Tales from the Trail

Reform-minded Angus King says he’s had warm Senate welcome

Senator-elect Angus King came to Washington preaching bipartisanship and fearing that many of his new colleagues wouldn’t go near him, figuring he’s “a strange creature.”

But to King’s delight, a number of Democrats and Republicans stepped forward to say that they share his desire to end congressional gridlock.

“I was a little apprehensive coming down here,” King told Reuters TV on Thursday (video above), his third day in Washington after last week’s congressional and presidential elections.

“I was afraid they would say all say, ‘Forget it. We’re not going to talk to this strange creature from Maine who’s an independent,’” King said.

“But I have been pleasantly surprised. There’s been a lot of positive, I think genuinely warm words of – ‘Hey, let’s get together. Let’s talk. Let’s see if we can work on some of these problems together.’”

Baseball fan Pelosi urges “Team U.S.A.” unity among new House members

Nancy Pelosi quoted a member of her favorite baseball team, the World Champion San Francisco Giants, in a pep talk on Thursday to newly elected members of the House of Representatives.

The House Democratic leader told incoming lawmakers of both parties about pitcher Ryan Vogelsong and his words of wisdom that bridge hard-ball sports and hard-ball politics.

She quoted Vogelsong as saying: “The reason that we win is that we play as a team, and each member cares more about the name on the front of the uniform (Giants) than the (player’s) name on the back of the uniform.”

Romney’s strong debate draws cheers and relief from Republicans in Congress

Mitt Romney’s strong debate performance eased concerns by fellow Republicans in Congress that his recent struggles could be a problem for all of them on Election Day.

“His first debate was very important – and he delivered,” said Congressman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a member of the House Republican leadership.

“He established himself as a person who can be president of the United States – and that will make everyone feel positive,” said Republican Senator Mike Johanns.

“Outside” spending for 2012 election already beats 2010

 

There are still six weeks before Election Day on Nov. 6, but spending by Super PACs and other outside groups has already hit $465 million, more than all of the entire 2010 campaign season, with Republican-aligned groups spending well over twice as much as those backing Democrats.

Democratic-aligned Super PACs have spent $108.4 million this year, and Republican-aligned Super PACs have spent $270.5 million, according to the Sunlight Foundation, which tracks political spending. The total independent expenditures by other Super PACs was $15.6 million.

Spending by outside groups in 2010 totaled $454 million, the group said.

And much of the latest uptick in spending is focused on congressional races, even in the closely contested ” swing” states ultimately expected to determine whether Democratic President Barack Obama is re-elected or his Republican challenger Mitt Romney ousts him from the White House.

Non-retired Baby Boomers anxious about more than jobs

The Baby Boomers have come a long way from Flower Power. Retirement savings, Social Security and Medicare are weighing heavily on their minds this election season, even if they are still in the workforce.

The AARP surveyed Americans aged 50-64 who are still working, and found that they share younger voters’ worries about the economy ahead of the Nov. 6 election, but their economic concerns extend well beyond jobs. These members of the “Baby Boom” generation worry about rising prices, healthcare costs, financial security when they retire and taxes.

“We know the issue of jobs is very important to voters age 50-plus, but any meaningful discussion of the economy and this year’s election has to include the future of Social Security and Medicare,” Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president of the 37 million-member AARP, said in a statement. “For these voters, ‘retirement security’ and ‘economic security’ are largely the same thing,” she said.

Washington Extra – Proposals to nowhere

A line kept cropping up in our stories from Washington today, something along the lines of “unlikely to be passed in Congress.”

President Obama went out to Falls Church, Virginia to tout his $5 billion to $10 billion plan to help homeowners refinance. The proposal, sketched out in last week’s State of the Union address, could provide relief to many locked into high rates by their homes’ sagging value. But it doesn’t look like it will overcome Republican opposition.

Democrats also introduced today the “Paying a Fair Share Act of 2012,” longhand for the “Buffett Rule” that Obama also raised in his address last week. The idea is that millionaires would pay a minimum 30 percent effective tax rate. It has almost no chance of passage in a Republican-controlled House that has sworn off tax increases.

Washington Extra – A man and his dog

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.

Washington Extra – Home for the holidays

There will be no vacation for you, Congress, until you get your work done. That was the stern message from President Obama today. But it probably wasn’t his warning that pushed Democrats and Republicans to get back to serious negotiations to finish the year’s business. More likely, it was fear of voter backlash.

For the third time this year, Americans were hearing about the threat of a government shutdown because Democrats and Republicans could not strike a deal on some basic legislation –a spending bill needed to fund many government agencies beyond Friday. After a flurry of meetings on Capitol Hill, we received word that the deal was near.

Separate negotiations on the legislation to extend a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits also seemed to gather pace after days of distractions and setbacks. If the negotiators are successful, Congress’ work might all be done by the weekend.

Washington Extra – Turkey talks

The good news? Thanksgiving will not be interrupted by eleventh-hour negotiations by the “super committee” to strike a deal to cut the burgeoning deficit. After months of work, the 11 men and one woman called it quits today. Their statement said “it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement.” No mention of the word on everyone’s tongues: failure.

Even in the early days of the super committee, we are learning, hope was in short supply. At one of the early breakfast meetings, members kept saying how hard it would be to reach agreement. South Carolina’s  Democratic Representative James Clyburn said to his fellow panel members: “Do you want to know what’s hard? Desegregating South Carolina in the 1950s. I met my wife in jail.”

Right now, it’s hard to believe this Congress “can build on this committee’s work,” as the committee co-chairs said hopefully in their statement. There seems to be little faith left on the Hill. Just look at the harsh words from Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, who said the panel’s failure “represents yet another regrettable milestone in Congress’s steady march toward abject ineffectiveness.”