Today's Power Play: Running Back the Pre-Election Punts

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Democrats went through the roof over the proposals from the leaders of President Obama's debt reduction committee.

The plan calls for slashing federal spending by $200 billion, slowly increasing the Social Security retirement age, eliminating a host of tax deductions, decreasing base tax rates and freezing federal pay rates.

While many on the left had worried that the proposal from the 18-member panel would provide President Obama cover to make a dive toward the middle on fiscal issues, the reality of the chairmen's report was much more audacious and conservative than liberals had feared.

Co-Chairmen Erksine Bowles, former Clinton chief of staff and deficit guru, and Alan Simpson, former Republican senator from Wyoming, was also a perfect publicity gap shot.

The panel that Obama put together has everybody from labor bosses to GOP budget hawks, so it's unlikely the full body will ever agree on anything of substance. The final report, at best, will read like a G20 communiqué - full of bland agreements about the nature of the problem and lacking any direct calls for action.

By coming up with their own thorough and audacious proposal and releasing it as a surprise addition to the very boring and incremental work of the panel, Bowles and Simpson not only got headlines but got lawmakers looking at their proposal.

President Obama is still in Korea getting kicked in the shins by world leaders over allegations of currency manipulation over the Federal Reserve's $600 billion cash dump. Our economic competitors think we're gaming the currency system. Our allies think that we're not turning from our spendthrift ways and risking inflation or stagflation.

The Bowles-Simpson report helps Obama on the foreign front. It's his committee and his chairmen. Their calls for austerity will help convince other big Western nations like Germany and Britain that Obama is ready to get serious about austerity.

On the plus side domestically for the president is that report came out after the midterm elections and while he was overseas.

A similar set of recommendations two months ago might have cost Democrats dearly among unions and liberal activists. And since he's playing to an international audience this week, Obama can raise the work of his chairmen without getting dragged into specifics.

But good grief, there are a lot of problems for the president and his party to address now that the "shellacking" is done.

Beyond the deficit panel's report, there are so many questions that the Obama Democrats put off until after the election: What to do about the expiring Bush tax cuts; Where to detain and try terrorists; Whether to maintain the Afghan troop surge; How to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"; Who would qualify under an illegal immigrant amnesty program.

As the spluttering reaction to the Bowles-Simpson report shows, liberals do not trust Obama all the way. They fear that despite his record as the most liberal president since Lyndon Johnson, Obama will pivot sharply to try to save his own hide in 2012.

Even stranger, as comments from leading liberal lights like Nancy Pelosi and Paul Krugman demonstrate, a storyline is emerging on the left that Democrats got pounded by voters because Obama's agenda was insufficiently bold.

Voters overwhelmingly think Obama is too liberal, but many in his own party believe Democrats were defeated because Obama did not make good enough use of the crisis present when he took office to get a bigger stimulus and a more generous health-care entitlement. The argument is that people voted because of high unemployment, which wouldn't have been so high if Obama would have spent more money.

Obama may prefer to stay and get his lederhosen yanked by Angela Merkel than come back to this kind of cannibalism.

And there is little sign that Obama is ready to bolt the left to make lots of new friends in the GOP. Obama may be the most politically polarizing president of the modern era and there is no path to reelection for him that doesn't rely on high base enthusiasm.

The policies of his first two years make an effective pivot all but impossible.

How did the president get here?

The health care debate took too long, which pushed his fight for the Dodd-Frank bank bill into the summer of 2010. Congress was exhausted and Democrats lacked the energy to tackle any more controversies.

Obama overloaded his plate in the first two years, and will return to Washington facing a lot of cold leftovers.

Power Play offers its humble thanks to veterans. A free press was not obtained and is not perpetuated by dint of the mewling of journalists or the issuance of legal opinions. It is a gift from those who have been willing to sacrifice their lives for this nation.

Thanks to today's Power Play crew: Kimberly Schwandt, April Girouard, L.A. Holmes, Whitney Ksiazek and Paige Dukeman

The Day in Quotes

"It's all there. We have harpooned every whale in the ocean and some of the minnows."

-- Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY), co-chairman of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, discussing the recommendations from he and Democratic co-chairman Erskine Bowles.

"There was a lot of talk during the course of this campaign season about deficits. If we are concerned about debt and deficits then we need to take action."--President Obama at a Seoul press conference endorsing the work, but not addressing the specific recommendations of the leaders of his debt commission, which the White House called a "starting point."

"This proposal is simply unacceptable."

-- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the recommendations of Simpson and Bowles.

"It is reprehensible to ask working people, including many who do physically-demanding labor, to work until they are 69 years of age."

-- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on a debt commission proposal to increase the Social Security eligibility age in the year 2075.

"The chairmen of the deficit commission just told working Americans to 'drop dead.' ... Some people are saying this is plan is just a ‘starting point.' Let me be clear, it is not."

-- AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka responding to the debt commission recommendations.

"We have to deal with the world as we find it."

-- Senior White House Adviser David Axelrod to the Huffington Post suggesting that President Obama would back a temporary extension of the current tax rates.

"Over the last 20 years, I have flown back and forth to my district on commercial aircraft, and I am going to continue to do that."

-- House Minority Leader John Boehner pledging to fly commercial if elected speaker, as opposed to the military jets used by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"Jeb Henserling has my enthusiastic support for his candidacy to become Republican House Conference Chair."

-- Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) dropping her bid for a House leadership slot.

"The trial should not and will not be in New York."

-- Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) responding to an announcement from Attorney General Eric Holder that a decision on the time and place of the trial of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was imminent.

"We also must extend the earmark moratorium...I will gladly be the enforcer of this policy."

-- Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) in a Daily Caller op-ed in support of his bid for chairman of the House Appropriations committee despite Tea Party complaints about his past record as an earmarker.

"I'd say nothing is impossible, given the last chapter of my life."

-- Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) to the New York Times opening the door to running for office again someday.

"I think we've had a little too much self-promotion over the last two years at the expense of the RNC and the Republican Party."

-- Connecticut Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy to Roll Call discussing a possible bid to challenge Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.

"The election was no ringing endorsement of Republicans. We do not accept their version of what this election means. It's not about rejecting what President Obama has done. It didn't go fast enough to create jobs. That's what it's about."

-- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in an interview with the Huffington Post.

"I qualify. I was out, content to be out, but now I feel compelled to come back."

-- Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) to Politico on why he is a Tea Party presidential candidate, an outsider who is moved to get into politics because of what he sees in Washington. Santorum served in Congress from 1991 until his defeat in 2006.

"It is reprehensible that President Obama's administration would modify language in a government report to better suit their agenda."

-- Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips denouncing changes made to a scientific report on offshore drilling by the office of White House global warming czar Carol Browner."Marco Rubio is a natural leader and is likely to be a leader of our party. In five years, no one will remember Jim DeMint, and Marco will be president."

-- Sen. Jim DeMint to the Weekly Standard.

"Reid:197, Angle: 194, Other: 22, None of These Candidates: 9"

-- Vote totals from Harry Reid's hometown of Searchlight, Nev.

"I am not a hater. I don't hate Kanye West."

-- Former President George W. Bush on NBC reacting to West's apology for having said Bush didn't care about black people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.Pelosi's Need For Speed

Illinois Democratic Reps. Mike Quigley and Dan Lipinski added their voices to the chorus of lawmakers who would rather not have Nancy Pelosi as the face of the Democratic Party in the minority.

House leadership elections are set for Wednesday, and while the GOP vote will be an uncontested coronation for the four top slots, Democrats have a real dogfight going on over the number two slot between Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Jim Clyburn (D-SC).

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the ethics prosecutions of Reps. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and Maxine Waters (D-CA) will be underway. Many in the Congressional Black Caucus believe Rangel and Waters have been treated unfairly, and none like the idea of seeing Clyburn, the only black member of the Democratic leadership, squeezed out. And Pelosi gets part of the blame from the CBC for both the ethics charges and Clyburn squeeze play.

So Power Play understands why the speaker would not like the idea from some moderate Dems of delaying the leadership vote until later in the lame duck session. The longer her candidacy for minority leader stays on the shelf the less appealing it becomes and the more likely that a competitor will emerge.