Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – I see your gauntlet, and raise you a gauntlet

On Friday, President Barack Obama threw down the gauntlet to Republicans on taxes, effectively daring them to vote against a tax cut for the middle classes, just so that they can give an average of $100,000 in tax cuts to millionaires.

boehner_MitchOver the weekend, Republican leader of the House John Boehner seemed to shirk the challenge, but on Monday, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell picked up the gauntlet and threw it right back. McConnell has promised to introduce legislation “today” to ensure that “no one in this country pays higher income taxes next year than they are right now.” There are no Republicans who support a tax hike, he said, effectively daring Democrats to vote for higher taxes when the economy is in the mire.

Washington Extra is not sure who will blink first. But whichever side you take in this debate, one thing is for sure: this “wrestling match,” as Obama called it, or game of high-stakes political poker if you prefer, does the economy no good at all.

Another big story bubbling up this week is a series of hearings on the Hill over China’s currency and trade policies, with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner among those scheduled to appear. We are told that 93 lawmakers in the House have signed a letter urging Democratic leaders to get tough with China over its exchange rate practices. This looks from the outside more like political posturing than any real threat that legislation will be passed this year, but Beijing will be watching closely. The yuan has risen less than one percent since its currency peg was eased ahead of the G20 summit in June, but that appreciation has quickened in recent days, in what might be an attempt to dampen congressional anger.

Here are our top stories from today…

Senate Republicans firm on tax cuts for rich

Senate Republicans have enough votes to block President Barack Obama’s plan to extend tax cuts for the middle class while allowing those for the rich to expire, a spokesman for the Senate Republican leader said. Republicans scrambled to regroup on the tax issue ahead of November 2 congressional elections after House of Representatives Republican Leader John Boehner appeared to open the door for a possible compromise.

Taxes: battle of the shoulds, musts, nots

Political maneuvering is in full bloom as positions are being staked out in the battle over tax cuts to the wealthy and for the hearts and minds of the Middle Class ahead of the November election.

President Barack Obama on Friday had his say: Congress should pass what everyone agrees on — extend Bush-era Middle Class tax relief for families earning up to $250,000.

USA/For higher incomes, Obama said the country can’t afford extending tax cuts, but he is willing to talk about it . “We can have a further conversation about how they want to spend an additional $700 billion to give an average of $100,000 to millionaires. That I think is a bad idea.” 

You take that back, Mr. President!

Republicans are lining up to throw punches at President Barack Obama.

The Democratic president has been trading verbal barbs with House Republican Leader John Boehner over economic and fiscal policy. Obama on Wednesday took several swipes at Boehner and charged that it was the Republicans who took the country into deficit when they were running things in Washington. USA-STIMULUS/

Boehner retorted that Obama should freeze all tax rates and cut “federal spending to where it was before all the bailouts, government takeovers, and ‘stimulus’ spending sprees.” Boehner is in line to become House Speaker if Republicans seize control of Congress in November elections.

Other Republicans also jumped in the fray. Boehner’s House Republican lieutenants Eric Cantor and Mike Pence issued statements backing Boehner, saying non-security spending should be cut to 2008 levels. 

Cleveland was no accident, Gibbs confirms

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs confirmed what had been suspected.

USA/OBAMAThere was a reason for choosing Cleveland as the venue for President Barack Obama’s economy speech on Wednesday and his name is John Boehner — the man who would likely be House Speaker if Republicans oust the Democrats from control on Nov. 2.

Cleveland was where House Republican leader Boehner gave his economy speech two weeks ago in which he suggested Obama toss out his economic team, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House economic adviser Larry Summers.

And it’s no accident that Boehner and Obama are paying so much attention to Ohio less than two months before the congressional elections – it’s a swing state with a crucial Senate race and several competitive House races.

Republican “Young Guns” take aim at Democratic-led Washington

Republican U.S. Representatives Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy are all in their 40′s.

Yet with many of their colleagues far older — in their 60′s, 70′s and 80′s — see themselves as “Young Guns,” part of a new breed of Republicans ready to challenge their Grand Old Party and take on Democratic-led Washington.

“Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders,” is the title of their book.

Washington Extra

The Obama administration admitted today that the economy was facing “strong headwinds” and that government finances were on an unsustainable path. Not a great backdrop as we head into November’s elections, as the White House is only too well aware.

OBAMA-ECONOMY/JOBSBut at least the president is trying to set a good example himself. Yesterday we heard how the Obama family was putting its vacations to work for the good of the economy, visiting the Florida Gulf Coast where tourism has been savaged by the oil spill. Now we learn that the First Daughters are getting lessons in managing their money wisely. Not only do Malia and Sasha have their own savings accounts, but they are nearly ready to start earning money babysitting. While those are valuable lessons for a 12 and nine-year-old girl, I am not sure how the $10 an hour they might earn would cover the costs of their driver and armed guard.

Otherwise, today’s highlights include an analysis of the resurgent fortunes of Sarah Palin and her increasingly influential role in the run up to the November mid-terms. And take a look too at our examination of what might be in store when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid unveils a stripped down energy bill next week.

Boehner says lawmakers should expect to do more reading if he becomes House Speaker

Republican John Boehner wants you to know that if his party wins control of  the House of Representatives and he becomes the chamber’s next Speaker, things will be a lot different.

For starters, Boehner says lawmakers in both parties will get a better opportunity to actually read bills before they vote on them.

USA-HEALTHCARE/“One of the things that the American people are most fed up with is the practice of rushing massive, expensive bills to the floor before anyone has had a chance to read them,” Boehner said this week in looking ahead to the November election.

Rrrrrrring, it’s the President calling…

They talked. 

President Barack Obama called Shirley Sherrod at about 12:35 p.m. and they spoke for 7 minutes. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says the White House operator unsuccessfully tried to reach her twice last night but was unable to leave a voicemail.

POTUS offered his regrets, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had been sincere in his apology yesterday, and hoped that she would see “this misfortune” as an opportunity to continue her hard work on behalf of those in need. 

In just days, a charge of racism by a conservative  led to Sherrod losing her Agriculture Department job and ended in a phone call from the president. USA/

Obama tries to make political mountain out of ant hill

President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats are trying to make political hay out of a comment by House Republican leader John Boehner that managed to mention ants and nuclear weapons in the same sentence.

In an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Boehner  criticized the financial regulatory reform legislation making its way through Congress as an overreaction to the financial crisis. “This is killing an ant with a nuclear weapon,” he said.

ANTSDemocrats couldn’t resist pouncing on it. Especially since they are struggling to come up with the votes to pass the landmark legislation through the Senate where 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber are required to overcome procedural hurdles.

Obama delivers checkmate by moving generals

President Barack Obama managed to pull the rabbit out of the hat.

In a surprise move, he chose superstar General David Petraeus to replace General Stanley McChrystal, whose team had badmouthed just about every top civilian adviser to Obama on Afghanistan in a Rolling Stone magazine article. AFGHANISTAN/

And with that one decision he managed to wipe away any impression that as commander-in-chief he would allow insubordination, and he preempted any criticism that he would allow the war in Afghanistan to be without competent leadership for reasons of politics and vanity.

It was by far the smartest move, and no one predicted it. That may have something to do with the fact that if the military was a corporation, Petraeus would essentially be taking a demotion — he is currently head of Central Command which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will now be in charge of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.