Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Obama has left the building

obama1A very non-lame Lame Duck is just about done and President Barack Obama is off to his Christmas vacation in Hawaii. Aloha, Mr. President, and congratulations on December. Let’s take a moment to recap.

The Senate approved START today. It’s a big deal for U.S.-Russian relations and sends a clear message to Moscow: Work with us, not against us. The president killed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. It was a priority for Obama who promised on the campaign trail to end the ban on gays openly serving in the military. Democrats caved on taxes and approved Obama’s compromise with Republicans — giving the president a chance to take credit, whether it was an optical win or something more substantial notwithstanding.

Now, some of my colleagues in the media biz think all of this adds up to a Comeback Kid moment for Obama. They see this as a great showing for a man who had the cards stacked against him after Democrats’ November drubbing. It’s not a completely off-base analysis, but it is a bit too dramatic for Extra.

Instead, we’ll just go with what the president himself had to say: “If there’s any lesson to draw from these past few weeks, it’s that we are not doomed to endless gridlock. We’ve shown in the wake of the November elections that we have the capacity not only to make progress, but to make progress together.”

With that, Reuters Washington Extra will close out 2010. Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it. Happy long weekend to those of you who do not. And Happy New Year to us all. Talk with you again in 2011.

Possible 2012 presidential candidate Barbour clarifies civil rights remark

GOVERNMENT HURRICANES KATRINAMississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who may seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, went into damage control mode Tuesday because of remarks he made about the 1960s civil rights movement in his state.

A profile of Barbour in a conservative magazine, The Weekly Standard, included comments from him about what life was like growing up in Yazoo City, Mississippi, in the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

“I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” Barbour said.

The remark risked making Barbour look indifferent to the sometimes violent 1960s effort to end segregation. Mississippi, like its Deep South neighbor Alabama, was a central player in the civil rights movement.

Washington Extra – You win some, you lose some

capitol_domeDemocrats scored some noteworthy wins today. They pushed the nuclear arms treaty with Russia past a Republican hurdle. They adopted Internet rules that Republicans and some big media companies called unwarranted, excessive and maybe even illegal.

But it’s hard for Extra to call this a good day for Dems. Republicans have promised to unravel everything from Tuesday’s net neutrality decision at the FCC to Dodd-Frank and Obamacare. They’ve pushed the fight over government spending into 2011, when they’ll run the House and have more leverage in the Senate. That means regulators won’t get the extra funds they’ve requested to tighten oversight of Wall Street, as Mary Schapiro lamented to Reuters today.

Lest you think Extra’s too short-sighted, too focused on 2011, consider what could be the most politically significant news of the day — new Census data. Democrats cannot be anything but bummed by the Census showing a population shift from blue states to red ones. It means a redrawing of congressional districts that will likely add Republicans to the House. We won’t bog you down with the details, but just remember it’s the number of House seats that determines a state’s representation in the Electoral College

This lame duck sure can fly

Congress seems to work better under deadline pressure (like journalists).

Democrats are racing to cram as much through the post-election lame duck session as possible, before their majority turns into a pumpkin when Republicans take control of the House of Representatives in January.

HUNGARYRepublicans are grumbling about all the rush, but President Barack Obama went to their pond with some bread — tax cut extensions for the wealthy — so they aren’t quacking too loudly.

The lame duck session of Congress has produced — tax cut extensions have been signed into law, the repeal of “Don’t Ask , Don’t Tell” to allow gays to serve openly in the military will be signed into law tomorrow, and the START treaty is moving toward ratification.

Washington Extra – START not yet finished

So far, the U.S. Senate has spent six days debating New START — the strategic nuclear arms limitation treaty with Russia. Not so long, you say? Democrats are rushing it through? Well consider this, Congress has already spent longer on this agreement than it did on START I almost two decades ago — and the original is a much more complex treaty.

It is not just President Barack Obama and the Democrats who support this treaty. Former President George H.W. Bush, a Republican, supports it. So does Republican Condoleezza Rice and every other former secretary of state who is still alive. And the military? Well those folks really support it, just ask the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the uniformed officers in charge of nuclear security.mcconnell2

So what’s the problem?

“The American people don’t want us to squeeze our most important work into the final days of a session,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell argued. Republicans, it seems, think Obama and the Democrats just want to notch one last victory before Republicans take the House in January.

Senator Coburn’s waste line — $11.5 billion in 2010 spending

Republican Senator Tom Coburn has released his “Wastebook 2010″ report, a list of government spending that adds up to over $11.5 billion which he considers wasteful.

It includes burping cows, Vidalia onions, a 2,500-year-old mummy, and finding love on the Internet. USA-TAXES/

“Even those lucky enough to have jobs have had to tighten their belts.  Yet, Congress continues to find new and extravagant ways to waste tax dollars,” Coburn said in a statement.

Washington Extra – Whose bipartisanship?

The feeling appeared mutual when President Barack Obama shook hands with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell after signing the tax cut bill. It looked like the picture of what Obama called a “bipartisan effort.”  OBAMA/TAXES-SIGNS

McConnell tried not to grin too much over the Republicans winning the war in their efforts to extend tax cuts to the wealthy.

But when it came to Capitol Hill Democrats, there wasn’t much display of unity with even Obama, let alone bipartisanship with the Republicans. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were no-shows at the bill signing.

On the 8th day before Christmas, Congress…

‘Twas eight days before Christmas and all through the Hill, lots of legislative stirring…

A nuclear arms treaty with Russia, gays in the military, avoiding a government shutdown, and even loosening immigration law. All these weighty issues are enough to make any politician on Capitol Hill reach for something easier to decide. 
 
So, it’s official. Mark Twain is one of America’s most famous literary icons.

RTRFGEU_CompIt says so in House Resolution 1733. Congress, with its hands full trying to jam a year’s worth of legislative activity through the days before Christmas, managed to squeeze out the Twain bill giving the writer of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” recognition on the 175th anniversary of his birth and the 100th anniversary of his death.

Palin: White House decision months away

USA/Sarah Palin said in an interview aired on Friday that she is months away from deciding on a run for president but would not be fazed by weak poll numbers if she chose to seek the Republican Party nomination.

“It’s a prayerful consideration,” the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “Other folks can jump in and that kind of helps you get that lay of the land. But my decision won’t be made for some months still.”

Palin has become a celebrity of the Republican Party and the Tea Party movement over the past two years by gaining recognition as a  best-selling author, a television pundit and the host of her own TV reality show. She is currently promoting her second book, “America by Heart.”   

Washington Extra – Making nice (or not)

It was President Obama’s day for showing the business community he cares. He invited CEOs to Blair House across the street from the White House to discuss ideas for creating jobs and revving up the economy.

USARepublicans tried to turn the olive branch into an inconsequential twig. House Speaker-to-be John Boehner (who wasn’t invited) tweeted while the meeting was underway that it amounted to a “nothingburger.”

Honeywell CEO David Cote, who attended the meeting, had some sympathy for Obama: “We avoided a depression largely because of the actions of the president … I think he gets zero credit for it in the business or political community, because it seems like you get zero credit for the problem you avoid, even though that may be the biggest thing that you do.”