Tales from the Trail

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.

The shopping excursion was a way to bide time while Washington waits for Speaker Boehner’s next move. The president pledged to work with Congress on a one-year extension. That may well be enough for Boehner to stand down, especially with fellow Republicans and conservatives criticizing him and the House for holding out on a tax cut.

We are hearing whispers on Capitol Hill that a deal could be quick to come on Thursday. Stay tuned for a possible wrap on Congress 2011. Or, conversely, watch for the president’s next holiday outing with Bo.

Washington Extra – Black box

For the past week or so, we’ve watched Democrats and Republicans playing chess on the payroll tax cuts, trying to outmaneuver each other and gain the upper hand in this final bitter budget battle of 2011. Today, it looks like the match moved off the chessboard and into the unknown.

In this vacuum, people are struggling to know what happens next. Eric Lascelles, chief economist at RBC Global Asset Management in Toronto, told us his confidence that the tax cut will be extended in 2012 “is beginning to waver.”

“As usual,” he added, “the political process is such a black box it’s hard to credibly put odds on this.”

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 – Theater of the absurd

No one said extending the payroll tax cut in Congress by December 31 would be a walk in the park. But did we really expect it to turn into another marathon with multiple detours?

After a rare display of bipartisanship on Monday on a spending bill to keep the government running through 2012, Tuesday gave way to another day of bitter back and forth, in which Democrats and Republicans aimed to out-maneuver and out-smart each other.

The Republicans managed to pass their payroll tax cut bill in the House with the controversial measure to speed up the decision on green-lighting the Keystone oil pipeline. It almost certainly won’t make it through the Senate and the White House made clear today that President Obama will veto it if it does. He’s decided the Keystone pipeline has to wait until after the elections and won’t be dragged into this debacle.