Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Reaching for the stars

Democrats are pulling out the big guns in tax talks. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are meeting with Democratic congressional leaders today to discuss the “progress being made” in negotiations with Republicans. The meetings will give Obama a first-hand account of the lay-of-the-land on Capitol Hill, and perhaps a chance to discuss areas of potential compromise. Of course without Republicans in the room, it will be a one-sided discussion, but may provide some fresh ammo. OBAMA/

Sometimes tackling the big issues in Washington can seem a bit like reaching for the stars. Obama spoke today about America facing a “Sputnik moment” in its quest for economic recovery. When President John F. Kennedy had his “Sputnik moment” a half-century ago, he called for an American to be sent to the moon, and ultimately succeeded. Will Obama’s “Sputnik moment” end just as well? 

Be sure to look at Scot Paltrow’s special report on the depth of questionable signing and notarization practices at Lender Processing Services, a Florida-based firm that handles more than half of the country’s foreclosures. LPS is not a household name, but it is a central player in the so-called robo-signing controversy.

It’s all in the lingo. The Global Language Monitor says “Palinism” and “Obama-mess” are likely to be among the top global words of 2011, which will likely be commonly pronounced “Twenty-Eleven.”

And speaking of lingo, searched far and wide for a Britishism for our departing Bureau Chief Simon Denyer, and came up with – Cheeri    

Washington Extra – Chicken and ducks

USA-HEALTHCARE/The wrangling continues over the Bush-era tax cuts. President Barack Obama said he was confident Democrats and Republicans could break the deadlock and reach a deal soon. But with time running out, there is something of a game of chicken being played by the two sides. Each is watching to see who blinks first, and with the economy still struggling, both know the stakes are high.

 

Texas Republican Congressman Jeb Hensarling warned of the risks of failure:  “In a lame duck session, a lame duck Congress should not turn our economy into a dead duck economy.”

 

Let’s just hope they don’t duck the issue.

 

Here are our top stories from Washington today…

 

White House memo outlines new anti-leak measures

The White House has set up a special anti-WikiLeaks panel after the embarrassing flood of State Department cables leaked by the website, and its proposals include teams of inspectors who would prowl government agencies looking for ways to tighten security. A four-page draft memo circulated by the White House says President Obama’s national security staff has created an “Interagency Policy Committee for WikiLeaks.”

Congress playing chicken in lame duck session

What’s going to fly?

That’s the question on Capitol Hill where Republicans and Democrats are engaged in a game of chicken over what legislation gets approved in  the final stretch for this Congress.  PANAMA/

Everyone wants to extend middle class tax cuts, but when it comes to extending tax cuts for wealthier Americans feathers get ruffled. Republicans are demanding all of the Bush tax-cuts be extended, but Democrats cry fowl, saying the tax cuts for the wealthy are too expensive to continue.

The House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats until the new Congress with a Republican majority is seated in January, will vote Thursday to extend only the middle-class tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of the year.

Washington Extra – No Refuge

Not only does Barack Obama face a united and hostile Republican Party at home, he cannot easily take refuge in foreign policy in the second half of his term. From Afghanistan to Russia and the Middle East, from climate change to nuclear weapons, there are more problems than easy solutions out there.obama1

But if all that wasn’t bad enough, the president is facing a few problems even keeping his fellow Democrats on side. As we report today, the Dems are in disarray about what to with the expiring tax cuts, and there is a distinct feeling of post-election disappointment with the president. As one aide told Reuters, many congressional Democrats felt they got their fingers burned for backing Obama’s healthcare plan and are wary of getting hurt again.

“Our guys aren’t sure what comes next,” the aide said. “Will Obama help them in 2012, or will just be focused on getting himself re-elected?”

Washington Extra – A late start

obama_gmIt must be more than a little frustrating to win the Nobel Peace Prize for your best intentions — ridding the world of nuclear weapons – and then struggle to even get the START Treaty ratified this year. Not surprising, then, that President Barack Obama told his deputy to work “day and night” to get this thing through.

But whatever the temptation to throw a little egg on the president’s face, many security analysts still find it amazing to see Republicans blocking a treaty that the U.S. military so strongly backs. Welcome to bipartisan Washington, again, I guess.

Despite the uneven start to the week, Wednesday was not a bad day for Obama by any means.

For Biden, it’s START “day and night”

Instead of counting sheep to fall asleep at night, we imagine Vice President Joe Biden may be counting votes.

OBAMA/That’s because President Barack Obama just announced that he has told Biden to focus “day and night” on getting the START treaty ratified by Congress. (That’s what happens when you let the boss “drop by” one of your meetings.)

Obama said ratifying the nuclear arms treaty with Russia was the single most important national security issue for the lame duck Congress. “It is a national security imperative that the United States ratify the New START treaty this year.”

Washington Extra – Down but not out

How the Democrats could have done with those numbers a week ago, or more precisely how they could have done with three or four months of numbers like that. The U.S. economy created a net 151,000 jobs in October, hiring hitting its fastest pace in six months. It is a sign that the economy is regaining momentum after a desperately sluggish summer, and might have lifted President Barack Obama’s mood a little too as he makes the long trip to India. USA/

They were subjected to some bitter attacks from their opponents, and even had their detractors within their two parties. Both suffered cruel defeats this week, but if you thought you had seen the back of Nancy Pelosi and Christine O’Donnell, think again. The Republican from Delaware, who ended her remarkably upbeat concession speech with an invocation to have a “party”, has already announced she is pursuing a book deal and will still be fighting against the Democrats. Shades of Sarah Palin perhaps.

Pelosi, meanwhile, says she now wants her old job back, that of House Minority leader. Defeated or not, who would bet against her?

Pelosi or not Pelosi? That is the question for House Democrats

Nancy Pelosi — the first woman Speaker of the House — is soon to become the first woman ex-Speaker of the House.

But the trouncing of  House Democrats in Tuesday’s elections, which flipped control of that chamber to Republicans, has not deterred Pelosi from wanting to hang onto the leadership reins.

She announced on Twitter and in a letter to her colleagues that she will run for House Minority Leader in the new Congress. It’s a position she held before becoming House Speaker — third in line to the presidency – in 2007. USA-ELECTIONS/HOUSE-DEMOCRATS

Washington Extra – Dinner party ideas

ron_paulCongress might not get much done in the next two years, but boring it won’t be. Certainly not with Ron Paul as likely head of the monetary policy (aka Fed oversight) subcommittee in the House.

Today, Paul the elder told Reuters correspondent Andy Sullivan that he was looking forward to his new “very, very important” role. The Fed, he said, was ”way too independent” and “totally out of control.” Quantitative easing – the Fed’s controversial program to purchase government securities – is not just lousy economics and lousy monetary policy, he said, it is “central economic planning at its worst.” More here.

Expect more fireworks from other conservative Republicans in the coming Congress, people who believe the Fed is enabling excessive government borrowing through its purchases of government debt, that it is printing money to finance the deficit. Then there is Darrell Issa, likely head of the oversight committee, with the subpoena power to be at least as much of a thorn in Ben Bernanke’s side than either of the Paul clan. It will be interesting to see if any of them can get under the skin of the normally unflappable Fed chairman.

Election is over, now can they get along?

It’s the day after the election and the big question now is will they play nice?

The Tea Party’s coming to town, Republicans seized control of the House, and Democrats are still in charge of the White House and Senate. 

Soon-to-be House Speaker John Boehner today said he saw no problem with incorporating members of the Tea Party into the Republican Party. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the goal was “how do we meet in the middle?”