Obama Seeks Complications on Stimulus Bill

Presidential Preference for Complexity May Doom Jobs Gambit

“The specific offsets that are in the package are a series of tax provisions. I think they'll be familiar to most of you because they're ideas that we have been talking about for the most part for some time.”

-- White House Director of Management and Budget Jack Lew talking about President Obama’s plan to pay for his proposal for a third stimulus package.

If House Republicans are terrorists and hostage takers for threatening to shut down the government if additional borrowing wasn’t matched with budget cuts, what does it make the Obama Democrats if they threaten a huge tax increase in the midst of a growth recession unless the president’s stimulus package is approved in its entirety?

The president last week laid out his proposal for a third stimulus. It is a smaller version of his February 2009 stimulus: a combination of temporary tax incentives, public works projects and direct aid to keep state and local government payrolls at stimulus levels. The White House estimates the cost at more than $450 billion.

Next week, the president will share his plan for a package of small-scale changes to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. He is proposing that the 12-member supercommittee, the congressional panel conjured up to end the impasse over Obama’s request to increase the federal borrowing limit, push though his plan when they do their work.

Rather than finding $1.5 trillion in reductions to the projected increases in deficit spending in the next decade to pay for Obama’s debt-ceiling request, the president wants the panel to make it $2 trillion to finance his third stimulus as well.

If the panel doesn’t come up with a $1.5 trillion package that can pass both houses of Congress, Obama only gets $1.2 trillion in new borrowing power and cuts are automatically enacted on the Pentagon and Medicare. This trigger was supposed to be so terrible that lawmakers would be forced to seek compromise.

On Monday, the White House proposed a second trigger for the committee to go along with the second mandate of financing the president’s latest stimulus package: If the committee doesn’t come up with the added money to finance the stimulus, then the same tax increase package Obama has been seeking since taking office and has failed in both Democratically controlled and divided Congresses, would kick in.

The proposal is that lawmakers pass Obama’s plan, including the tax hikes, thereby binding the supercommittee to find cuts to offset the costs and prevent the tax increases from going into effect. Pass this bill today… then pass a different plan after Thanksgiving… thereby undoing half of the original bill, that you should still pass today…

This, of course, is not going to happen. Neither conservative House Republicans nor moderate Senate Democrats have any interest in playing “Pit and the Pendulum” on a tax increase, especially when the escape route is being maintained by a dozen people who likely could not agree on where they should get sandwiches, let alone entitlement reform.

What’s reveling here, again, is the Obama administration’s obsession with complexity. Such a Rube Goldberg legislative contraption would appall most people, but the White House wants to keep adding new steps to the process and greater dangers in case it fails.

Whether it’s passing his health bill or even just scheduling a speech, the president likes to make things more complicated. His admirers like to say that Obama is playing three-dimensional chess while his foes are just playing checkers. But if the game on the table is checkers, Obama is just some guy losing at checkers while moving Star Wars figurines around in the air.

Special House Races Provide Two 2012 Case Studies

“If those people there who normally vote like a 100 percent Democrat vote for the Republican, that's a message. And I believe it's going to happen tomorrow. And I hope it has an impact on the president.”

-- Former New York Mayor Ed Koch talking to FOX News about the special election to fill the seat vacated by disgraced Rep. Anthony Weiner.

There are two special House elections being held. Both are necessitated by the sexual misadventures of former members of Congress and both will give us a good snapshot of how the 2012 landscape.

The race to replace Rep. Anthony Weiner, who quit the House after sending around pictures of his eponymous organ, is getting the most attention because it is the most surprising. A heavily Democratic, New York City district represented previously by one of the most outspoken liberals in Congress is not supposed to see a photo finish.

But a combination of deep dissatisfaction with President Obama, opposition to the recent gay marriage law in New York by the district’s considerable population of Orthodox Jews and a well-suited Republican candidate have set the stage for one of the most unlikely seat flips in years.

Democratic Assemblyman David Weprin has trailed Republican businessman Bob Turner in recent polls and prompted a belated rescue effort by national Democrats. A loss here would be a particular embarrassment for the sitting president and might dampen fundraising. It would also be a sign that Jewish voters in Florida and elsewhere are willing to stay away from the polls to punish Obama for his cold shoulder to Israel.

More consequential for the 2012 election, though, is the contest in Nevada. The 2nd District is just the kind of place where President Obama needs to perform well – at least as well as he did in 2008 – in order to win re-election.

The Obama campaign’s western strategy calls for winning Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico through a combination of Hispanic support and young voters. It worked in the 2nd District in 2008 when the traditionally Republican district, which covers most of the state outside of Las Vegas and its suburbs, went for John McCain by less than 1,000 votes. That was close enough to give Obama the win with his heavy support inside of Clark County.

The seat is vacant because former Rep. Dean Heller was appointed to the Senate to replace former Sen. John Ensign who had to quit when it was found out that paid hush money to cover up the fact that he was having special sessions with the wife of one of his top aides.

The contest today is between former Republican state Sen. Mark Amodei and current Democratic State Treasurer Katie Marshall and will provide a good measure of how the Obama Democrats are playing in the West. The attacks and defenses have been mostly by the book – centering on entitlement reform and the economy.

Polls show Amodei with a wide lead over Marshall, despite her being elected statewide last year and starting with higher name recognition. A big loss here would be a matter of serious concern for the Obama campaign.

Bachmann Whacks Perry After Romney Misses

“To have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong.”

-- Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., at the CNN/Tea Party Express debate.

The game didn’t change in the Republican presidential debate in Tampa, but it certainly intensified.

Rick Perry was on his way to having a knockout performance (best line of the debate: “People are tired of spending money we don’t have on programs we don’t want.”) but then lost his footing about halfway through. For the first half, he was funny, feisty and warm. For much of the second half, he struggled to deal with the barrage from his fellow candidates.

And that’s pretty much how this race is shaping up. Perry got the better of his exchange with Romney on the issue of Social Security, but then found himself beset by attacks from the rest of the field.

The best news for Romney of the night is that Rep. Michele Bachmann, who was more muted in last week’s debate, lit into Perry on Social Security, immigration and Perry’s executive order that schoolgirls be vaccinated against a venereal disease linked to cervical cancer.

Bachmann, who suggested that such inoculations cause brain damage, also blasted Perry because his campaign received a $5,000 campaign donation from Merck, the drug company that makes the vaccine. Even when Perry said he had made a mistake in ordering the vaccinations, Bachmann stayed after him, with the congresswoman saying that there was no room for mistakes in executive office. Her attack was emotionally charged and very rough. It’s not enough to get her the nomination, but it may help her in her effort to make a last stand in Iowa and might help deliver the nomination to Romney.

Bachmann was joined in her effort by Rick Santorum, who increasingly looks like the next former candidate to endorse Mitt Romney. Power Play can’t recall a harsh word Santorum has ever said about Romney when the more moderate Massachuser was the frontrunner, but the former Senator has been full of vinegar when it comes to the current leader.

Tim Pawlenty, who endorsed Romney on Monday ahead of the debate found himself on the defensive after it was reported that Romney would help pay off the former Minnesota governor’s campaign debt. Pawlenty told NBC News: "That wasn't a factor in my endorsement and obviously if he's willing to help with that, we'd love to have his help.”

Ron Paul, who acted as the chief accuser to frontunner Perry in last week’s MSNBC/Politico debate, whacked Perry again, but only when prompted by moderator Wolf Blitzer (whose questions and demeanor were good but who really ought to have been given someplace to sit down).

Paul, though, also showed why he isn’t a contender for the nomination. Even if one holds Paul’s view that Islamists attacked America on 9/11 because of U.S. interventionism in the Middle East, pushing the point on the day after the 10th anniversary of the attacks and in Tampa, home to MacDill Air Force Base, headquarters of the Special Operations Command and Central Command, would seem gratuitous. There are other ways to make the same point.

The best performance of the debate probably came from Newt Gingrich, who was voluble, funny and, unlike the previous two debates, didn’t spend his time working the refs. He did what Republicans most want their candidates to do: turn questions about what’s wrong with each other into answers about what’s wrong with Barack Obama. Other than Perry’s early zingers, Gingrich had the biggest applause lines and genuinely seemed to be having the most fun.

The former speaker may lack the ability to run a disciplined national campaign, but he has shown his fellow candidates a model to follow when it comes to debates. Only Herman Cain is a happier warrior.

At the other end of the spectrum was a gloomy Jon Huntsman, who got far more questions than his chances for the nomination would seem to merit. He seemed unhappy to be on stage and kept dropping sour-mouthed one-liners that didn’t really seem to be intended as jokes. One gets the sense that the trail is ending soon for Huntsman.

And Now, A Word From Charles

The president will propose next week -- it's always tomorrow -- the tax increases that will pay for this stimulus. He says the joint committee can decide. It has to find a trillion-and-a-half on its own. That was in the debt deal. So if it wants to add another half a trillion to offset this stimulus it will do it itself. If it stops at a trillion-and-a-half, our tax increases will kick in.

The word ‘cynicism’ is inadequate quite here. The president says no games, no politics. This is all about games and politics.”

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