Tales from the Trail

Stark realities of U.S. life without credit

Amid the political fingerpointing over which party will catch the blame if Congress fails to raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit, comes the stark reality of what bills get paid after Aug. 2, if the U.S. government can’t borrow more money.

A group of House Republicans wrote a letter to President Barack Obama on Thursday to say there would be plenty of money from tax receipts to make interest payments to creditors, pay Social Security retirement benefits, cover Medicare health payments and pay U.S. military troops.

Senate Democrats at a news conference made clear that once those bills were paid, little would be left for anything else.

“It would require the Treasury to make some very dark and difficult choices,” said Senator Charles Schumer, a member of the Senate Democratic leadership.

The U.S. monthly revenue totals $172 billion, while its monthly obligations total $307 billion. Payments for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, interest on the debt, troops and defense needs will gobble up the entire monthly income.

Rare agreement on Capitol Hill over confirmation process

Stop the presses!

A man-bite-dog moment at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

The normally grid-locked U.S. Senate — Democrats, Republicans, independents — came together and overwhelmingly passed a bill to reduce its workload, curb its power and perhaps even decrease partisan fighting.

Drafted by the chamber’s party leaders, the measure, which now goes to the House of Representatives for anticipated final congressional approval, would slash the number of presidential appointees who need Senate confirmation.

More specifically, it would eliminate the confirmation requirement for about 200 of the 1,200 posts in the executive branch as well as for more than 2,800 members of the U.S. Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Officer Corps.

Washington Extra – Fall and rise

That’s not hot air emanating from the Capitol today, it’s the huge sigh of relief from the Democratic leadership that Congressman Anthony Weiner decided to resign.

And gone with him are the difficult decisions about whether to strip him of committees or think up other pressure tactics to end the weeks-long distraction.

“Congressman Weiner exercised poor judgment in his actions and poor judgment in his reaction to the revelations. Today, he made the right judgment in resigning,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said.

House lawmakers tussle over Medicare mailings

House Democrats are accusing the Republican majority of censoring language in mailings to constituents about a Republican plan to privatize Medicare for future retirees.

At issue is official mail that goes to constituents with taxpayers picking up the cost of postage. Any materials mailed at taxpayer expense have to have bipartisan approval.

In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, five Democrats complained that previously approved language describing the proposal by Republican Representative Paul Ryan no longer was okay.

Will Obama be a $1 billion man? Democrats say not so fast

A persistent theme of President Barack Obama’s nascent re-election bid has been an expectation that the Democratic incumbent – who amassed a $750 million war chest when he won the White House in 2008 — will break his record this time and become the first candidate to raise $1 billion in campaign funds for 2012. 

The logic behind that figure? One bit of reasoning is that Obama and his then-rival Hillary Clinton together raised far more than $1 billion in 2008, showing there are plenty of Democratic wallets out there waiting to be opened this time.

Democratic Party officials have issued repeated dire warnings about Republicans’ fund-raising prowess, especially in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision that allowed unlimited spending by corporations, labor unions and other groups. Democrats say secret donations allowed under Citizens United helped fuel the Republicans’ huge success in the 2010 mid-terms.

Your credit payment is due now…

CORRECTS POLL NUMBER ON OBAMA’S HANDLING OF ECONOMY

The United States is due to hit its $14.3 trillion debt limit today, and tensions are understandably on the increase with Republicans and Democrats wide apart on the budget deal the GOP wants in exchange for increasing the ceiling.

World markets and America’s economic future could be jeopardized if negotiators still have no deal when the Treasury Department runs out of tricks to stave off default.

But do those fears a crisis make?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suggests not. “Rather than thinking of this as a crisis, I think of it as an opportunity to come together and those talks are under way led by the vice president.”

URL mischief crops up on the campaign front

It’s early in the 2012 presidential election campaign, but dirty tricks are alive and well, at least on the Internet.

In the days after President Barack Obama announced the killing of Osama bin Laden, someone bought a new Internet URL, “GutsyCall.com,” and set it to redirect to Obama’s BarackObama.com campaign re-election website. The reference was to reports that John Brennan, a White House counterterrorism adviser, had characterized Obama’s order to send troops after bin Laden as “one of the most gutsiest calls of any president in recent memory.”

The connection was seized upon by conservative-leaning media, which portrayed it as an attempt by campaign officials to politicize bin Laden’s death despite their assertions that they did not intend to do so. The problem with that assertion? The campaign and the Democratic National Committee insisted they had nothing to do with the URL and knew nothing about it.

Bipartisanship on the White House menu

At a White House dinner with Senate and House leaders from both parties and their spouses, President Barack Obama got a standing ovation when he mentioned the demise of Osama bin Laden in his welcome.

“Last night, as Americans learned that the United States had carried out an operation that resulted in the capture and death of  Osama bin Laden…” Obama said.

At that point, he was interrupted by the standing ovation.

“We were reminded again that there is a pride in what this nation stands for and what we can achieve that runs far deeper than party, far deeper than politics,” Obama continued after the applause subsided.

Obama has budget deal “bonus” for Colorado schoolkids; Boehner bashes Democrats at fund-raiser

OBAMA/

President Barack Obama is getting into a habit of surprising tourists. Over the weekend it was a trip to the Lincoln Memorial, and on Monday he turned up to surprise a group of school children at the White House.

“Not only did things work out, but we figured we’d give you a little bonus,” Obama told the 50 students from Altona Middle School in Colorado. Then he posed for pictures with them and answered a few questions behind the White House. (One of his favorite things about being president is that he has no commute because his office is right next to his house).

The mother of one of the students, Shalini Schane, wrote a letter to Obama on April 6 begging him to find some agreement to keep the government open so that her son could make a class trip to Washington for which his class had been raising money all year.

Live coverage: Budget battle

Facing a midnight deadline, the White House and Congress are working furiously to break a budget deadlock and prevent a federal government shutdown that would idle hundreds of thousands of workers.