The Note: Obama Gets Coal Now, But Presents Later

Dec 16, 2010 9:00am


Given their post-election positions on the evils of earmarks, congressional Republicans and President Obama both look hypocritical when it comes to the debate about the billions of dollars worth of pork stuck in the omnibus spending bill.

We detailed some of those pet projects in the Note yesterday — the same day that the White House urged Congress to pass the bill despite the president’s own promise to do away with earmarks.

“We wish there were no earmarks and are troubled with their presence” an administration source told ABC News’ Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller. “But [Defense] Secretary Gates has told the President that the alternative bill” — a continuing resolution that for one year funds the government, which is due to run out of cash at the end of the week — “doesn't have the funding critical for several national security priorities.

Recall that after the midterm elections President Obama made his disdain for earmarks clear, saying that he was “a strong believer that the earmarking process in Congress isn’t what the American people really want to see when it comes to making tough decisions about how taxpayer dollars are spent.”

Republicans would prefer the continuing resolution so that they can negotiate more spending cuts when they take power in the House in the new year. Several top Republicans yesterday said they would oppose the spending bill in its current form but were hard-pressed to explain how millions of dollars of their own earmarks wound up in it.

Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and John Thune, R-S.D., held a press conference yesterday lashing out at Democratic effort to push forward with 1,924-page, $1.1 trillion measure. When pressed by ABC’s Jonathan Karl whether either of them thought they had any credibility on the issue, Cornyn shot back that they did: "Because we're going to vote against the bill. This is the wrong way to do business."

But neither Senator acknowledged that it was wrong for them to have inserted the spending projects in the bill in the first place.

However, at least one GOP leader, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, has already asked that the earmarks he had previously requested be stripped from the legislation. Other GOP senators like Arizona’s John McCain also have no pork projects in the bill.

BOTTOM LINE: Looking beyond the short term public relations problems, Obama looks like he will get the better long term results. After all, at this point both the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the START arms reduction treaty with Russia could pass meaning that Obama would end the year with victories on two of his biggest priorities.

And, don’t forget, a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC shows that president’s approval rating is holding steady at 45 percent (not great, but it could be worse) while 63 percent of Democrats said they want to see their leaders in Washington “make compromises to gain consensus on legislation, about the same percentage of independents who expressed that view” — a feat Obama just accomplished on tax cuts.

HILL ACTION: One Democratic aide told ABC’s Matthew Jaffe that the forecast for the omnibus is “clear as mud,” but now that the Senate has passed the tax compromise bill, they are moving on to consider both the START treaty — which needs 67 votes for ratification — and the omnibus spending bill today. The Senate is planning to stay in session all weekend to wrap up a flurry of unfinished business.

AFGHANISTAN UPDATE. The White House today released a 5-page overview of the annual Af-Pak review, ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. The core goal “remains to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al-Qa’ida in the region and to prevent its return to either country.” It’s a good news/bad news assessment that outlines components of the strategy that are working well and those that are not. Here’s a speed read of the most important bullet points: And here’s the full overview document:

THE NEW IRAQ?: Meanwhile, “a record 60 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting, a grim assessment — and a politically hazardous one,” according to analysis of a new ABC News/Washington Post poll by Julie Phelan and Gary Langer. They write: “Public dissatisfaction with the war, now the nation's longest, has spiked by 7 points just since July. Given its costs vs. its benefits, only 34 percent in the [poll] say the war's been worth fighting, down by 9 points to a new low, by a sizable margin. Negative views of the war for the first time are at the level of those recorded for the war in Iraq … On average from 2005 through 2009, 60 percent called that war not worth fighting, the same number who say so about Afghanistan now.” More poll results:


DEBATE 2012: STAY TUNED. ABC News and WMUR-TV, the ABC affiliate in Manchester, NH are joining forces to host a Republican presidential primary debate in New Hampshire between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary in 2012. The debate will be held at a critical moment in the Republican nomination process — just as the primary season gets underway. The specific date and time of this debate will be determined once the dates for the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary have been determined by state officials. “The days between Iowa and New Hampshire have often been make-or-break for candidates and we look forward to putting the crucial questions of the day to the contenders for the Republican nomination,” said incoming ABC News President Ben Sherwood.  


ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Rick Klein and Jon Karl welcome Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., to talk about the tax cut deal and all the other important developments on Capitol Hill this week. (h/t ABC’s Jared Pliner.) Also on the program today, the always-witty Gail Collins, columnist for The New York Times. In today’s column, “The Crying Game,” Collins sets her sights on incoming House Speaker John Boehner’s emotions: “We’ve had to adjust to so many strange developments lately. I’m sure we’ll get used to having a speaker of the House who weeps a lot.”  Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern.



HUCKABEE’S SWITCH. In a blog post on his Web site on Wednesday afternoon, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee responded to a story on RealClearPolitics that pointed out that in 2007, he supported a mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and in 2009 changed that position to say he opposed such a cap,” RealClearPolitics’ Erin McPike reports. ‘If companies chose to participate voluntarily as part of their corporate policy, then fine," Huckabee wrote on Wednesday. ‘But I was clear that we could not force U.S. businesses to do what their Chinese counterparts refused to – and doing so would have been a serious job killer.’ But Huckabee did indeed support that policy in 2007, when he was running for president. … ‘I also support cap and trade of carbon emissions,’ he said at the time. ” More from McPike’s report:

HEALTH CARE BATTLE CONTINUES. “A federal judge in Florida today will begin hearing oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate in the new health care law and the expansion of Medicaid,” ABC News’ Huma Khan writes. “The proceedings begin just days after a Virginia judge dealt a resounding blow to the Obama administration. He ruled that the federal government is overstepping its constitutional boundaries by requiring Americans to carry health insurance by 2014. What sets the Florida case apart, though, is that it's brought on behalf of 20 states and is the first court challenge against Medicaid expansion.”

PALIN’S NEW STRATEGY. Politico’s Ken Vogel writes today about what aides to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin acknowledge is a new way of doing business with the press, namely engaging with them. “The former Alaska governor has started cautiously cooperating with some of the same media outlets she and her supporters have accused of unfair and inaccurate coverage they feel has caricatured her as a flaky lightweight — a narrative her team seems determined to rewrite as Palin openly weighs a bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. ‘This is just about getting the press to characterize the governor accurately,” said Tim Crawford, a top Palin aide. ‘And, if that can be accomplished through Gov. Palin and some of the people around her talking to the press, we’ll try that.’”

SUMMERS STICKS AROUND. ABC’s Jake Tapper notes: Some in Washington originally thought National Economic Council director Larry Summers' last day was yesterday but a White House official says “President Obama has asked Larry Summers to remain at the White House as NEC Director until the end of the year.  Dr. Summers has agreed to continue to serve through December 31st.”

LOOKING BACK. Roll Call is out today with a nifty interactive timeline of the 111th Congress, from Nancy Pelosi’s re-election as House Speaker right up until the latest developments with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the DREAM Act this month. Check it out:

SPEAKING OF HISTORY. Bloomberg News’ Julianna Goldman and Hans Nichols take an interesting look at Obama’s history of compromise: “From Harvard to the halls of Congress, Barack Obama has demonstrated an ability to compromise. Pragmatism was his default position, he promised. Consensus building, his specialty. … Obama came into office with a pattern of not letting ideology get in the way of practical solutions, either for a larger political goal or his own ambition. At Harvard, Obama was elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review by convincing different ideological factions that he would listen to their concerns. He wasn’t someone who ‘demonized conservatives or personalized politics,’ Brad Berenson, an editor during Obama’s tenure at the journal who later was counsel under President George W. Bush, recalled in a 2008 interview.”


@pwire: Congressman claims Obama said not passing tax cut bill would be end of his presidency…

@ThePlumLineGS: Surprising that folks are getting suckered by non-story about Obama warning Dems about end to his presidency:

@DavidMDrucker: Partisan Rancor Consumes START Debate: GOP vows to sink treaty; Democrats accuse R's of negotiating in bad

@HuffPostPol: Jimmy Carter: America could elect gay president in 'near future'

@evanmc_s: I talked to Steny Hoyer last night about how the standalone #DADTdeal came together:

@GStephanopoulos: Encourage you to follow my colleague @DrRichardBesser


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