Campaign Banks on B-Day Fundraisers to Boost President After Debt Drama

"I am just sorely upset that Obama doesn't seize the moment. That's what great presidents do in times of crisis. They exert executive leadership. He went wobbly in the knees."

-- Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, talking to the Los Angeles Times about President Obama and the debt-ceiling crisis.

Throughout all of the debt drama in Washington, one piece of President Obama’s schedule stood unshaken – a massive fundraising blowout to celebrate his 50th birthday tonight.

Obama gave up golf for a month and scrubbed some summertime family fun so he could meet with congressional leaders and generally look concerned, but the star-studded events in Chicago never budged. The Obama campaign had too much riding on them.

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Aside from having Herbie Hancock, Jennifer Hudson and, one would assume, presidential patroness Oprah Winfrey queued up for big-dollar dinners, concerts and cocktails, the president’s political team had made this event the kind of multi-platform, participant-saturation, Twitter fed event that it is famous for.

For example, every Obama activist has been asked to make a gift to the president of 50 new supporters. Obama will symbolically receive these new backers in a teleconference with supporters, who have been arranged in hundreds of house parties across the country to show their support.

Peggy Noonan touched off a bit of a firestorm last week when she wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “nobody loves Obama.” And while Democrats pushed back, saying that many still loved their beleaguered, even some of his staunchest supporters admit something has changed between the president and the populace.

It’s not just the liberal outrage over the debt-ceiling deal reached this week – though that is deepening – but the worst case yet of Obama fatigue. The ailment has beset the nation several times since the president’s meteoric rise began, and each relapse has been more severe than the last.

Not only is he overexposed (all presidents become that), but Obama also seems to be overwhelmed. He is forever emitting word clouds, but the direction of the country and the government seems to clatter along unaffected. Americans lose patience with their presidents even more quickly if they think their words aren’t consequential.

When Obama stalked out of the White House Tuesday to offer harsh words for his partners in a bipartisan debt compromise (“manufactured crisis”) and then to give again his same speech about billionaire taxes and a “balanced approach” that we’ve been hearing for many, many months, Power Play got the sense that maybe Obama fatigue runs both ways. He looked exhausted by the job and annoyed with the situation.

Remember that Obama made similar tax-increase promises after getting roped by Republicans on the Bush tax rates and a continuing resolution to fund the government. This time it seemed like he was kind of going through the motions.

Tonight’s events in Chicago were immovable objects for the president not just because his campaign has set nearly impossible campaign fundraising goals, but also to get Obama back into the light of his supporters’ reflected love.

When the campaign invites reporters to one of these local events where the flocks of 50 will be offered up, the message is: “See, they still love him.”

Reid, Obama Promise Tax Hikes, GOPers Say No Way

“This is a job for steady hands.”

-- House GOP leadership aide to Power Play on who Speaker John Boehner will select to be on a bipartisan super committee on debt reduction.

The Reagan administration maxim on preventing ideological drift in government agencies: “Personnel is policy.”

Never has that been more true than when it comes to the newly created super committee on debt reduction created under the debt ceiling deal passed Tuesday.

Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi all have two weeks to select three members each to serve on the commission.

The six Republicans and six Democrats will then have until Thanksgiving to fashion legislation to reduce the projected federal debt by $1.5 trillion ($1.2 if the House and Senate both pass a balanced-budget amendment) in order to trigger the release of another $1.5 trillion in borrowing authority for President Obama. The plan is then guaranteed an up-or-down vote, no amendments, in the House and Senate.

If the committee fails to produce a plan or Congress fails to accept it, $1.2 trillion in decennial cuts kicks in, this time with security spending and Medicare included in the mix. The idea is that the cuts will be so severe that Congress will act to reform the tax code and entitlements rather than face the pain.

But no sooner than President Obama laid down the ceremonial pens from signing the deal (Power Play doubts Pelosi will be framing hers), the compromisers got on to their new talking point: to increase taxes or not.

Reid is offering a Joe Namath-esque guarantee that taxes will go up under the deal. While the super committee is forbidden from proposing an increase in tax rates, it can slap shut or shrink loopholes that help affluent Americans and corporations reduce their tax obligations. Reid promised Tuesday that the final deal would include taxes.

Republicans, meanwhile, insist that not only will no rates go up but that any shuffling of loopholes has to be revenue neutral, that is to say, the money has to be spread around with corresponding rate reductions or shifted to other, existing exemptions.

Obama, meanwhile, promised that he would continue to repeat his talking points on “millionaires and billionaires,” “big oil,” and “corporate jet owners” until Republican lawmakers cry for mercy and gave him a tax increase. Obama’s subtle promise to his supporters – I may have lost this round, but now we have them right where we want them. He adopted the argument of some Republicans who opposed the Boehner bill because they said it was a trap for tax hikes. The president’s sentiments exactly.

But the winner of this fight will be the party that can keep its six members intatct and pick off at least one member from the other six. If one party appoints five stalwarts but just one who goes wobbly, the other side could get a victory, or at least produce a bill doomed to fail.

Some picks seem like guarantees. Boehner, for example, will almost certainly put House budget boss Paul Ryan on the panel. Pelosi will almost certainly add her debt dude Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. But the rest of the slots seem up for grabs.

The question for ambitious members of Congress: Is this commission a vehicle to glory or a career-killing death trap?

Congress Walks Out on FAA


-- FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt’s explanation to reporters of why agency safety inspectors would continue to work without getting paid.

So, the Federal Aviation Administration is in a shutdown right now because the House and Senate can’t agree on whether to subsidize air service to rural airports that would otherwise close.

House Republicans have passed a bill that would reauthorize the agency but end the free money for small- and medium-sized airports (subsidies that benefit many congressmen directly when they fly home to their districts).

The Senate has refused the bill on the grounds that the subsidies are too important to rural economies and must be in place. There is also a political consideration for Senate Democrats. House Republicans are trying to roll back an administration rule that eases union organization at airlines and Senate Democrats are determined to block it.

The Senate shut down Tuesday, leaving the FAA in limbo.

What’s fascinating, here, though, is that the impasse leaves the agency unfunded and the people who provide safety supervision for the airline industry working without pay until a solution can be achieved.

This is some risky business. If anything unfortunate happens in the air during this period it will convince many Americans that Congress needs to be grounded.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“An index of how spent he is intellectually on jobs is the campaign speech he gave [Tuesday]. He announced five initiatives. Listen to them: Payroll tax extension. We already have that. Unemployment insurance extension. We already have that. Trade deals. He had that for two-and-a-half years and it's done nothing. Spending, more infrastructure. Perennial, more dams and bridges and roads.

The last one I love that here is the real new one to get us out of the

doldrums -- patent process reform. That is the key to economic explosion, getting us out of 9 percent unemployment. He is out of bullets and arrows and looking for stones on the seashore. And it shows he may want a jobs agenda and may want to do a pivot, but there is nothing left in the cupboard. He did a huge Keynesian gamble and it failed.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”