By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
House and Senate Republicans are staking out their negotiating position ahead of the coming debate about raising the nation’s debt ceiling and they’re using all the leverage they’ve got.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, penned an Op-Ed in the National Review today arguing that Congress should refuse to up the debt ceiling unless it also passes a balanced-budget amendment.
“The debt-ceiling charade must come to an end,” Lee wrote, "and the federal government must implement binding, permanent, structural spending reforms.” http://bit.ly/h9r919
Lee, a conservative freshman senator, pledged to “aggressively oppose” any efforts to raise the ceiling without accompanying budget-balancing measures.
“As history suggests, the strategy of creating a debt-ceiling boogeyman works every time,” he wrote, referring to what he said were scare tactics employed by the Obama administration. “Having maxed out one card, they habitually demand another, using threats of fiscal Armageddon to extort taxpayers into giving them ‘just one more.’”
Democrats and the White House have been warning of the dire consequences of not raising the limit — the government would default on its loans and the resulting financial disruption would likely send the U.S. and global economies into an economic tailspin. Obama administration officials like Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers Austan Goolsbee have been sounding confident that Congress will, in the end, raise the ceiling.
But that hasn’t stopped some of Senator Lee’s fellow Republicans from putting pressure on the administration.
“The idea that this is catastrophic is wrong,” Sen. Coburn said in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” on Sunday. “What is catastrophic is to continue to spend money we don't have.”
The Oklahoma Republican insisted that the “debt limit doesn't really mean anything because we've always extended it” and that the U.S. Treasury could still pay down the interest on the country’s loans even if the limit is not extended.
When asked if Congress was likely to raise the limit, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, said: “Maybe or maybe not,” suggesting that it should be tied to “the bipartisan deficit commission report of the ‘Gang of Six.’”
“That would be huge cuts in the future spending of the United States that may be a good deal,” he said. “Without that we should not send a blank check to the administration.”
So, what strategy do the Democrats have going forward? As we've seen in a number of polls, most notably the NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey, voters aren't sold on the need to raise the ceiling. Scare tactics alone aren't going to be able make the case to the public about why Congress should up the country's spending limit.
DEMOCRATS ON OFFENSE ON GAS PRICES AND MEDICARE. Democrats, led by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, are using the nation’s pain at the pump as an opportunity to brand Republicans as the party of tax breaks to oil and gas industry.
The DCCC is releasing another installment in its “Drive For 25” effort to hold House Republicans accountable for pledging to protect Medicare but voting to significantly alter the program through their support of Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan. But here’s the twist — they’re tying to vote to “taxpayer giveaways for big oil companies.” The DCCC will be running robo-calls in targeted districts like this one aimed at Rep. Paul Gosar’s constituents in Arizona. “Everyone agrees we must cut spending and tighten our belts, but Congressman Gosar has made all the wrong choices," says a narrator in the call. “He actually voted to end Medicare rather than end taxpayer giveaways for big oil companies making record profits or tax breaks for the ultra-rich.”
Of course, getting rid of the subsidies won't lower gas prices, but this industry does make for a good boogey man. When voters are frustrated about almost anything, it's the guy in the White House who takes the blame. The only way that changes, is if the alternative to the president is seen as even more unacceptable.
Watch Jake Tapper’s “Good Morning America” report on the dangers of the rising gas prices to President Obama’s poll numbers and re-election prospects: http://abcn.ws/gYiria
NOTABLE: The DCCC is also releasing a new Web video that features raw footage of freshman House Republicans pledging not to vote for Medicare privatization or benefit cuts during their 2010 congressional campaigns. “House Republicans promised to protect Medicare,” the ad says, “They lied.” Watch the video: http://bit.ly/gk6V9R
Separately, the advocacy group, Americans United for Change, is going on the air with television ads hitting Republican House members — including Ryan, himself — for supporting the GOP budget plan. “What were you thinking?” voting to “end Medicare so millionaires can get another tax break,” a narrator in the spot says. Targets are Reps. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., Sean Duffy, R-Wisc., and Steve King, R-Iowa. The group is also launching a robo-call campaign on the same issue in 23 GOP districts. “If Republicans have their way, there would be no more guaranteed Medicare benefits for America’s seniors, only a guarantee of paying more and more out-of-pocket for less care after being left to the mercy to the private insurance industry,” said Tom McMahon, executive director of Americans United for Change. “This is not a path to prosperity, only a path to bankrupting seniors so Paris Hilton and BP can have another tax break.” Watch the TV ad targeting Ryan: http://bit.ly/eAijPV
MEDICARE: THE 30,000 FOOT VIEW. ABC’s Rick Klein put the Medicare debate in perspective: “To be fair, rhetoric over Medicare has been overheated for decades. Democrats during the Clinton years said Republicans wanted the program to ‘wither on the vine.’ Last year, it was Republican-aligned groups attacking Democrats for a provision in the Obama health care law that would find $500 billion in future savings in Medicare. The result has long been political paralysis around Medicare, with neither side seeing much of an incentive in seriously engaging in a discussion that's presumed to be a political loser.
“Republican pollster David Winston, an adviser to House Speaker John Boehner, said attacks on politicians who are trying to fix Medicare won't work this year, since voters realize the challenges can no longer be avoided. … But last week's ABC News/Washington Post poll seemed to confirm longstanding political instincts around Medicare. Asked about a range deficit-reducing proposals, 78 percent of respondents said they opposed cutting spending on Medicare. Seniors — traditionally the most reliable voters around — also oppose changing Medicare, even though neither Democrats nor Republicans are discussing plans that would affect those currently in the program or drawing close to eligibility. Yet buried inside those numbers is a suggestion that the public may be ready for some pain, so long as it's spread around.” http://abcn.ws/hLaQeT
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Rick Klein and Amy Walter sit down with Congressman Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., a member of the House Budget Committee. Also on the program, The New York Times’ Jeff Zeleny. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
SWING DISTRICT GOPers TAKING HEAT. “Republicans who used seniors’ rage over health care changes to sweep into office last fall are now facing the same type of heat over the same issue: Modifications in Medicare and Medicaid,” the National Journal’s Cameron Joseph reports. “Many who voted for the plan House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., laid out to privatize the programs in future years have been in constituents’ crosshairs during Easter recess town-hall meetings. Others have simply avoided meeting with constituents. All but four House Republicans voted in favor of Ryan’s plan. House Republican leaders plan to hold a conference call with members Tuesday. Republicans with knowledge of the call say that it has long been scheduled, but that part of the call will be spent discussing ways to discuss the vote with constituents. One source says it’s intended to help swing-district members ‘who have been getting the crap kicked out of them.’” http://bit.ly/fKDxev
ROMNEY: OBAMA ‘NOT SERIOUS’ ABOUT FISCAL POLICY. In an Op-Ed in the New Hampshire Union-Leader today, likely 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney accuses the Obama administration of financial mismanagement, particularly after last week’s move by S&P to lower the country’s bond rating outlook: “America received a giant wake-up call when Standard & Poor’s, the bond rating agency, announced that it was changing the outlook on its highly prized AAA rating for U.S. Treasuries to ‘negative’ from ‘stable.’ This is the first ratings warning for the United States since S&P began evaluating our creditworthiness in 1941. … So, what was the White House response? … The President himself went on a weeklong campaign swing highlighted by six fundraisers and sharp partisan attacks against Republicans for their attempts at deficit reduction and entitlement reform. … Barack Obama is facing a financial emergency on a grander scale. Yet his approach has been to engage in one of the biggest peacetime spending binges in American history. With its failed stimulus package, its grandiose new social programs, its fervor for more taxes and government regulations, and its hostility toward business, the administration has made the debt problem worse, hindered economic recovery and needlessly cost American workers countless jobs.”
WHAT’S NEXT IN NEVADA? “Sen. John Ensign’s (R) resignation announcement last week again stirred Nevada's political world into a frenzy, setting off a likely domino effect that led to the secretary of state and both parties feverishly poring over state law to decipher what the special election process is,” Roll Call’s Kyle Trygstad reports. “Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) announced Friday he would appoint someone to fill Ensign's seat before the Senator's resignation becomes official on May 3. Most political observers in the state expect him to appoint Rep. Dean Heller (R), who was already running for the seat and whose candidacy previously pushed Ensign to announce he would not run for re-election…Democrats and Republicans are waiting to hear from Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller on the procedure for filling a vacant House seat — something that has never been done in the Silver State.” http://bit.ly/gaYQ6A
THE 2012 SPOUSES PRIMARY. The Boston Globe’s Glen Johnson takes a look at how several of the potential presidential candidates have been highlighting their spouses as they explore a 2012 White House bid “It's all part of an effort to humanize the men who would be president, and court the women they'll need to get elected,” Johnson writes. “Mitt Romney says his wife, Ann, has been the one egging him on to mount a second White House campaign. Tim Pawlenty doesn't issue a press release without mentioning his wife Mary's assent with the news. Callista Gingrich was in the foreground of the photograph her husband, Newt, posted online when he announced he was exploring the possibility of a campaign. … Another prospective female presidential candidate in 2012, US Representative Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota, speaks often of her husband, Marcus, and their five children, but he has largely remained in the background. He runs their Christian counseling practice back home…The prominence of a spouse in presidential politics has waxed and waned through the years.” http://bo.st/fHoZ9M
SMOOTHING THE ROAD TO CONFIRMATIONS. “Hoping to unclog the Senate and spare scores of presidential appointees from what is often a grueling confirmation process, leading lawmakers in both parties are moving to cut the number of administration posts that are subject to Senate approval,” The New York Times’ Carl Hulse reports. “The proposal to end Senate review of about 200 executive branch positions would be the most serious effort in recent years to pare the chamber’s constitutional power of advice and consent. It amounts to a rare voluntary surrender of Congressional clout, and it has high-caliber, bipartisan support with the endorsement of the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Ever since the Senate rejected President George Bush’s selection of John G. Tower as secretary of defense in 1989, Senate confirmations have become bruising public affairs that delve deep into a nominee’s background. President Obama’s initial picks for several cabinet posts withdrew their nominations after the process turned up embarrassing details.” http://nyti.ms/hdzecW
@markknoller: WH has its own pomp & circumstance today staging the annual Easter Egg Roll. 30,000 parents & kids expected during the course of the day.
* Rick Santorum will headline the Clinton County Republican Party Dinner in Goose Lake, Iowa.
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