Tales from the Trail

What does Obama want for his birthday? Florida would be nice

President Barack Obama, whose birthday is Saturday, has at least one big idea for a birthday present – and it comes with 29 electoral votes.

A crowd of more than 2,000 people sang “Happy Birthday” to Obama during a campaign stop in Orlando, prompting Obama to joke that he ought to have brought a cake so that he could blow out the candles and make an electoral wish. “Winning Florida wouldn’t be a bad birthday present,” Obama said.

The Democrat, who regularly jokes about his graying hair, had another wry comment as he faces his 51st birthday, noting that first lady Michelle Obama thinks he looks 50.

Otherwise, Obama used the campaign event to attack his Republican rival Mitt Romney’s tax plans, saying they would favor the very rich, hurt middle-class Americans and pinch the economy. “They have tried to sell us this top-down tax-cut fairy dust before. And guess what, it didn’t work then. It will not work now,” Obama said. “We do not need more tax cuts for folks who have done very, very well. We need more tax cuts for working Americans.”

Obama was set to fly to Virginia, another of the key “swing” states expected to make the difference in the Nov. 6 election, after his visit to Florida.

Obama campaign attacks Romney for raising fees as governor

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Massachusetts Democratic state lawmakers closed a budget shortfall by closing corporate tax loopholes and raising fees, the latter of which was attacked in a television advertisement the Obama campaign released on Wednesday.

The ad — titled “Mosaic” — hit Romney, who has said on the stump that he closed the budget shortfall without raising taxes, for raising state fees on everything from marriage licenses to gun permits when he was governor of The Bay State for one term starting in 2003.

“When Governor Romney says we balanced the budget without increasing revenues, that’s not true at all,” said Andrew Bagley, Director of Research and Public Affairs at the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a non-partisan research group. “Let’s put it this way, corporations paid more taxes after changes to the tax policy.”

Reuters Washington Extra – Behind the numbers

At last night’s debate, Mitt Romney said he’d be happy to release his tax returns in April. But today he disclosed a crucial piece of information as the clamor grew for him to come out with his returns. The frontrunner to clinch the Republican nomination has a tax rate that “is probably closer to 15 percent than anything.”

That’s a low rate, but it is in line with what is paid by wealthy Americans who earn much of their income from capital gains, which are taxed at 15 percent. So, now the number is out and we will see how American voters (and wage earners) react.

Another interesting number from Romney today concerned speaker fees, which he says he collects “from time to time, but not very much.”  Campaign financial disclosure forms indicate that Romney was paid more than $374,000 in speaker fees from February 2010 to February 2011. Not very much, if you are Mitt Romney.

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.”

Washington Extra – Oppo on steroids

Welcome to the new era of opposition research — one that is supercharged by SuperPACs and flung far and wide by Twitter. YouTube is soooo 2008.

In his Special Report “The golden age of oppo research”, our correspondent Tim Reid tells us that the combination of abundant money (post-Citizens United decision ) and great technology will take opposition research to a new level in 2012. Karl Rove’s  SuperPAC American Crossroads alone plans to spend $240 million on this election cycle, mostly attacking Democratic candidates.

For all those thinking about new job opportunities in this growth industry, think again. As a 32-year-old retired researcher tells Tim, this is a young person’s game, and “the hours are brutal.”

from David Cay Johnston:

Forget taxes, it’s wages that plague Americans

By David Cay Johnston
All opinions expressed are his own.

Here is how much economic progress America has made in the 21st Century: the average taxpayer’s 2009 income was at the same level as 1997.

Average 2009 income was $54,283, just $18 more than in 1997 when you adjust for inflation, not that anyone would notice a difference of $1.50 a month in their pocket.

And compared to 2007, the last peak year of the economy, average income fell a painful $8,588 or 13.7 percent in real terms. Having $716 less each month is something most people would notice.

The Rich and Taxes – Clinton’s lament

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took what appeared to be a coded swipe at Republican refusals to consider raising taxes in U.S. debt limit talks, saying on Tuesday that all leaders must make hard decisions to put their countries on the right track.

Clinton, a Democratic candidate for president in 2008 but now “out of politics” as top diplomat for her one-time rival President Barack Obama,  sounded pointedly political as she recounted a meeting with an unnamed president facing serious fiscal challenges.

“Often times leaders are struggling to get the political support they need to make the hard decisions,” Clinton said at meeting on government transparency at the State Department.

Republicans seek more “skin” to tax

When it comes to reaching a deal to reduce the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt, Republicans say they won’t go along with raising taxes — except maybe for the 50 percent of Americans who they say pay no federal income taxes.

Two senior Republicans said this week that those folks on the lower end of the income scale need to have “skin in the game” and should pay their fair share of federal income taxes.

“I would not impose a significant tax on the lower half or certainly not the lower 10 percent,” explained Senator Jon Kyl in a Senate speech. “But I think it’s important for all Americans to know that we all have a stake in this and that more than half of the people can’t just expect the so-called wealthy to bear all of the burdens of government.”

Washington grow up? Don’t hold your breath

President Barack Obama said he wants a mature discussion between politicians of all stripes as the White House and members of Congress try to make tough decisions on spending and taxes necessary to run the government and deal with a ballooning budget deficit.obama1

“My hope is that what’s different this time is, is we have an adult conversation where everybody says here’s what’s important and here’s how we’re going to pay for it,” Obama told a news conference Tuesday.

Don’t hold your breath.

Obama campaigned for the presidency in 2008 with a pledge to seek common ground between Democrats and Republicans, but his time in office has been marked by bitter fighting and few issues garnering bipartisan support.

A Senate Christmas tale

(UPDATES with new Reid comments).

Christmas bells are ringing. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid doesn’t seem to be listening. Much to the chagrin of staffers and more than a few senators, Reid is threatening to keep the Senate in session until Christmas Eve and beyond to finish all the legislative work that Congress failed to complete before the November elections.USA/

That amounts to just about a whole year’s worth of lawmaking. Congress never got around to passing any of the 12 spending bills that fund the government. So the Senate is expected to take up a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill after senators voted to extend Bush-era tax cuts by two years and extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed for a year.

Reid earlier this week said “…we are going to complete our work, no matter how long it takes, in this Congress.”