Tales from the Trail

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.

 

And then lawmakers can go home for the holidays with their mission accomplished. But by taking the country to the brink once again, it would come as no surprise if they still got hit with some backlash back home.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

US lawmakers near deal to avert government shutdown

U.S. lawmakers on Thursday were close to a deal on a massive spending bill to keep the government running through the fiscal year ending on Sept. 30 and avert a shutdown when current funds run out at midnight on Friday.  Democratic aides in Congress told Reuters the potential deal was near but they did not provide details. If a compromise is reached, the full Senate and House of Representatives would have to vote on the measure before it could be signed into law by President Barack Obama, who earlier in the day urged prompt action.

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.

New Romney ad counters ‘flip-flopper’ label

In case you missed it, Mitt Romney grew a bit testy when Fox News’ Bret Baier pressed him with questions about his about-faces on issues like abortion, climate change and immigration in an interview last week.

Now a new ad out from his campaign looks to counter the ‘flip-flopper’ label Romney has grown so tired of talking about. The ad, released online today and due to air in Iowa and New Hampshire this week, features images of Romney as a young man with his family while Romney gives a voice-over:

 I think people understand that I’m a man of steadiness and constancy. I don’t think you’re going to find somebody who has more of those attributes than I do.

Washington Extra – Turkey talks

The good news? Thanksgiving will not be interrupted by eleventh-hour negotiations by the “super committee” to strike a deal to cut the burgeoning deficit. After months of work, the 11 men and one woman called it quits today. Their statement said “it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement.” No mention of the word on everyone’s tongues: failure.

Even in the early days of the super committee, we are learning, hope was in short supply. At one of the early breakfast meetings, members kept saying how hard it would be to reach agreement. South Carolina’s  Democratic Representative James Clyburn said to his fellow panel members: “Do you want to know what’s hard? Desegregating South Carolina in the 1950s. I met my wife in jail.”

Right now, it’s hard to believe this Congress “can build on this committee’s work,” as the committee co-chairs said hopefully in their statement. There seems to be little faith left on the Hill. Just look at the harsh words from Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, who said the panel’s failure “represents yet another regrettable milestone in Congress’s steady march toward abject ineffectiveness.”

Washington Extra – Patriotic millionaires

As Democrats and Republicans hunkered down on opposite sides of the Capitol on Wednesday, showing no signs of a compromise on slashing the deficit, a group called the Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength made its move.

Nearly 140 members wrote a letter to President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress to “do the right thing” and “raise our taxes.” Next they hit up the bipartisan “super committee,” laboring under a Nov. 23 deadline to reach agreement on the deficit or trigger unpalatable budget cuts.

One of the corporate patriots said if Congress ended Bush-era tax cuts it would affect him and his fellow millionaires in his group “about as much as a dead fly interrupts a picnic.”

Newt gets his own SuperPAC

Here’s a sign that Newt Gingrich is poised to make a run in the Republican presidential race — the former Speaker of the House finally has his own SuperPAC.

SuperPACs, “outside” funding groups supporting candidates but not officially tied to campaigns, can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money. They are the hottest trend in U.S. politics, after court decisions last year lifted most restrictions on political fundraising.  Texas Governor Rick Perry may be lagging in the polls, but he has at least seven.  “Restore Our Future,” favoring Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney, raised $12.3 million in the first half of 2011 alone.

Newt’s SuperPAC, “Solutions 2012,” launched on Wednesday night, coinciding with a debate between the candidates vying for the Republican nomination to oppose Democratic President Barack Obama’s re-election.

Perry camp tries to spin “oops” moment into campaign gold

 

Texas Governor Rick Perry’s camp has found a new way to take advantage of his latest poor debate performance, while adding to his mailing list and, hopefully, donor rolls.

His website had a banner on Thursday morning reading, “What part of the Federal Government would you like to forget about the most? Click here to vote!” Nestled beside a fundraising appeal, the link let visitors to the site choose between 10 government departments and commissions — including the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency and National Endowment “of” the Arts (it’s the National Endowment FOR the Arts). Voters gave their names, email addresses and zip codes to vote by submitting their answers to forgetmenot@rickperry.org.

The Republican presidential hopeful crashed during a debate in Michigan on Wednesday night when he stood on stage and struggled to remember the third of three U.S. government agencies he would close if elected next November.  Perry remembered that he wanted to shut down the Commerce and Education departments but could not remember the third — Energy — despite prompting from a moderator and some of his rivals.

Perry freezes – normal guy or doomed presidential candidate?

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry drew a blank at the Michigan debate while trying to make a point about cutting government waste.

Afterwards, his campaign spokesman said it was an error of style not substance. Tony Fratto, former President George W. Bush’s spokesman, tweeted: “Perry can end his campaign right now.”

The affable Texas governor said he would eliminate three government agencies if elected president — but he could only name two.

Cain in the spotlight

The spotlight burns a lot brighter when you’re the one leading the field (or tied for the lead).

Just ask Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain.

The former Godfather’s Pizza CEO has been under increasing scrutiny since his rise to the top of the polls.

Analysts and pundits have been analyzing his “9-9-9″ tax plan and he’s gotten the “Saturday Night Live” treatment.