the ancillary benefits without the underlying shared mission. In 1957, there wasn’t much disagreement about the problem or the solution. In 2011, there is substantial disagreement about both.

Ryan’s Rising Star

“Depending on bureaucracy to foster innovation, competitiveness, and wise consumer choices has never worked -- and it won't work now.”

-- Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., in response to President Obama’s call for a massive government intervention in research and development.

Republicans are swooning today for Rep. Paul Ryan, the 40-year old budget hawk from Janesville, Wisc.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s 2009 rebuttal to President Obama’s first address to a joint session of Congress squashed the presidential chatter about the young governor, Ryan’s remarks have set off a flurry of 2012 speculation.

As one GOP veteran of multiple presidential campaigns wrote to Power Play real time as Ryan was talking – “You’re looking at the top of the VP short list – if he doesn’t win the nomination himself.”

That second part is unlikely given Ryan’s resistance to entering the race and the fact that a House member hasn’t been elected president since the smoke-filled room coughed up James Garfield in 1880.

But, Ryan’s performance cemented him as the leading fiscal conservative in the known Republican universe.

While Ryan’s presentation was solid and he came off as a humble, likable guy, what is thrilling Republicans is his ability to sharply delineate the GOP position from the president’s without sounding like a scold or a bully.

Ryan was talking about the budget, but rather than sounding like a wonk, he stroked what George Will might call all of the Republican erogenous zones. Ryan talked about liberty, freedom, opportunity, limited government and the Founding Fathers.

Some GOPers were even using that highest of praise in the party to describe Ryan’s remarks: “Reganesque.”

While Ryan didn’t offer much in the way of specifics, he scored big in his rebuttal. The test for him will come as he and Obama go head to head in the next two months over the debt ceiling, a new budget and Ryan’s plans for deep cuts in the remaining eight months of the current fiscal year.

It’s notable that Obama chose to go to a congressional district adjacent to Ryan’s today to reiterate his pitch on green energy spending. Obama seems to be embracing the conflict.

Obama wants more spending, Ryan wants less. Now it’s time to fight it out.

Obamacare Repeal Vote Heading For Senate

“Look, the Senate is the Senate. And all I've said is we'll be voting on the health care repeal.”

- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., hinting at Republican efforts to force a vote on repealing President Obama’s national health-care law.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s blockade on the House-passed bill repealing President Obama’s national health-care law may have a breach.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is preparing his plan to use parliamentary maneuvers to force an up or down vote on repeal and is causing serious headaches for swing-state Democrats.

One of the vulnerable Democrats, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, was out ahead of the move on Tuesday proposing bipartisan legislation to eliminate a cumbersome reporting requirement in the law, that even the president has declared onerous.

But for Manchin, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, Virginia’s Jim Webb and others, McConnell’s tactics means that they will have to cast a vote on the plan. It’s trouble for freshman Manchin particularly since he didn’t have to vote on the law last year.

While Democrats assume that McConnell will offer the measure as an amendment to another bill, the minority leader is staying mum on the means by which he will bedevil the majority.

While McConnell may not be able to get the 60 votes to repeal, he is expected to be able to garner some Democratic support. The vote will also give moderate Democrats further incentive to partner with Republicans on repealing or blocking controversial components, like the requirement that all Americans must either buy private health insurance or be enrolled in a government program.

The repeal vote accelerates the efforts by the White House to preserve the core elements of the president’s plan.

McConnell is turning up the heat, and Democrats are sweating a bit.

Priebus Wields Ax at RNC

“Today, over twenty staffers were informed that their positions were being affected and that their employment with the RNC would therefore be discontinued as of February 1st.”

-- Letter from new Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus obtained by FOX News on deep cuts at the committee.

Skepticism about new Repubublican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is fading as the former ally of ousted chairman Michael Steele shakes things up at the RNC.

Priebus asked former chairman Ed Gillespie to lead his transition team. Gillspie helped establish American Crossroads, the group that filled in for – and competed with – the struggling Steele RNC in 2010. The move to embrace one of Steele’s internal adversaries got the largely unknown Priebus a second look.

But his move Tuesday to sack 20 RNC employees and eliminate 10 unfilled positions – discovered by FOX News colleague Jake Gibson – had jaws dropping in GOP circles. Priebus announced the move as part of a bare-bones approach that’s focused on quickly retiring the committee’s $23 million debt and then raising the nearly $500 million required for the 2012 cycle.

The former Wisconsin state chairman is also meeting with many of the big donors who ditched the committee during Steele’s tenure.

Top Republicans tell Power Play that if Preibus continues to impress, American Crossroads will still be around for 2012, but the group will shift from being an alternative to the RNC to being a smaller, complementary effort.

And Now, A Word From Charles

"He said ‘we do big things.’ And all he recommended – all in the laundry list, the first half of the speech, all the things that government was going to do – was small ball. It was like late Clintonian minimalism about high-speed rail, more spending on roads and solar shingles. I mean look, that’s not the Apollo program.”

-- Charles Krauthammer to FOX News’ Bret Baier critiquing President Obama’s second State of the Union Speech.