Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – A man and his dog

December 22, 2011

Here’s a modern-day twist on Harry Truman’s quip “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” If you, the president, have called John Boehner and urged him to compromise on extending the payroll tax deal by two months, then all that’s left to do is go out Christmas shopping with your dog.

That’s what President Obama did today, taking Bo, the only family member who hasn’t gone to Hawaii, to a pet store in a Virginia strip mall.

Bo made friends with a brown poodle named Cinnamon, prompting a warning from his master “Okay, Bo, don’t get too personal here.” Aw, Mr President, let the First Dog enjoy his time out in the real world.

The shopping excursion was a way to bide time while Washington waits for Speaker Boehner’s next move. The president pledged to work with Congress on a one-year extension. That may well be enough for Boehner to stand down, especially with fellow Republicans and conservatives criticizing him and the House for holding out on a tax cut.

We are hearing whispers on Capitol Hill that a deal could be quick to come on Thursday. Stay tuned for a possible wrap on Congress 2011. Or, conversely, watch for the president’s next holiday outing with Bo.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

Obama presses Boehner to compromise on tax deal

In a bid to end a worsening standoff over extending a tax break for Americans, President Obama urged Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner to pass a short-term extension and return to talks on a year-long deal in the New Year. While Boehner showed no immediate signs of backing down on his demand that Congress tackle the long-term deal to extend a payroll tax cut before it expires at year’s end, calls for compromise in his own party grew. With 2012 elections looming, some Republicans fear they will be blamed for letting the tax bill rise on January 1 for 160 million Americans.

For more of this story by Caren Bohan and Thomas Ferraro, read here.

For scenarios on how the payroll tax cut fight could play out, click here.

In tax cut debate, a focus on Boehner’s leadership

In Congress’ tense drama over how to extend payroll tax cuts, the most intriguing subplot may be whether John Boehner is losing his grip on his party. Boehner scoffs at the idea. But the rejection of a bipartisan plan to extend the tax cuts for two months has raised questions about his efforts to lead Republicans who have helped ratchet up the tension.

For more of this insight story by Richard Cowan and Thomas Ferraro, read here.

U.S. Republicans risk backlash in 2012

They began this year vowing to slash spending and reduce government. Republicans in the U.S. Congress can boast that they have done just that: As 2011 ends, they have wrung $2 trillion in spending cuts from Democrats without conceding a penny in tax increases.

But the bare-knuckle tactics and brinkmanship that congressional Republicans have used to achieve several victories could come at a big cost for the party in next year’s elections.

For more of this analysis by Tim Reid, read here.

Waiting for Congress, Obama takes dog Bo shopping

With his wife and daughters already in Hawaii, President Obama took his dog Bo shopping as he waited for congressional leaders to mop up a payroll tax mess. Bo accompanied him to PetSmart, where the dog made friends with a brown poodle named Cinnamon. “Okay, Bo, don’t get too personal here,” Obama told the dog. He stopped by Best Buy for Apple gift cards and Nintendo Wii video games for his daughters.

For more of this story, read here.

US learned of Kim’s death from “open” sources

The U.S. government got its first warning North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had died from an intelligence unit that monitors media reporting around the world, two officials said. The officials said the Open Source Center, a branch of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, first relayed the news a day or more after Kim actually died. Despite the time lag, several U.S. officials insisted this was not an intelligence failure in tracking events in isolated and unpredictable North Korea, which is trying to build a nuclear arsenal.

For more of this story by Mark Hosenball, read here.

Gingrich’s nods to history don’t impress scholars

“I’m speaking as a historian.” It’s a common refrain in Newt Gingrich’s speeches, a not-so-subtle reminder of the image he seeks to build as a Republican presidential candidate: that of a serious thinker whose opinions are rooted in an appreciation of the past. But his tactics are beginning to draw criticism from professional historians. Unlike some of the crowds who have cheered historical stories at campaign stops, the historians say they have been unimpressed with the way he has portrayed certain events.

For more of this story by Jason Lange, read here.

Ron Paul may struggle outside Iowa

Ron Paul is one of the favorites to win the Iowa caucuses but his libertarian and isolationist message may be too much for Republican voters and party grandees as the nomination process moves to other states. “What he could do is turn a victory in Iowa into a heart attack for the Republican establishment. They see him as someone they really can’t relate to very much,” said Tobe Berkowitz, a communications professor at Boston University.

For more of this story by Ros Krasny and Jason Lange, read here.

US rolls out tough rules on coal plant pollution

The Obama administration unveiled the first-ever standards to slash mercury emissions from coal-fired plants, a move aimed at protecting public health that critics say will kill jobs as plants shut down. Facing fierce opposition from industry groups and lawmakers from coal-intensive states, the EPA said the benefits of the rules will greatly outweigh the costs.

For more of this story by Ayesha Rascoe and Timothy Gardner, read here.

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From elsewhere…

Phantom clinics bleed millions from Medicare

Reuters examined indictments issued since 2007 in eight states that have Medicare fraud task forces in place. The examination found that shell companies were involved in more than a third of the fraudulent Medicare claims identified by the task forces – $1 billion of the $2.9 billion uncovered. The indictments and other cases indicate that at least 300 shell companies posed as legitimate Medicare providers and billing firms, or laundered payments from Medicare. Court records show shells have purported to provide services ranging from treating varicose veins to supplying prosthetic limbs.

For more of this story, read here.

For more stories from our Washington correspondents visit www.reuters.com and stay informed.

Photo Credits: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (Obama shopping with his dog Bo; U.S. Capitol); REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (Boehner); REUTERS/KCNA (North Korean mourners); REUTERS/Joshua Lott (Paul in Iowa)

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