Tales from the Trail

There’s politics happening in Washington, Obama complains

It’s a bit like being surprised there’s gambling in Las Vegas.

Politics in Washington?

OBAMA/President Barack Obama riddled his speech in Pennsylvania with criticism of people (think capital R) who would play politics with important issues like the budget.

“So we’ve agreed to a compromise, but somehow we still don’t have a deal, because some folks are trying to inject politics in what should be a simple debate about how to pay our bills,” Obama said.

“Companies don’t like uncertainty and if they start seeing that suddenly we may have a shutdown of our government, that could halt momentum right when we need to build it up — all because of politics.”

Very little about Washington doesn’t involve politics, so even trying to blame the other side for playing politics can itself be seen as a bit of politicking.

House Speaker John Boehner, for his part, blamed Obama for not showing leadership on the budget.

Helloooooo out there…. Senator asks if anyone paying attention to speech

Senators go to the Senate floor and make speeches about issues near and dear to their constituents all day long — but whether anyone is actually listening is another matter. USA-CONGRESS/

Making speeches on the Senate floor gets the words into the official record, but often they are made to a near-empty chamber so it is never quite clear whether the words are heard.

That can be frustrating for politicians used to getting plenty of attention.

Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski got fed up when she was speaking about the budget fight and how a government shutdown would hurt port and airport operations. As she talked, she saw the senator who was presiding over the chamber, another Democrat, apparently checking her BlackBerry.

Washington Extra – Playing ball

The White House was clearly relieved to announce that at 6 a.m. GMT NATO took over the ball for running the military operation on Libya. BASEBALL/

Not a minute too soon for members of Congress concerned that the United States could get bogged down in another war. “I sincerely hope that this is not the start of a third elongated conflict,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon said.

Republicans and Democrats say they want to play ball to prevent a government shutdown, but so far have not reached agreement on spending cuts.

And today’s word from Washington is … stalemate

BRITAINCongress has it. Gaddafi wants it. And President Obama is trying to figure out how best to avoid it. What is it?  The answer: stalemate (noun \ˈstāl-ˌmāt\) … that unsatisfying state of affairs in which there can be no action or progress.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the four-star U.S. Joint Chiefs chairman, conceded the possibility of a stalemate in Libya way back on March 20, a day after U.S. forces and their allies started raining high explosives on Muammar Gaddafi’s military infrastructure and ground forces.

The acknowledgment raised worries that a stalemate would allow Gaddafi’s government to live to fight another day — in perpetuity – while delivering an embarrassing defeat to the U.S. and its allies.

Washington Extra – Sharp tongues

Democrats are trying a bit of divide-and-conquer strategy on Capitol Hill.

CHINAAs another budget showdown looms, they are employing a tactic of trying to turn the Tea Party and the rest of the Republican ranks against each other.

It was made starkly clear when Senator Charles Schumer told fellow Democrats to portray Republican House Speaker John Boehner as boxed in by the Tea Party, and to criticize his spending cuts as extreme — “I always use the word extreme,” Schumer said, according to The New York Times’ blog “The Caucus.”

That strategy is not going to work very well now that its cover is blown.

Republicans were not about to let that slide. They accused Democrats of secretly wanting a government shutdown. “With No Plan to Force Washington to Live Within Its Means, Democrats Dig In With ‘Extreme’ Rhetoric to Mask Tacit Support for a Government Shutdown,” blared the headline on a National Republican Congressional Committee email.

Reuters/Ipsos poll: Obama seen as cautious commander-in-chief

The military operation on Libya has once again put President Barack Obama’s commander-in-chief credentials to the test, and nearly half of Americans — 48 percent — describe his style as “cautious and consultative,” according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Obama was seen by 36 percent as “indecisive and dithering”, and the fewest, 17 percent, viewed Obama as a “strong and decisive” commander of the armed forces. USA/

The Reuters/Ipsos poll interviewed 975 adults online and was conducted on March 22, three days after the bombing campaign was launched against Libya to impose a no-fly zone.

Washington Extra – Same page

Alarm over Japan’s nuclear crisis prompted a slumping stock market to slump some more in a third day of selling.

The United States and Japan weren’t quite on the same page in terms of advice to the public. The State Department recommended that Americans living within 50 miles of the Fukushima nuclear plant evacuate or stay indoors, while Japan asked residents within 18 miles to do the same.

USA-BUDGET/Republicans and Democrats are still not on the same page as far as spending cuts go, which means back to the drawing board with a three-week reprieve from the sixth stopgap spending bill expected to pass Congress by Friday. Talks will get an added kick when the latest temporary funding bill is passed, but in a divided Congress bipartisan deals become a fairly lofty goal.

Democratic congressman says he wants to make Obama ‘a better president’

Veteran Democratic Congressman John Conyers voiced some disappointment in President Barack Obama — and said he wants to help the leader of his party to do better. USA/

In a speech at the National Press Club on Monday, Conyers criticized Obama on a number of fronts — from his overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system and management of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to agreeing to Republican demands last year to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, was first elected to Congress in 1964 — three years before after Obama was born. He backs Obama, but says, “I just want to make him a better president.”

Spending cuts an arrow through the heart of cowboy poets

Mean. That’s what Democrats say about Republican efforts to cut spending. They even want to rope in the cowboy poet.

OBIT AUTRYDemocrats have decried a spending bill passed by House Republicans that would slash money for education, heating and food assistance for the poor, community health centers, public television and alternative energy sources.

Most people are familiar with federal spending in those areas.

But who knew that federal funding for the arts and humanities helped provide a spotlight for cowboy poets. 

Another one heads for the exit: Senator Ensign won’t seek reelection

UPDATES with Ensign announcement.

At this rate, the Senate will be overrun by freshmen in 2013.

USA-POLITICS/ENSIGNRepublican Senator John Ensign, once considered a potential presidential candidate in 2012, said he won’t seek reelection next year.

The decision comes nearly two years after he admitted to having an affair with a female staffer whose husband also worked for him.

“There are consequences to sin,” he said at a news conference in Las Vegas. Ensign said the campaign was likely to get especially “ugly” and he did not want to put his family through that.