Spending Fight Looms; Dems Get Nasty; Obama Gets Boost

Republicans Increase Stakes on Spending Cuts

“I think tying a balanced-budget amendment into an increase in the debt ceiling is going to happen. I really do.”

-- Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., to The Hill.

The House will vote next week on a Republican plan to roll back federal spending to 2008 levels for the rest of the fiscal year, a move that would mean cuts of more than $30 billion for the remaining eight months of the fiscal year.

Democrats are complaining bitterly about the move because it will force a spending vote just before President Obama’s State of the Union address, in which the president will continue his effort to re-brand himself as a fiscal moderate and a deficit hawk.

Pressies are calling the vote “symbolic,” which is apparently the new popular pejorative for legislation unpopular on the left, because Budge Committee Chairman Paul Ryan already has the power to lower spending limits. Democrats would rather not be casting votes against spending cuts right now.

The vote sets up a spending battle in the Senate that Republicans may well win. Majority Leader Harry Reid can bottle up the House bill, but must consider some spending measures soon since the current spending plan will last for only five more weeks.

And the proposal, modest compared to the slashing some conservatives are seeking, will have a lot of bipartisan appeal in the upper chamber, especially with so many Democratic incumbents looking shaky for 2012.

Meanwhile, GOPers are buzzing about their strategy for negotiating an increase to the $14.2 trillion federal debt ceiling sought by the Obama administration.

The latest craze is for tying an increase to demanding Obama accept a balanced budget amendment long sought by conservatives. The amendment would require supermajorities in both houses to authorize deficit spending, but so too would getting the amendment itself passed.

Obama will not be interested in spending the next two years pushing ratification of a constitutional amendment detested by his political base. He would likely prefer to play a political blame game over a sovereign debt crisis than do that.

GOP House members and aides tell Power Play that Republican leaders are going to have to come up with something pretty stout in the way of spending limits in order to get their rank and file on board with any deal.

As sentiment grows among conservatives for rejecting the president’s debt request outright, the bidding is going up quickly.

While Democrats are confident that Obama can win the political war if Republicans say no, the pressure is increasing on the president too. His modest political recovery will not survive the kind of catastrophic consequences his administration has predicted if the limit is not increased, no matter who gets the blame.

So Much for Elevated Debate

“This is killing Americans if we take this away, if we repeal this bill.”

Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee, D-Texas, on “Your World with Neil Cavuto.”

First Lady Michelle Obama will announce today that she is teaming up with Wal-Mart to battle obesity by reducing fat, salt and calorie counts in the chain’s generic brand.

The administration’s allies in the labor movement apparently do not share the first lady’s appreciation of Wal-Mart’s good corporate citizenship. Labor groups and community activists in Washington, D.C. have scheduled for tonight a march on the home of a developer who is helping to bring a store to the district.

The flyer lists the developer’s home address and shows a picture of the Wal-Mart smiley face in some crosshairs more menacing than anything Sarah Palin ever put on a Web site.

Combing that imagery with the new tactic of marching on executives’ homes certainly seems like asking for trouble, but so far none of those who denounced Palin’s crosshairs on a map as an instigation of the Tucson shooting have stepped forward to decry the combination of violent imagery with a home visit.

Meanwhile, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., is still drawing gasps for his rant during the Health care repeal debate in the House, which included this gem:

"They say it's a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels. You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie and eventually, people believe it. Like blood libel. That's the same kind of thing the Germans said enough about the Jews and the people believed it - and you had the Holocaust."

Comparing John Boehner to the Nazi propaganda minister and warning of a potential genocide doesn’t seem like the kind of debate President Obama called for when he asked for a discussion that befitted the public service and decency of the victims of the Tucson shootings earlier this month. And this was no Facebook video. This was the floor of the House.

Again, none of those who denounced the heated rhetoric on the right over health care as dangerous have offered even a mild rebuke of Cohen.

Keeping in the theme, Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee, D-Texas, got right to the point on Neil Cavuto’s show Wednesday, saying that the Republican health repeal would kill people. Just kill ‘em dead.

Liberals may feel entitled to use more incendiary language given the assumption on the left that conservatives were somehow to blame for the actions of a homicidal maniac in Tucson, but whatever the reason, the great call for civility seems to have already faded.

America Welcomes Obama’s Overtures to the Center

“56 percent”

-- Portion of Americans who believe the country is heading in the wrong direction in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, the lowest level in eight months.

President Obama’s post-midterm pivot is off to a good start, but its durability is in doubt because of unemployment and the battle over his health-care law.

In the wake of his tax compromise with Republicans and his plea for a national debate worthy of the victims of an Arizona gunman, Obama saw his standing with the American public rebound almost to where it had been before his final push for the health care law.

In the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Obama’s job approval rating is at 53 percent – his first time over 50 percent since October of 2009. More importantly for Obama’s political future, just 27 percent said the president is “very liberal” – lower than at any time in the past three years other than a brief dip at the time of his inauguration in January 2009. Forty percent described him as a moderate, his highest score ever.

And while Americans still think the country is heading in the wrong direction, the “wrong track” number is at 56 percent – the lowest since May 2010. This could not be called good, but might be called “less bad.”

Forty percent of Americans expect the economy to get better in the next year, the highest since the ”green shoots” of recovery were being heralded by the administration in May 2010.
But concerns over unemployment have become overpowering.

Forty nine percent call it the biggest economic issue facing the nation compared to the 17 percent who worry about federal deficits. That 32-point gap compares to a 10-point spread in June of 2009. It reveals a national anxiety over a weak jobs market.

Just as the president saw his numbers slide in 2010 when hopes for recovery turned to frustration with a stagnant economy and Obama’s unconnected focus on his health care law, so too will his numbers slide again if jobless numbers do not decline substantially.

The problem for politicians with a decrease in pessimism – you can’t call it optimism yet – is that voters come to expect results. If inflation or a crummy real estate market keep the recovery from taking hold, the president can expect to see his standing fall farther than it did during the health-care fight and continued stagnation.

And that is why the administration has much to fear from the renewed battle over the law.
It is true that strong opposition to the law has softened (down to 34 percent from 41 percent in October) and that general opposition (39 percent) has fallen back to the levels before the depths of the fight.

But it is also true that support has not increased. The 39 percent support is the same as it was in September of 2009 and has stayed about the same, except for a brief period of liberal outrage at the loss of a new government-run insurance program, since Obama first proposed universal coverage.

The takeaway: The less people hear about the health law, the less they hate it.

As Republicans push for changes, the courts render their decisions on the law and health care access changes as a result of health insurance changes, sharp disdain for the law will likely return.

And since the legislation was crafted in a partisan fashion and without national consensus, there will be little reason seen for preserving it – especially since Obama back-loaded the law to have key provisions held off until after his reelection campaign.

Administration Readies New Gitmo Plans

“Nashiri is being prosecuted at the commissions because of the torture issue. Otherwise he would be indicted in New York along with his alleged co-conspirators.”

-- Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Reyes, military lawyer to Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of planning the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, to the New York Times on the decision to reinitiate tribunals at Guantanamo Bay.

Today’s New York Times tells us that the Obama administration will soon announce plans for restarting military tribunals at the POW camp at Guantanamo Bay.

This is the strongest sign yet that the president will yield in his effort to close the camp anytime soon. It is also a sign that the president has embraced the idea of putting terrorists to death without the niceties of a trial in federal court.

But, it will help Obama gradually close the base by dealing with the baddies there. But killing them off will take longer than his original plan of shipping them to foreign countries or a prison in Illinois.

Still unanswered, though, is what the administration plans to do with all of the fresh prisoners of war. There’s a backlog over in Afghanistan and no clear policy on what to do with the enemy fighters after the CIA has had a crack at them.

Liberals will believe Obama’s tribunal system and Gitmo maintenance are designed to cover up torture and all manner of evil, Cheneyesqe doings. But most everybody else will appreciate his bow to the realities of war.

Human Rights Are in the Eye of the Beholder

"We believe part of justice and part of human rights is people being able to make a living and having enough to eat and having shelter and having electricity.”

-- President Obama praising Chinese President Hu Jintao for the country’s human rights advances.

The original American declaration of human rights is short and sweet – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Over the years, many have tried to expand the list, including Franklin Roosevelt’s concept of “freedom from want” that was included in the original pitch for the United Nations.

But, President Obama added electricity to the list during his press conference with China’s Hu Jintao on Wednesday.

And, with a definition of rights so broad, China can boast great progress. And it is understandable that Obama could praise the country’s advances. As for the original three… not so much.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“I think what the Republicans have done is to signal that we are in the middle of a four-year debate on this issue. And I think an issue of this size, scope and importance -- a sixth of the U.S. economy and the most intimate place where the government and the individual intersect -- which is health care, essentially life and death, is worthy of a four-year debate.”

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