The struggle between fighting and getting things done… Fact-checking Boehner on the Bush tax cuts (per the exits, a majority didn't want to extend those for the wealthy)… Still, Boehner and McConnell hold the cards in the tax fight… GOP secretaries of state call for new START’s passage… Gates and Mullen testify on Capitol Hill on DADT… Rangel censure motion expected this afternoon… Obama meets with the governors and governors-elect… Is the staff limbo at the White House good for morale?... And is Ensign going to pull a Vitter?
*** Fighting vs. getting things done: It has become another winter of liberal discontent. MoveOn has cut a 60-second TV ad urging President Obama not to compromise with Republicans on the Bush tax cuts. The progressive blogosphere is up in arms over the president’s deficit-reduction commission, arguing especially against its recommendations to change Social Security. And labor isn't happy with Obama’s pay freeze for federal workers. Despite this discontent from the left, here’s a reality check on the lame duck Congress: Things are getting done, or at least on track to get done. Even though their backs are against the wall after last month’s elections, it’s possible -- though won’t be easy -- that Democrats could get START through the Senate, repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and extend jobless benefits, too. This is the classic struggle between fighting (which the left wants Obama to do) and getting things done (which has always been the president’s first inclination). Campaigning vs. governing, and the December after an election is usually reserved for governing. As for the deficit commission, isn’t it better that Obama owns this issue and not the Republicans? This is going to happen at some point; does the left want the process controlled by the GOP or by the president?
*** Fact-checking Boehner: Still, House Democrats want to fight -- for now at least -- and have scheduled a vote today on extending the Bush tax cuts for only those making less than $250,000 per year. Yesterday, Speaker-in-waiting Boehner said this about the Democratic move, per NBC’s Shawna Thomas: "I don't know what my colleagues across the aisle didn't hear during the election. The American people spoke pretty loudly. They said, 'Stop all the looming tax hikes and to cut spending.'” Actually, here’s what the public said about the Bush tax cuts, according to the exit polls last month: 40% said to continue ALL of the cuts, 36% said to continue them for families who earn less than $250,000 a year, and an additional 15% said to expire them for all. So a majority (51%) backed either the Democratic position or wants all the cuts to expire.
*** But Boehner and McConnell still hold the cards: So liberals might ask: If a majority is opposed to extending the Bush tax cuts for all income levels, then why is the White House planning to (pick your word) cave/punt/acquiesce? The New York Times’ Leonhardt provided this answer yesterday: because Republicans hold the cards, since they will control the key tax-writing committee next month. “If [Democrats] cannot come up with a plan that can win 60 votes in the Senate, which means at least two Republican votes, Republicans can filibuster any bill. All of the tax cuts would then expire on Dec. 31. When the new Republican House majority arrives in January, it will be able to make its first order of business a retroactive tax cut — forcing President Obama and Senate Democrats to choose between a purely Republican plan and an across-the-board tax increase.” But how many Democrats wish they could go back in time to, say, May when they probably could have gotten the following deal: permanent extension of the middle-class tax rates and a one- or two-year extension of the wealthy tax rates (i.e. decoupling the tax cuts)? Remember, quite a few folks were advising the White House and the congressional Dem leadership to do just that six months ago.
*** START spreading the news: In the campaign to pass new START, five GOP former secretaries of state -- Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger, and Colin L. Powell -- have penned a Washington Post op-ed urging the Senate to ratify the treaty. “It is a modest and appropriate continuation of the START I treaty that expired almost a year ago,” they write. “It reduces the number of nuclear weapons that each side deploys while enabling the United States to maintain a strong nuclear deterrent and preserving the flexibility to deploy those forces as we see fit.” But they include this caveat: “We do not make a recommendation about the exact timing of a Senate ratification vote. That is a matter for the administration and Senate leaders.” Meanwhile, Republicans Ed Meese and Richard Perle have a Wall Street Journal op-ed arguing that Ronald Reagan wouldn’t have supported new START. (Schultz/Baker/Powell vs. Perle?) Bottom line: It’s quite possible that the tax-cut deal can be reached by the weekend, which would give the Senate two weeks to wrap up START.
*** Condi’s absence: The only living former GOP Sec/State not signing on to the Powell/Baker/Schultz op-ed: Condi Rice. She met privately with Obama in November. No doubt the subject came up, since Rice's academic expertise is Soviet/Russian foreign policy. Rice has been silent on it. Is this a case where silence equals tacit support, but she doesn't want to upset some Bush 43-conservatives?
*** Can I get a witness? In the campaign to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Defense Secretary Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen, Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson, and Gen. Carter Ham all testify today on the Pentagon’s study. On Friday, the same committee will hear from the heads of the different military branches. Per MSNBC.com’s Carrie Dann, of the 27 members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, several are facing challenging re-election bids in 2012. On the Democratic side, Sens. Claire McCaskill (MO), Bill Nelson (FL), Ben Nelson (NE), Jim Webb (VA) and Joe Manchin (WV) are up in ‘12. On the Republican side, Sen. Scott Brown (MA) -- who won his seat in a special election to the generally Democratic state -- must run again in 2012 for a full term. Also, another Republican on the panel, Sen. John Thune (SD), is a potential ‘12 presidential contender.
*** Censuring Rangel: There’s one other big piece of business on Capitol Hill today. Per NBC’s Luke Russert, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said yesterday that Charlie Rangel’s censure motion will come before the House this afternoon.
*** Obama’s day: The governors are in town, in advance of the upcoming National Governors Association meeting. President Obama meets with the newly elected governors at 1:00 pm ET (he also meets with outgoing Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland before that at 10:15 am). At 3:00 pm, Obama and Vice President Biden meet with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who is involved in the discussion over the Bush tax cuts. And at 6:35 pm, the president hosts a Hanukkah reception.
*** White House limbo: Just askin, but is the White House staff limbo -- waiting on David Axelrod to leave, waiting for Plouffe to arrive, waiting on Robert Gibbs to possibly change jobs -- good for morale? There are plenty of folks working at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. who don’t know who their next bosses will be. Isn’t it better for the White House to bite the bullet and make its changes … now?
*** Pulling off a Vitter: Is it possible that Nevada Sen. John Ensign (R) can pull off a David Vitter and win re-election in 2012, despite having an affair (and allegedly using his influence to get the cuckold husband a lobbying gig)? Well, Ensign has now cleared one important hurdle. The Las Vegas Review-Journal: “Nevada's Republican Sen. John Ensign said he no longer is the target of an investigation by the Department of Justice related to an alleged coverup of an affair with the wife of a former top aide.” You think Mark Souder (R) wishes he hadn’t resigned from Congress after his own affair? And consider this: By 2013, Nevada’s two senators could still be Harry Reid and John Ensign, a scenario few would have believed a year ago.