By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
After a week of arm twisting, negotiating, endorsement peddling — and even an impromptu press conference held by former President Bill Clinton, President Obama looks like he has successfully contained a revolt from within his own party and will get his way on taxes.
Lead House tax negotiator Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said on “Fox News Sunday” that the House "will have an opportunity to work its will, and that “we're not going to hold this thing up at the end of the day.”
“The main sticking point,” according to Van Hollen, is the estate tax. Although the estate tax is currently zeroed out, the compromise tax plan would lower what had been a 55 percent tax on estates to 35 percent, a reduction that has been a major source of Democratic complaints.
The Senate is expected to hold its first votes on the tax measure today.
Meanwhile, the White House is sounding as firm as ever on the agreement. “I’m not here to negotiate,” White House senior adviser David Axelrod said in an interview with Christiane Amanpour on ABC’s “This Week.” "We have a framework, we have an agreement and I don't anticipate that it's going to change greatly."
During his television appearances over the weekend, Axelrod took care to mention that the compromise tax plan now featured a renewable energy tax credit, an incentive pushed for by key Democrats. In short, tweaks like that give Democrats a chance to save face while not making sweeping changes to the deal.
As ABC’s Rick Klein notes, the biggest looming threat that the Obama White House now faces may be the wounded pride of Democrats: “House Democrats remain in charge officially, but they've seen their power begin to diminish already, with the president among those who've hastened a de facto transition.”
And it’s clear that Democratic leaders are doing everything they can to stay relevant in the coming new world order as Republicans prepare to take power in the House after the new year. Just listen to current House Democratic Leader (soon-to-be Democratic Whip) Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who is speaking today at the National Press Club.
“Democrats must stand ready to work with Republicans on research, education reform, and streamlining regulation,” Hoyer plans to say, according to his prepared remarks. “But there are, of course, some core principles on which we will not budge: expecting and ensuring that the health of our people and our environment is safeguarded, and protecting our consumers from unfair practices that put them unknowingly at great economic risk.”
BOTTOM LINE: The drama of the sausage making will soon be forgotten. (Though it's hard to believe we'll forget the image of Bill Clinton holding court at the White House briefing room podium last week). Ultimately, it will be Obama and incoming House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who will be the ones cutting the deals. The only thing that matters is if the economy improves over the next 18 months.
NOTED: According to the latest Wall Street Journal forecasting survey, “economists have grown more optimistic about the outlook for U.S. growth next year, predicting the expansion will accelerate as 2011 progresses. Economists now see stronger expansion in the first half of 2011, with growth picking up speed as the year progresses. For the year, they expect GDP will rise 3%. Meanwhile, they have reduced the odds of a double-dip recession to 15%, the lowest average forecast of the year, from 22% in September survey. The majority of the respondents also say that there is a better chance the economy in 2011 will outperform their forecasts than that it will underperform.” http://on.wsj.com/h6Wf7f
WILL HE STAY OR WILL HE GO? Republican National Committee insiders are predicting that current RNC chairman Michael Steele is likely to announce he will not run for re-election in a conference call with committee members tonight. If so, it would not come as a huge surprise: Steele has remained silent about his intentions even as several challengers launched their own campaigns to replace him. They include, Saul Anuzis, former chairman of the Michigan GOP; Ann Wanger, former head of the Missouri Republican Party; Reince Preibus, chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party; Maria Cino, a veteran of the Bush administration; and Gentry Collins, who resigned last month as the RNC’s political director.
And regardless of Steele’s announcement, the race is still a wide open contest. But to paraphrase one GOP strategist who is also involved with a potential 2012 candidate: As long as it isn't Steele, anyone else will be fine. Ultimately, this needs to be someone who can keep the trains running on time, raise money and keep themselves out of embarrassing news stories. It doesn’t need someone who’s telegenic or a “message maestro.” The new House speaker and the 2012 White House candidates will be the face and voice of the party. This is all about having the structure — and the cash — in place to be an effective partner for the eventual nominee in 2012.
NO LABELS. A new nonpartisan organization called “No Labels” is getting some high-profile help in its official launch in New York today. New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, and Congressman Bob Inglis, R-SC, will be among those on hand for the kick off. The organization is aimed at taking American politics beyond everyday partisanship. According to its Web site, No Labels “is not a centrist, conservative or liberal movement. In fact, "No Labels" is not about ideology; it is about an attitude and new approach.” The launch starts this morning at Columbia University.
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Rick Klein and Amy Walter Anchor talk to former Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia, one of the speakers at today’s “No Labels” event in New York. Also on the program, Time magazine’s Jay Newton-Small, who will talk about her recent cover story and interview with potential 2012 presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
PAWLENTY VS. GOVT UNIONS. In a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed today, potential 2012 presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty takes on government unions. “Public employee unions contribute mightily to the campaigns of liberal politicians ($91 million in the midterm elections alone) who vote to increase government pay and workers. As more government employees join the unions and pay dues, the union bosses pour ever more money and energy into liberal campaigns,” Pawlenty, the Republican governor of Minnesota writes. “The result is that certain states are now approaching default. Decades of overpromising and fiscal malpractice by state and local officials have created unfunded public employee benefit liabilities of more than $3 trillion.” http://on.wsj.com/g5oQRu
HEALTH CARE DECISION. “A federal judge in Virginia today is set to rule on the constitutionality of the Obama Administration's recently passed health care legislation,” ABC News’ Ariane DeVogue reports. “United States District Judge Henry E. Hudson is expected to issue a ruling targeting a provision of the act that requires individuals to either obtain a minimum level of health insurance coverage, or pay a penalty for failing to do so. The provision is set to go into effect in 2014. Virginia is challenging the law, arguing that Congress exceeded its authority in passing the legislation and that the law conflicts with a state law already on the books that says residents cannot be forced to buy health insurance.” http://abcn.ws/e6t3ks
HOLBROOKE UPDATE. “Richard C. Holbrooke, the Obama administration's top envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, remained hospitalized in critical condition late Sunday after lengthy surgery for a torn aorta,” The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung reports. “Holbrooke was taken to George Washington University Hospital on Friday morning after experiencing chest pain. He was visited by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other senior officials, and his wife, Kati Marton, received calls Sunday from Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. The State Department released a statement expressing the Holbrooke family's gratitude ‘for the outpouring of support and prayers coming in from his many friends, colleagues and leaders around the world.’” http://wapo.st/eTCG1O
SUMMERS’ EXIT. National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers will deliver an address on "perspectives on the past two years and his thoughts about the future," at the Economic Policy Institute at 10 a.m. today. As the Huffington Post’s Dan Froomkin notes, it is reportedly Summers’ final public address before stepping down. http://huff.to/hrKjvJ
@markknoller: Back at the WH, Pres. Obama meets with UN Ambassadors & this evening attends a Holiday Reception for the diplomatic corps at the State Dept.
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