Tales from the Trail

Reuters/Ipsos poll: Majority says U.S. on wrong track

A large majority of Americans say the United States is on the wrong track and nearly half believe the worst is yet to come, according to a  Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday.

The poll reflects growing anxiety about the economy and frustration with Washington after a narrowly averted government default,  a credit rating downgrade by Standard & Poor’s, a stock market dive and a 9.1 percent jobless rate.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll  — conducted from last Thursday to Monday — found 73 percent of Americans believe the United States is “off on the wrong track,” and just one in five, 21 percent, think the country is headed in the right direction.

The survey found that 47 percent believe “the worst is yet to come” in the U.S. economy, an increase of 13 percentage points from a year ago when this question was last raised.

President Barack Obama was politically bruised in the brutal debt ceiling debate and negative views on the economy are worrisome signs for his 2012 re-election bid. His approval rating dropped to 45 percent from 49 percent a month ago.

U.S. House ends historic page program

They have been a ubiquitous presence in the U.S. Capitol since the early 1800′s. Some have even gone on to become members of Congress. But as of September 1, there will be no more young, earnest-looking young men and women in blue uniforms delivering messages and documents to members of the House of Representives.

House Speaker John Boehner and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi announced on Monday that the House page program will end on August 31. They’ve been replaced by the BlackBerry, the Internet and other electronic delivery and instant messaging services.

“Dozens of pages were once needed on the House floor to deliver a steady stream of phone messages to members – but today are severely underutilized, as members are typically contacted directly via BlackBerries and similar devices,” they wrote.

Stark realities of U.S. life without credit

Amid the political fingerpointing over which party will catch the blame if Congress fails to raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit, comes the stark reality of what bills get paid after Aug. 2, if the U.S. government can’t borrow more money.

A group of House Republicans wrote a letter to President Barack Obama on Thursday to say there would be plenty of money from tax receipts to make interest payments to creditors, pay Social Security retirement benefits, cover Medicare health payments and pay U.S. military troops.

Senate Democrats at a news conference made clear that once those bills were paid, little would be left for anything else.

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.

Washington Extra – Beware of frank

When officials in Washington describe talks as “frank,” the usual translation is: “didn’t go my way.”

President Barack Obama emerged from a meeting with congressional leaders on the deficit and proclaimed: “People were frank.”

Uh-oh. Doesn’t sound like the president’s persuasive personality prevailed.

Washington Extra – Tweet tweet

President Barack Obama’s Twitter Townhall would have been more interesting if he had answered tweet for tweet.

Instead it looked a lot like an old-fashioned interview except the questions came over the transom on Twitter.

Of the tens of thousands of questions posed at #AskObama the ones chosen allowed the president to chew over long-standing talking points but offered little new insight. It might have been worth asking at least one fun question off the well-trodden policy path.

Washington Extra – Comfort zones

Senators are talking. The president is talking. But whether they are talking at or with each other is another question.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled a Libya resolution so that senators could focus on debt issues this week, which after all was the reason why they cancelled recess.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell invited President Barack Obama to Capitol Hill to hear why a debt deal with tax increases won’t fly. And then he accepted an invitation from Obama to meet at the White House on Thursday with other congressional leaders.

Washington Extra – Waiting for fireworks

Will we see fireworks in the debt talks next week?

So far the White House and lawmakers have been cranky about the state of negotiations, but no one has actually drawn a firm line in the sand – still hoping for a compromise.

Senators and staff can’t be happy about having their Fourth of July recess cancelled next week over debt talks, setting up a perfect environment for tempers to flare.

And no matter how much critics try to pooh-pooh the deadline for avoiding default, Treasury is sticking with Aug. 2 as the drop-debt date.

Washington Extra – Farewell to arms

Some memorable lines in the farewell tribute for Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

President Barack Obama said when he took office, Gates had already served seven presidents and when asked by a reporter whether he might stay on, Gates replied “inconceivable.” (Turned out to be a case of famous last words…)

Gates, true to his reputation as a plain-spoken guy, said his views about the State Department “evolved” over four decades. “For much of my professional life, the Secretaries of State and Defense were barely speaking to one another,” he said.

Demonized in Damascus? Kucinich protests

One of the Obama administration’s sharpest critics on the left is coming in for some sharp criticism himself after what appeared to be a friendly visit to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich — an Ohio Democrat who has proposed ordering Obama to halt U.S. participation in NATO airstrikes in the Libya conflict — sat down with Assad in Damascus over the weekend and emerged to face accusations that he was getting too cozy with an autocrat whose security forces have killed some 1,300 people as they attempt to crush a revolt against his rule.

Kucinich said he made the trip, which also included a stop in   Lebanon, on his own accord after being requested to go by his constituents.