The Note: Coming Together Or Coming Apart?: Obama, GOP Dance Around Budget, Entitlements

Feb 16, 2011 9:13am

By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER

President Obama may be getting beaten up by editorial pages for what some pundits are calling his timid approach to the budget, but he’s more than willing to make Republicans look like the bad guys.

Yesterday President Obama issued a veto threat against the continuing resolution introduced by House Republicans that would fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year. He said the cuts in the bill would “undermine our ability to out-educate, out-build, and out-innovate the rest of the world” as well as undermine “core government functions and investments key to economic growth and job creation, and would reduce funding for the Department of Defense” to a dangerous level. http://abcn.ws/eMgRuD

Republicans, however, pushed back on the threat as they began debate on their plan to cut more than $60 billion through next September, which, as ABC’s Jake Tapper notes, would include scaling back the Head Start program, science and energy research and high-speed rail projects, among other things.

 “Over the last two years, since President Obama has taken office, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs,” House Speaker John Boehner said yesterday. “And if some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it. We’re broke.”

But this back-and-forth may just be an appetizer to the main course — the coming debate over reforming entitlements (Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security), which the GOP has been pledging to include in their proposal this spring. But how far out on the limb will Republicans actually go on this and won’t that give Democratic allies the chance to demagogue the issue for 2012?

GOP leaders, so far, have been asking the Obama administration to take the lead.

“With regard to our long-term unfunded liabilities — the entitlements — we are waiting for presidential leadership,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said yesterday. “We know and we’ll say again that entitlement reform will not be done except on a bipartisan basis with presidential leadership.” http://abcn.ws/hxY46l

While Republicans like House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., may be accusing President Obama of “punting” on the issue, the president, for his part, seemed to put at least part of the onus on Republicans.

“I was glad to see yesterday Republican leaders say, ‘how come you didn’t talk about entitlements?’” Obama said. “I think that’s progress, because what we had been hearing made it sound as if we just slashed deeper on education or other provisions in domestic spending that somehow that alone was going to solve the problem.”

BOTTOM LINE: No one wants to be the first to take the leap onto that political third rail of entitlements. So is there any chance that in this hyper-polarized environment the two sides could work something out? The risks, of course, are obvious. But, the electorate has shown that it's hungry for a Washington that works — and works together. The New York Times reports today that the “White House has already opened back-channel conversations to test Republicans’ willingness to negotiate” on entitlement issues and the Washington Post notes that the GOP has “signaled an openness to working with Democrats.”

But political leaders in either party who are planning to fall back on the same old demagoguery may be surprised to find out that it lacks the same punch it once did. A solutions-oriented agenda, if presented and sold in the right way, could be much more effective.

 

GOV’T FORECAST: GRIDLOCK WITH A CHANCE OF SHUTDOWN. “There is a three-pronged budget war between President Obama and Republicans in Washington and it has politicians uttering a word they haven't used since 1994: shutdown,” ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports. “Government funding is due to run out on March 4 when the latest continuing resolution expires. If Congress fails to act, then the government would shut down. In recent days Democrats have repeatedly called for Republicans to take the prospect of a shutdown off the table, a call that Jack Lew, the Office of Management and Budget director reiterated on Tuesday. ‘It's not the right way to run the government and I think we have a broad agreement that we need to keep essential services going,’ Lew said. But the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. had a different view. ‘It is not our desire to see the government shutdown, but equally we don't want to rubber-stamp these elevated spending levels.’ Even if the shutdown is avoided, at some point later this spring the national debt is set to hit its current $14.3 trillion limit. If Congress fails to act on the administration's request to raise the debt limit, then the government would have trouble refinancing its debt, taking in money to continue operations, and even default would be a possibility.” http://abcn.ws/gTvHRq

 

ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Rick Klein and Jonathan Karl talk to White House Deputy Communications Director Jen Psaki about the president’s budget proposal and other administration priorities. Also on the program, Jake Tapper, ABC’s senior White House correspondent. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine

 

CONSERVATIVES PUSH TO ‘RESET’ THE STIMULUS. Several prominent conservative groups have been spearheading an effort to call on members of Congress to co-sponsor and support H.R. 620, the RESET Act, which would rescind more than $45 billion worth of unspent stimulus funds and direct them toward deficit reduction, according to a letter being circulated by conservative leaders this week. The letter was organized by the DefundTheStimulus.com campaign, a coalition led by Let Freedom Ring, Americans for Tax Reform, and the Restore the Dream Foundation. Freshman Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wisc., has been leading the charge in Congress and announced yesterday that measure is being included in the continuing resolution that will fund the federal government for the rest of the year. “I introduced the RESET Act because I disagree with the very premise of the so-called ‘stimulus,’ that we can borrow, spend and tax our way to a prosperous economy,” Duffy said in a statement yesterday.

The letter was co-signed by Matt Kibbe, President of FreedomWorks; Phil Kerpen, Vice President of Americans for Prosperity; Erica Gordon, Director of Government Affairs for Citizens Against Government, among others. “We have put together a classic inside-outside coalition that really began only a couple of weeks ago,” Let Freedom Ring president Colin Hanna told the Note “It now looks like it will become part of the CR. That’s lightening speed to go from concept to on the floor.”

 

THE BUZZ

BLOOMBERG ON TRUMP. New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg has decided not to run for president in 2012, but what does he think of fellow New Yorker Donald Trump’s nascent campaign?  ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked him on "Good Morning America” today. Bloomberg: “America is a wonderful country. Everybody that is born here and is over 35 has the opportunity. I know Donald Trump. He is a great guy. He doesn’t do everything he says but he sure tries. And I’m a big fan of Donald Trump’s.” Stephanopoulos: "So he’s going to run?" Bloomberg: “I have no idea. You’ll have to ask Donald trump.” http://abcn.ws/h9d1Fi

LINE ITEM VETO: COMEBACK KID? “In the face of mounting federal deficits, a bipartisan group of senators is taking another shot at giving the president line-item veto authority,” Politico’s Chris Frates reports. “Co-sponsored by Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), the Reduce Unnecessary Spending Act would allow any president to single out earmarks and other non-entitlement spending for elimination or reductions. The bill would force Congress to take a vote on objectionable items any president sends back to Congress.  “This legislation would provide the president and Congress with an important tool to cut wasteful spending and ensure that taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely and effectively,” Carper said in a statement. … In 1996, the Line Item Veto Act was signed into law but was overturned two years later by the Supreme Court because it violated the Constitution.” http://politi.co/eVvXfK

GINGRICH, INC. “[Former House Speaker Newt] Gingrich, who says he will announce a decision this month, has outraised Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and every other potential GOP candidate with a political committee,” The Washington Post’s Dan Eggen reports. “His main advocacy group, American Solutions, ranks as the largest money-making machine of its kind in the country, collecting more than $52 million in its first four years – though nearly two-thirds of that went to fundraising expenses that some experts describe as unusually high. And that doesn't count Gingrich's vast constellation of other endeavors, including a consulting firm (Gingrich Group), a media company (Gingrich Productions), a Web portal (Newt.org), a religious nonprofit group (Renewing American Leadership) and a bilingual Hispanic news service (the Americano). … Aides and others close to Gingrich say that his business ventures are widely mischaracterized by political opponents and that they adhere to the ethical norms followed by advocacy and nonprofit groups. What's more, they say, his entrepreneurial zeal and network of contacts would serve him well in a run for the White House.” http://wapo.st/dMozTS

SANTORUM’S GOOGLE PROBLEM. “Rick Santorum has a Google problem,” Roll Call’s Steve People’s notes. “The likely Republican presidential candidate knows he needs to expand his name identification. Santorum can only hope voters don’t turn to Google, the world’s most popular Internet search engine, to learn more about him. Try it for yourself: Enter “Rick Santorum” into Google. In a fraction of a second you’ll have hundreds of thousands of results. But two of the top four cite a graphic definition for a sexual neologism. … This, of course, is no accident. Santorum himself sounded slightly defeated when asked about it recently. ‘It’s one guy. You know who it is. The Internet allows for this type of vulgarity to circulate. It’s unfortunate that we have someone who obviously has some issues. But he has an opportunity to speak,’ Santorum told Roll Call.” http://bit.ly/gS0ijG

 

CHRISTIE GETS RGA POST. The Republican Governors Association announced today that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been named the organization’s Policy Vice Chairman. “Since the moment he took office, Governor Christie has been a powerful example of the tremendous impact governors can make in their states and nationwide,” RGA Chairman Rick Perry said in a statement. “As the RGA’s Policy Vice Chairman, Governor Christie will be a valuable leader as the RGA continues to strengthen our policy arm.” Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi is the Policy Chairman.

NOTED: Gov. Christie will deliver an address at the American Enterprise Institute today titled, “It's Time to Do the Big Things” in which he will “discuss the reform issues that will serve as the foundation for his February budget” starting at 1:00 PM. His remarks will be followed by a Q&A. The event will be live-streamed on AEI’s Web site: http://bit.ly/9JvpiY

TRUMKA PREVIEW. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue will testify today before the Senate Committee on Need for Investment in Infrastructure. “The fact that Mr. Donohue and I appear before you today does not mean that hell has frozen over — or unicorns are now roaming the land," Trumka plans to say, according to excerpts of his prepared remarks. "The fact is, while there are many policy areas where we have sharp differences, we both realize that our country needs to step up our 'Investment in America' for business as well as working Americans to succeed. … Strong federal investment in our transportation system has never been more important to support the economy and create and sustain good jobs for U.S. workers."

 

WHITE HOUSE WATCH. Per ABC’s Sunlen Miller, this afternoon President Obama will meet with Secretary of State Clinton.  Afterwards, the President and the Vice President will meet with the Senate Democratic Leadership at 2:20pm. Expected attendees include Senator Reid, Senator Durbin, Senator Schumer and Senator Murray. At 4:45pm the President will deliver remarks in the East Room on the America’s Great Outdoors initiative. And at 12:30pm new Press Secretary Jay Carney will brief for the first time on camera.

 

WHO’S TWEETING?

@markknoller: Senate Dems let Obama down yesterday approving only a 90day extension of 3 provisions in the Patriot Act. House passed 10-month extension.

@pwire: Ted Kennedy Jr. will not run for CT-Sen seat in 2012…http://pwire.at/gcQe0B

@senatus: RT @robertcostaNRO @JohnThune talks '12 w/ NRO:http://bit.ly/eiEDfI

@NYT_JenPreston: Amazing story: How Mubarak govt turned off the Internet in #Egypt. By James Glanz & @markoff.http://nyti.ms/fWNXlz?

@nationaljournal: Just announced: Smokey Robinson, Natasha Bedingfield, Sheryl Crow and others to perform Motown tribute concert at WH on Feb. 24.

 

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