Promises Kept, Promises Broken (The Note)

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By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone ) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter )


  • THE ROAD TO COMPROMISE: With 35 days left to reach an agreement on the fiscal cliff negotiations, there is still no face-to-face meeting scheduled between President Obama and Congressional leaders. But ABC's Jonathan Karl reported on "Good Morning America," today that there are signs of progress. High-level talks with staff are intensifying and Republicans are expressing a newfound willingness to compromise on the long-standing Grover Norquist no-tax pledge. Norquist has consistently warned that lawmakers who violate the pledge are doomed and likely to face an intra-party primary challenge, but with the fiscal cliff just over a month away, and the newly re-elected President Obama insisting that tax increases must be part of any budget deal, key Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-.S.C. and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., are now talking about violating it, though they say they will only do so by closing loopholes, not by doing what the president wants - raising tax rates. WATCH:
  • CONSERVATIVE PRESSURE MOUNTS: Some conservative leaders are not about to let Republicans who signed the Norquist pledge off the hook. Take ForAmerica Chairman Brent Bozell, who today penned a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Republican Leader Eric Cantor, and Minority Whip John Cornyn. Here's an excerpt of Bozell's tough talk: "With the so-called 'fiscal cliff' rapidly approaching, both sides are making opening gambits and the talk so far is alarming. You led the Republican Party for two years claiming emphatically that the tax increase on 'the wealthy' that Barack Obama is determined to enact is really a devastating tax hike on small business owners that would kill jobs and decimate any kind of economic recovery. Now conservatives see daily stories asserting that the GOP agrees with the President that 'revenues are on the table' and GOP elite are all over the airwaves asking if the Tea Party will care if "a few multi-millionaires pay more in taxes.' … Conservatives have one question to ask: If you now claim a tax increase on small business is the correct course of action, were you lying all along when you claimed this tax increase would decimate the economy? Because if you were not lying, you will now be willing participants in the destruction of American jobs in a time of economic crisis. This is the question you must answer, given the posturing of many Republicans in the immediate aftermath of the election." Read the full letter from ForAmerica:
  • CLIFF OR SLOPE? DEPENDS ON HOW YOU LOOK AT IT: Politico's Darren Samuelsohn has a note on the semantics of the deficit reduction fight: "If some Democrats had their way, the country wouldn't be facing the 'fiscal cliff' - but a 'fiscal slope,' 'fiscal curve' or even an 'austerity crisis.' Debating Republicans about how to solve the fiscal cliff is a fight on the wrong turf, they argue, since it doesn't explain the origins of the problem or what will actually happen - George W. Bush-era tax breaks expire and across-the-board spending cuts go into effect. … Here's the thinking from the left for why what's coming up at the beginning of next year isn't really a cliff: President Barack Obama's fiscal problems were created by his predecessor, from the tattered economy to expensive tax cuts and more than $1 trillion spent on two wars. If there's no deal in the next six weeks, Obama still has authority to stall in implementing the big tax and spending changes. And despite some big dips already on Wall Street, some Democrats say the markets can easily recover if the stare down between the White House and House Republicans gets resolved early next year."
  • SUSAN RICE HEADS TO THE HILL.U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Dr. Susan Rice will be on Capitol Hill this week to meet with individual members of Congress to discuss the Benghazi attacks, aides on Capitol Hill confirm. ABC's Sunlen Miller reports, Rice will come face-to-face with many Senators who have opposed her possible nomination to be the next Secretary of State. She is scheduled for a Tuesday morning meeting with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who, though he has backed off recently, has been perhaps most vocal in saying he would oppose Rice if nominated by President Obama to succeed Hillary Clinton.


"When you got married, did your wife understand there was an expiration date on that promise?" Grover Norquist asked ABC's Jonathan Karl in an interview yesterday.

Although every day there are growing signs that Norquist's more than 200-member coalition of pledge signers are beginning to think twice as the fiscal cliff approaches, the long-time anti-tax crusader is sticking to his guns.

But so is President Obama, who today will jump-start his public campaign for a deficit reduction deal that extends only the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class, ABC's Devin Dwyer notes.

Obama plans to host 15 small business owners at the White House for a private meeting and the National Economic Council will release a report on the impact of middle class tax cuts on small businesses. The push will continue Wednesday with a second meeting with business leaders and with the president playing host to Americans who wrote to the administration online about the importance of extending the tax cuts.

As the president steps up his sales job, Norquist will be working to keep the dam from breaking. And which Republicans might be most likely to break their no-tax promise?

As ABC News Political Director Amy Walter notes, there are 33 Republicans from the 112th Congress who signed the pledge and aren't coming back next year because they are either retiring or they lost re-election. How many of these lame ducks feel compelled to stick to Grover's pledge? And, will they be courted and arm-twisted "Lincoln" style by the White House?

However, there are still 218 Republicans who signed the pledge for the upcoming 113th Congress. Almost all of them sit in heavily Republican leaning districts. Just 20 signers had a competitive race in 2012.

The prospect of President Obama stumping against them doesn't scare them. What does worry them is a serious challenge from their right in a GOP primary.

Take, for example, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican who announced a challenge to Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller in 2014. Already the Senate Conservatives Fund, the PAC backed by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., announced that "it will not endorse" Capito because "her spending record in the House is too liberal."

In addition, the head of the conservative Club for Growth, Chris Chocola, issued a statement yesterday complaining that "Congresswoman Capito has a long record of support of bailouts, pork, and bigger government. She voted to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, for massive expansions of government-run health insurance, giveaways to big labor, and repeatedly voted to continue funding for wasteful earmarks like an Exploratorium in San Francisco and an Aquarium in South Carolina. That's not the formula for GOP success in U.S. Senate races."

It's hard to believe that she'll want to add a vote to raise taxes to further incite national conservative groups and encourage a challenge in the GOP primary.


ABC's RICK KLEIN: Don't forget the left. Sure, getting Republicans to the tax table will take more than saying they're willing to defy a pledge. Note that even that step is coming with a condition: entitlement reform. Resistance among Democrats to seriously address Medicare (which is approaching crisis stage) and Social Security (which is not nearly as urgent a budget priority) may be stronger than the GOP aversion to new revenues. Yes, President Obama won, but some of his allies are taking that victory as more of a mandate than even the president himself.


with ABC's Elizabeth Hartfield ( @LizHartfield)

FISCAL TALKS TURN AS TAX PLEDGE QUESTIONED. The two-party tango that is negotiations over the "fiscal cliff" took a turn Monday as two more Republican lawmakers expressed willingness to break with a long-standing anti-tax pledge and the White House revealed that President Obama made fresh overtures to congressional leaders on both sides, reports ABC's Devin Dwyer, John Parkinson and Sunlen Miller. Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska both indicated today that they feel no attachment to a pledge - drafted by Grover Norquist and the Americans for Tax Reform - to not raise tax revenue one cent. The pledge has long been viewed as a barrier to a "balanced" debt and deficit reduction deal… For all the buzz about the "fiscal cliff" talks - and optimism from both sides about reaching an agreement in the next 36 days - negotiations have not gone very far even as officials close to the process say it's not that hard to strike a deal.

VIOLATING THE NORQUIST PLEDGE COULD HURT POLITICIANS IN 2014. The most talked about name in the opening weeks of the fiscal cliff negotiations isn't Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It's Grover Norquist. Norquist is not a publicly elected official or even a government appointee. The 56-year-old conservative leader is the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform and promoter of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge - better known as the Norquist Pledge. Violating the pledge all but ensures a primary challenge in two years from the Republican right.

NOTED: THE NORQUIST PLEDGE EXPLAINED. ABC's Chris Good reports, as Congress wrangles over the fiscal cliff, one tiny document will loom large over the negotiations. Known in Republican circles simply as "The Pledge," the Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) Taxpayer Protection Pledge has steered GOP tax policy for decades, applying pressure to any candidate, lawmaker, or president who would raise taxes. … The pledge began in 1986 under the aegis of president Ronald Reagan. Grover Norquist, a Republican and former staffer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, had launched Americans for Tax Reform in 1985 to advocate for tax reforms Reagan was pushing in his second term. The group was financed largely by corporate sponsors such as Kraft, the Associated Press reported at the time. In the midterm campaign year of 1986, Norquist rolled out the Taxpayer Protection Pledge as a way to pressure candidates to support Reagan's tax agenda, and as a cudgel for Republicans to wield against Democrats on the campaign trail. "We intend to make tax reform permanent," Norquist explained that year. Reagan had already passed tax reforms in 1981-drawing the same Democratic criticism of GOP tax policies as today, namely that they favor the wealthy-and the second-term president eyed the 1986 bill as part two of his tax agenda.

ROMNEY CAMPAIGN MERCHANDISE PRICED TO SELL. What's a retailer to do with merchandise branded to support a failed presidential candidate? Put it on clearance. ABC's Sarah Parnass reports, on the Internet, business owners are dropping prices to unload the Romney items. The "America!" store, which has a location in Union Station and Reagan National Airport among others, had a clearance section of its online shopping full of Romney/Ryan memorabilia Monday morning. Wal-Mart's website offered a 35 percent discount on both Romney's books.

CHRIS CHRISTIE FILES FOR RE-ELECTION. It's official: New Jersey governor and rising GOP star Chris Christie will seek re-election in his state's gubernatorial race in 2013, an adviser to the governor told ABC News. Christie filed his papers with election officials on Monday. Although Republicans and Democrats in the state had expected Christie to seek re-election, the governor had been coy about his plans in recent weeks. It's not yet known who will challenge Christie. The presumed front-runner for the Democratic nomination, and the candidate who is seen by many in the party as the best chance to unseat Christie, is Newark Mayor Cory Booker. But Booker has not yet made an announcement about his plans.

EFFORTS TO CURB SOCIAL SPENDING FACE RESISTANCE. The New York Times' Robert Pear reports: "President Obama's re-election and Democratic gains in Congress were supposed to make it easier for the party to strike a deal with Republicans to resolve the year-end fiscal crisis by providing new leverage. But they could also make it harder as empowered Democrats, including some elected on liberal platforms, resist significant changes in entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. As Congress returned Monday, the debate over those programs, which many Democrats see as the core of the party's identity, was shaping up as the Democratic version of the higher-profile struggle among Republicans over taxes."

OBAMA MAY GET CHANCE TO END BENGHAZI PR DISASTER. The AP's Anne Flaherty reports: "The White House could finally have its chance to close the books on its Benghazi public relations disaster, as key Republicans signal they might not stand in the way of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to become the next secretary of state…The subtle shift in GOP tenor on Rice could be the result of internal grumblings on how far to take party opposition. Democrats picked up extra Senate seats in the election to maintain their narrow majority, making it that much harder for the remaining 45 Republicans to block the president's nominees."

U.S. SENDS TOP AFRICA DIPLOMAT TO CONGO FOR PEACE TALKS. White House and State Department officials confirmed that the Obama administration has dispatched the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Johnny Carson, to Central Africa this weekend to help negotiate an end the latest crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo reports ABC's Dana Hughes and Devin Dwyer…Actor Ben Affleck, who founded the Eastern Congo Initiative, a humanitarian organization working in Eastern Congo with local leaders for peaceful, long-term solutions to the country's problems, told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's This Week, that the administration could be applying more pressure to all the parties involved to bring peace to the region.

WHITE HOUSE'S REQUEST FOR STORM AID COULD COMPLICATE BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS. Roll Call's Kerry Young reports: "Lawmakers are waiting for the White House to tell them as early as this week how much additional money it needs to aid communities damaged by Hurricane Sandy. The number is certain to be large, and it could make the current budget negotiations even more complicated… The growing possibility of an emergency supplemental appropriations bill adds a new challenge for Congress during a post-election session already expected to be dominated by fiscal battles. Amid talks over tax and spending issues, lawmakers will also have to consider multibillion-dollar aid requests from New York and New Jersey, the two states hardest hit by the storm."

INFLUENCE GAME: TAX THEM, NOT US, GROUPS SAYS. The AP's Charles Babington reports: "So much for the notion of shared sacrifice as Congress and the White House face a Dec. 31 deadline to craft a far-reaching deficit-reduction plan. If they fail, the government tips over the so-called fiscal cliff, at least for a time. Nearly everyone's taxes will rise, and federal programs will be whacked. Financial markets might quake, and a new recession could begin, economists say. In Washington, meanwhile, it's virtually every group for itself, scrambling to protect 100 percent of each tax break and government payout it now enjoys."

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