Tales from the Trail

Down to the wire…

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan expects his fellow Republicans to wait until the “last minute” to strike a deal that averts national default by raising the $14.3 trillion limit on the U.S. debt.

Failure to reach a deal could trigger a new global financial crisis, according to analysts and Democrats including President Barack Obama. But on Monday, the day the U.S. debt reached its current statutory limit, Ryan told an Illinois AM radio station that “we’re going to negotiate this thing probably up through July, that’s how these things go.”

“That’s how these things go” could place negotiations at the very doorstep of an Aug. 2 deadline, which is when the Treasury Department believes it will exhaust its bag of tricks for staving off a financial apocalypse.

Ryan’s comments came a day after Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell advised CNN’s viewers to see the approaching default deadline as a source of opportunity.

Meanwhile, inflation worries buttressed by still-way-high gas prices are driving U.S. states to consider making silver and gold coins legal tender.  South Carolina is the latest to consider legislation to that effect, joining over two-dozen others in a trend that began this month in Utah.

Bill Clinton emerges as leading U.S. political favorite — poll

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CLINTON/Nearly a decade after his presidency ended in scandal and disgrace, Bill Clinton has emerged as the most popular figure in the U.S. political firmament, according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.   Except he’s not running for office.

Fifty-five percent of the 1,000 adults who responded to the survey reported having positive feelings about the Arkansas Democrat, vs. only 23 percent who harbored negative feelings. (When he left office in early 2001, his ratings were 34 percent positive and 52 percent negative.)RACING/

The poll, which has a 3.1 percentage point margin of error, comes at a time when many voters are angry about the country’s economic straits, including high unemployement and an exploding fiscal deficit. Clinton’s two-term presidency was marked not only by impeachment and the Monica Lewinsky scandal but also by buoyant growth and a balanced budget.

Are folks ‘for’ or ‘agin’ healthcare reform? Both, according to the partisan rhetoric

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Republicans say Americans don’t want the president’s healthcare reforms. Democrats beg to differ. What’s true? Depends how you figure, though as Mark Twain observed: figures don’t lie, but liars … well, you know.

Not that anyone would lie, of course. But opinion polls have been dumping figures aplenty into the debate in Congress, and the debaters have been eagerly using them to patch up their arguments’ foundations.

Take the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey: 46 percent want Congress to pass President Barack Obama’s plan; 45 percent don’t.

Obama plays to disaffected audience but most don’t blame him

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When President Obama reaches the podium for tonight’s State of the Union address, he’ll turn to a TV audience fed up with Washington and its incessant partisan bickering. But guess what: most viewers won’t be blaming him.
    
More than 90 percent of the American public thinks there’s too much partisan infighting and 70 percent say the federal government isn’t working well, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
    
But who’s the culprit? Only 27 percent blame the president. The biggest target of public disaffection are Republicans in Congress — at 48 percent — followed by congressional Democrats at 41 percent.  Conducted Jan. 23-25, the survey of 800 adults has a 3.5 percent margin of error.
    
If the numbers are accurate, Obama’s message may find a fair amount of audience sympathy, particularly for his much-anticipated emphasis on jobs, the economy and curbs on Wall Street’s excesses.
    
Nearly three-quarters say not enough has been done to regulate Wall Street and the banking industry, while 51 percent want more emphasis on economic matters than they’ve seen up to now.
    
In fact, poll respondents are fairly optimistic about Obama’s future, with 54 percent saying he is facing either a short-term setback or no setback at all. There are even signs that his overall job approval rating has begun to edge up.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jason Reed (Obama)

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Press corps musical chairs on Obama plane

WASHINGTON – What a popular guy.  
 
Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama is so popular that some “tough decisions” had to be made about which members of the press corps would fly on his plane during the final days of the campaign.
 
Off the plane this weekend will be the Dallas Morning News, New York Post and Washington Times. Among those taking seats will be staffers from the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, according to a campaign official.
 
Flying with the candidate is crucial because it expedites getting to campaign events, eliminating the hassles of commercial travel, as well as provides access to the candidate or other officials on the plane.
 
“Unfortunately, demand for seats on the plane during this final weekend has far exceeded supply, and because of logistical issues we made the decision not to add a second plane,” said Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki. 
 
“This means we’ve had to make hard and unpleasant for all concerned decisions about limiting some news organizations and in some cases not being in a position to offer space to news organizations altogether,” she said.
 
A campaign official said adding a second plane would have cut a city a day from the schedule and that also larger news outlets were facing new limits on the number of seats on the plane, such as for columnists and extra correspondents.
 
Conservative outlet DrudgeReport highlighted the fact that all three newspapers losing their spots on the plane endorsed Republican rival John McCain for president.

The Dallas Morning News said it had no evidence of a connection to its endorsement, blogging its explanation here. The New York Post wrote its response here, suggesting it was not in the news business to be “liked”. The Washington Times said it was unhappy with the decision which it noted came two days after it endorsed McCain. A campaign official said the Times was told before it made its endorsement. 
 
Psaki said the campaign would still help correspondents not on the plane with hotel reservations, space on the buses and ensuring they receive the information that is given to the reporters on the plane.

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage

- Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick

- Photo credit: Reuters/Jason Reed (luggage and equipment belonging to the press corps is laid out for a security sweep)