Tales from the Trail

Democratic congressman says he wants to make Obama ‘a better president’

Veteran Democratic Congressman John Conyers voiced some disappointment in President Barack Obama — and said he wants to help the leader of his party to do better. USA/

In a speech at the National Press Club on Monday, Conyers criticized Obama on a number of fronts — from his overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system and management of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to agreeing to Republican demands last year to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, was first elected to Congress in 1964 — three years before after Obama was born. He backs Obama, but says, “I just want to make him a better president.”

Conyers is not alone in his complaints. A number of Democrats in Congress have expressed frustration with Obama, particularly for what they describe as his failure to push harder on liberal issues.

“The recent debate on healthcare has allowed opponents of the new law to say we have gone too far — when the truth is we have not gone far enough,” said Conyers, a backer of “a single payer” approach that would have a greater government involvement in delivery of health care.

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.

Washington Extra – jumpSTART

There are 11 days to Christmas, time for Congress to do the end-of-session roll in which proposals that grew cobwebs for months and months are now heading through the chambers at breakneck speed.

Tax cuts are closing in on the finish line — House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer signaled that resistance was waning among Democrats when he said there were “compelling reasons” to back the measure.

USA/Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today is holding out the possibility that the START treaty will be ratified before lawmakers wrap up the lame duck session. Debate could start as early as Wednesday, and Reid says he’s got the votes.

Washington Extra – Imagine

To look ahead, sometimes it’s necessary to look back.

OBAMA/In January, President Barack Obama said in an interview with ABC News: “I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president.” At that time, his signature domestic issue, healthcare reform, had been dealt a setback with the election of Republican Scott Brown to the Senate seat long held by the late Edward Kennedy, and some senators were balking at approving Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke for a second term.

Bernanke got confirmed in late January and healthcare reform passed in March.

An outsider looking at the current hand-wringing on Capitol Hill over extending tax cuts could be forgiven for thinking the issue is on a razor’s edge, when in fact it is highly likely that Obama’s compromise with the Republicans will pass in some form. Vice President Joe Biden, the president’s arm-twister on this issue, has been up on the Hill talking to reluctant Democrats and in the end will likely have the votes.

“I expect everybody to examine it carefully. When they do, I think they’re going to feel confident that, in fact, this is the right course — while understanding that for the next two years we’re going to have a big debate about taxes and we’re going to have a big debate about the budget and we’re going to have a big debate about deficits,” Obama said.

Washington Extra – Cold shoulder

It’s a chilly day in Washington, and we’re not just talking about the weather.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are giving President Barack Obama the cold shoulder after he blinked first in the stand-off with Republicans over extending tax cuts. USA/

“We will continue discussions with the President and our Caucus in the days ahead,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. (Translation – House Democrats are not on board with this yet.)

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.

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 – Pirate justice

The U.S. government would surely love to get its revenge on Julian Assange, and the Justice Department says a criminal investigation has already begun. But specialists in espionage law tell us that peculiarities of American law make it virtually impossible to bring a successful case against Assange, even if he were to set foot on U.S. soil. Evidence would be needed that defendants were in contact with representatives of a foreign power and intended to provide them with secrets, evidence that has not yet surfaced. SWITZERLAND/

So although the leaked documents may make intelligence sharing harder in the future, and may make foreign governments reluctant to trust the U.S. with sensitive information, retribution could be tough.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee took aim at whoever leaked the documents, saying they should be tried for treason and “executed.”  Others might yearn for a bit of pirate justice, for both Assange and the leaker.

Can Obama launch “peace talks” with Republicans at Camp David?

Camp David may be getting ready for another round of peace talks – of the domestic variety.

President Barack Obama is emphasizing bipartisanship after the midterm election shellacking dealt by Republicans and today decided to wave a olive branch — the possibility of a summit wiith congressional leaders early next year at the presidential retreat. OBAMA/
    
He offered the invite at a White House meeting with leaders of both parties where they discussed tax cuts, the START treaty, and other issues Obama wants to see resolved during the remainder of the “lame duck” session of Congress.

An invitation to Camp David is considered an honor. In fact, Obama said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid mentioned to him that despite 28 years in Congress, he had never been to Camp David.

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.