Monday, December 24, 2012

John Barrasso On Fiscal Cliff: Obama Wants To Go Over The Edge

A Republican lawmaker working on budgetary issues told "Fox News Sunday" that he believes President Barack Obama wants to go over the so-called fiscal cliff at the end of the year, and may not be negotiating in good faith.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the chairman of the Republican policy committee, told Fox's Chris Wallace that he expects the U.S. will go over the cliff.

"I believe the president is eager to go over the cliff for political purposes," Barrasso said. "I think he sees a political victory at the bottom of the cliff: He gets all this additional tax revenue for new programs, he gets to cut the military, which Democrats have been calling for for years, and he gets to blame Republicans for it."
For the past week, Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner worked to pass what he called Plan B, a tax deal that had no chance of receiving presidential approval, in an attempt to twist Obama's arm ahead of the end of the year, when the Bush tax cuts expire.

That plan failed when Boehner could not wrangle enough votes from the more conservative elements of his caucus, leaving Obama to plead with House Republicans late on Friday to sign off on at least a limited package of tax cuts for the middle class, before everyone sees their taxes rise.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and who appeared on the show as the Democratic counterpoint, responded that responsibility for making a deal lies with more than just the president, and that Congress needs to show more willingness to meet Obama halfway.

"We only have nine days left here," Conrad said. "When are we going to get serious about actual solutions?"

Despite the amplified rhetoric about a fiscal "cliff" that could possibly doom the American economy, few in Washington seem to be treating the imminent tax hikes as a true doomsday. Many politicians are on holiday this weekend, and the Sunday shows -- normally a major battleground for political disputes of this sort -- were populated largely with bit players in the debate.

And as The Huffington Post's Ryan Grim reported Saturday, there are no signs that federal agencies are preparing any major changes ahead of the deadline, suggesting they do not anticipate any direct fallout from the sequestration that goes into effect at the end of the year.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Fiscal Cliff: Obama Declines Boehner's Proposal of Raising Rate for Earners Making $1M

Signaling new movement in "fiscal cliff" talks, House Speaker John Boehner has proposed raising the top rate for earners making more than $1 million, a person familiar with the negotiations said. President Barack Obama, who wants higher top rates for households earning more than $250,000, has not accepted the offer, this person said.

The proposal, however, indicated progress in talks that had appeared stalled. The person would only discuss the plan on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.

As part of a broader budget deal, Boehner is still seeking more spending cuts than Obama has proposed, particularly in mandatory health care spending. Boehner has asked for a long-term increase in eligibility age for Medicare and for lower costs-of-living adjustments for Social Security.

Boehner's tax proposal was first reported by Politico.

A Boehner aide would not comment on the report.

At issue are expiring tax rates that would automatically increase on Jan. 1 for virtually every income tax payer if Congress and the president don't act. Steep budget cuts are also scheduled to kick in, unless Congress and Obama agree to forestall them with other deficit reduction measures.

Obama has insisted on extending current rates for the 98 percent of taxpayers in household that earn less than $250,000. He would let the top two marginal rates increase from 33 percent to 35 percent and from 36 percent to 39.6 percent for those taxpayers making over that threshold.

Until now, Boehner had maintained his opposition to raising any rates. Instead, he had proposed to raise up to $800 billion in tax revenue over 10 years by limiting tax loopholes and deductions as part of a broad tax overhaul.

But the speaker and House Republicans have come under increasing pressure form a number of Senate Republicans who say they should yield to Obama's demand on tax rates and then press him for additional cuts early next year in exchange for an increase in the nation's borrowing limit.

Obama has proposed about $600 billion in spending reductions over 10 years, including about $350 billion in Medicare and other health care savings. But he has also proposed about $200 billion in additional spending, including aid to the unemployed and to struggling homeowners and for public works projects.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cliff jumping with Obama

Why are Republicans playing the Democrats' game that the "fiscal cliff" is all about taxation?

House Speaker John Boehner already made the preemptive concession of agreeing to raise revenues. But the insistence on doing so by eliminating deductions without raising marginal rates is now the subject of fierce Republican infighting.

Where is the other part of President Barack Obama's vaunted "balanced approach"? Where are the spending cuts, both discretionary and entitlement: Medicare, Medicaid and now Obamacare (the health care trio) and Social Security?

Social Security is the easiest to solve. So you get a sense of the Democrats' inclination to reform entitlements when Dick Durbin, the Senate Democrats' No. 2, says Social Security is off the table because it "does not add a penny to our deficit."

This is absurd. In 2012, Social Security adds $165 billion to the deficit. Democrats pretend that Social Security is covered through 2033 by its trust fund. Except that the trust fund is a fiction, a mere "bookkeeping" device, as the Office of Management and Budget itself has written. The trust fund's IOUs "do not consist of real economic assets that can be drawn down in the future to fund benefits." Future benefits "will have to be financed by raising taxes, borrowing from the public, or reducing benefits or other expenditures."

And draining the Treasury, as 10,000 baby boomers retire every day. Yet that's off the table. And on Wednesday, the president threw down the gauntlet by demanding tax hikes now — with spending cuts to come next year. Meaning, until after Republicans have fallen on their swords, given up the tax issue and forfeited their political leverage.

Ronald Reagan once fell for a "tax now, cut later" deal that he later deeply regretted. Dems got the tax; he never got the cuts. Obama's audacious new gambit is not a serious proposal to solve our fiscal problems. It's a raw partisan maneuver meant to neuter the Republicans by getting them to cave on their signature issue as the hold-the-line party on taxes.

The objective is to ignite exactly the kind of internecine warfare on taxes now going on among Republicans. And to bury Grover Norquist.

I am not now, nor have ever been, a Norquistian. I don't believe the current level of taxation is divinely ordained. Nor do I believe in pledges of any kind. But Norquist is the only guy in town to consistently resist the tax-and-spend Democrats' stampede for ever higher taxes to fund ever more reckless spending.
The hunt for Norquist's scalp is a key part of the larger partisan project to make the Republicans do a George H.W. Bush and renege on their heretofore firm stand on taxes. Bush never recovered.

Why are the Republicans playing along? Because it is assumed that Obama has the upper hand. Unless Republicans acquiesce and get the best deal they can right now, tax rates will rise across the board on Jan. 1, and the GOP will be left without any bargaining chips.

But what about Obama? If we all cliff dive, he gets to preside over yet another recession. It will wreck his second term. Sure Republicans will get blamed. But Obama is never running again. He cares about his legacy. You think he wants a second term with a double-dip recession, 9 percent unemployment and a totally gridlocked Congress? Republicans have to stop playing as if they have no cards.

Obama is claiming an electoral mandate to raise taxes on the top 2 percent. Perhaps, but remember those incessant campaign ads promising a return to the economic nirvana of the Clinton years? Well, George W. Bush cut rates across the board, not just for the top 2 percent. Going back to the Clinton rates means middle-class tax hikes that yield four times the revenue that you get from just the rich.

So give Obama the full Clinton. Let him live with that. And with what also lies on the other side of the cliff: 28 million Americans newly subject to the ruinous alternative minimum tax.

Republicans must stop acting like supplicants. If Obama so loves those Clinton rates, Republicans should say: Then go over the cliff and have them all.

And add: But if you want a Grand Bargain, then deal. If we give way on taxes, we want, in return, serious discretionary cuts, clearly spelled-out entitlement cuts and real tax reform.

Otherwise, strap on your parachute, Mr. President. We'll ride down together.

Monday, November 19, 2012

President Obama arrives in Bangkok

President Barack Obama on Sunday launched a three-day tour through Southeast Asia in Bangkok, where his motorcade departed the airport and made the trek along wide open highways into the center of the city, then past the Government House which was decked out in bunting and a large sign reading “Welcome to the Honorable Barack Obama.”

We arrived outside the Wat Pho Royal Monastery, a colorful and ornate Buddhist temple in the Phra Nakhon district.

Reporters were led to the open archway of a room with a golden Buddha and dark marble floors. This was the Eastern Viharn Phra. A faux tree towered behind the statue and the ceiling was painted red with gold medallions.

A few minutes later head monk Chaokun Suthee Thammanuwat, wearing a bright orange robe over one shoulder, led Obama, dressed in dark gray suit, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a royal blue pantsuit and gold necklace, into the room.

Reporters couldn’t hear what they were saying as they circled the Buddha; the monk appeared to be explaining things for a few minutes before they left.

We were then taken to another large hallway dominated by a huge reclining gold Buddha, which stretched the length of the building.This was the Viharn of the Reclining Buddha, and we were instructed to remove our shoes before entering. Again the monk led Obama and Clinton for a stroll past the giant figure, which dwarfed them all.

Our third stop was in the courtyard where the trio strolled past a number of colorful spire-like columns. This was the Phra Maha Chedi Group. The place was empty of tourists for the president’s private tour.

This reporter overheard Clinton say: “What a peaceful place,” and Obama responded: “If you have 80,000 people here it’s not so peaceful. This is kind of a treat.” Obama was  making a joke about the budget, saying to the monk, “Yes we’re working on this budget, we’re going to need a lot of prayer for that.” And they laughed.

The motorcade left about 10 minutes later, headed for the hospital to visit the king.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Obama turns to Reddit for last-minute votes

With just a few hours left in the election, President Obama turned back to Reddit in a last-minute plea for votes.

Obama made headlines in August when he used Reddit, an up-and-coming social news site, to interact with young, tech savvy voters in a question-and-answer session. On Tuesday, he went back to Reddit to remind readers to vote.

"I'm checking in because polls will start closing in this election in just a few hours, and I need you to vote," Obama said on Reddit, the self-proclaimed "front page of the Internet."

"If you’ve voted already, don't stop there -- spread the word to your friends, roommates and neighbors. Think of it as upvoting," Obama said, referencing Reddit's "upvote" feature that lets users vote on what they consider the most important news.

Last time Obama used Reddit, more than 200,000 users checked in on the webpage for the question-and-answer session at the same time -- blowing past Reddit's previous record.

The thread created today by Obama received nearly 400 comments in less than 25 minutes. Many users commented with support while a few vouched for Obama's opponent, Mitt Romney.

Meanwhile in other parts of the Web, Romney used Twitter to keep directing voters to a page on his campaign site with information on the election and where to vote.

"With your help, we will turn our country around and get America back on the path to prosperity," Romney tweeted around 3 p.m. "Please vote today."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Obama’s foreign donors

In September, the Obama campaign got 1.8 million donations from small contributors who did not break the $200 threshold requiring that their information be reported to the Federal Election Commission. They gave the campaign 98 percent of the $181 million it raised that month, a figure vastly higher than its take in any previous month.

Is the Obama campaign financing itself through foreign money funneled in through a website owned by a private businessman, living in China, that uses the name

In 1997, we learned — too late — that the Clinton campaign had relied heavily on thinly disguised Chinese government money for much of its early blitz of issue ads in the 1996 election. The early intimations of funding fraud in the campaign (Al Gore’s exploits with the Buddhist monks) shaved off half of Clinton’s margin, cutting his lead from 14 to 7 points in the weeks before the election. But the full dimensions of the scandal were not apparent until then-Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) held hearings the following year revealing the depth of the campaign’s reliance on foreign money.

Now, in the last month of the 2012 race, Newsweek magazine has raised serious questions about Obama’s fundraising and its possible reliance on foreign donors and outright fraud to generate its funding. 

Newsweek raises questions, in particular, about Robert W. Roche, the co-founder and chairman of the board of Acorn International Inc., a media and branding direct-sales company based in Shanghai. He also owns the website, which appears on the Internet throughout the world. Roche’s site links to, the official campaign site, where it invites people to donate to the campaign. gets 2,000 visits a day, two-thirds of which are from foreigners. Is it a giant money-laundering operation to feed foreign money into the Obama campaign?

Despite the disclaimer on the campaign site stating that foreign nationals cannot donate to Obama, the suspicion remains that Roche’s vigilance in assuring that is on the Internet throughout the world has led to a significant influx of foreign cash into the coffers of the president’s reelection effort.

It will be too late to wait until 2013 to find out. The House Oversight Committee should immediately investigate, using its subpoena power, to see if there is, indeed, a flow of foreign money, via, into the president’s campaign.

Roche, by the way, has visited the White House 11 times during Obama’s tenure, according to the visitor log.
These questions arise because the Obama campaign, unlike Romney’s or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton’s in 2008, refuses to ask donors for their CVV number (the number on your credit card that one is often asked for after giving one’s name and expiration date). The CVV is designed to assure that the donor is actually physically holding the card.

The Obama campaign is no stranger to fraudulent donations funneled in through phony names. In 2008, The Washington Post reported that Mary Biskup was reported to have donated more than $170,000 to the Obama campaign in small donations. But Biskup says she never gave any money to the campaign. Some other donor must have given the money in her name.

Given these past problems and the Obama campaign’s sudden influx of small donors, Newsweek wonders why the campaign does not require CVV numbers to minimize the chances of fraud. 

The magazine noted that the campaign’s past scandals “make it all the more surprising that the Obama campaign does not use … the card verification value [system].” The magazine added that “the Romney campaign, by contrast, does use the CVV — as has almost every other candidate who has run for president in recent years.”

Let’s find out the facts before the election. If a president who promised ethical transparency is using small donations — too small to trigger the federal reporting requirement — to funnel in foreign donations, we need to know. Before Election Day.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Presidential campaign is nice, and then again not

In a split-screen race for the presidency, Republican Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama were on their best campaign behavior in public Tuesday, all the while slashing away at each other in paid television ads.
In separate appearances in New York, they swapped criticism on foreign policy. But they did it politely, without mentioning each other by name. 

Romney found fault with Obama's approach to education, but did so after paying a public compliment to Arne Duncan, who has the administration's Cabinet portfolio for the subject. 

There was an outbreak of self-deprecating humor from Romney, as well, as he received a glowing introduction from former President Bill Clinton before speaking to the annual Clinton Global Initiative.
"If there's one thing we've learned this election season, it's that a few words from Bill Clinton can do any man a lot of good," joked the Republican candidate for the White House, referring to the former' president's strong speech on Obama's behalf at the Democratic National Convention earlier this month.
"All I got to do now is wait a few days for that bounce to happen," Romney quipped. 

Joking or not, it was as close as the Republican challenger has come to publicly acknowledging recent polls showing Obama moving ahead in several battleground states and gaining ground in national surveys.
Cut to the television ads, and the political reality both campaigns are trying to create for voters 
in battleground states. 

Of the five commercials the Obama campaign says it is airing most frequently, one accuses Romney and running mate Paul Ryan of backing a plan for Medicare that would raise out-of-pocket costs for seniors. Another says the Republican challenger favors tax cuts for millionaires that could be paid for by reducing existing tax breaks for education expenses.

A third says Obama, not Romney, has pushed back against China's unfair trade policies. A fourth asserts that part of Romney's personal fortune is invested in China and says he's never stood up to the country. "All he's done is send them our jobs," it says. 

The Romney campaign listed six ads currently airing, four of which criticize Obama. 

"Dear Daughter. Welcome to America," says the announcer in a commercial that shows a young baby. "Your share of Obama's debt is over $50,000." 

Two spots feature coal miners accusing the administration of pursuing policies that go after their industry. "Obama said he was going to bankrupt any new power plants that opened up ... He's keeping his promise," says a miner shown in one. "I've got two young grandsons. I'm scared for their futures, let alone mine."
A fourth accuses Obama of failing to "stand up to China" and asserts, "His policies cost us 2 million jobs."
In the world not made up of television commercials, one report released during the day showed consumer confidence climbing to the highest level since February. A second report said home prices increased in July as sales rose and foreclosures fell. 

Taken together, that amounted to encouraging news for the president, given that the slow-growing economy and 8.1 percent national unemployment are the public's top issues in the race for the White House.
Whatever the economic news itself, voters increasingly say the country is heading in the right direction. In an Associated Press-GfK poll taken at mid-month, 48 percent of registered voters said they expect the economy to improve in the next 12 months, compared to only 41 percent who said so in a survey in August.
Additionally, 41 percent of registered voters said in this month's poll that the nation is heading in the right direction, up from 34 percent saying the same in August. 

Obama's handling of the economy, still tepid, is better than it has been. The latest AP-GfK poll finds 48 percent of registered voters approve of the president's handling of the economy, while 49 percent disapprove. In June, 56 percent disapproved and 43 percent approved. 

Romney spoke first during the day, speaking to Clinton's organization. 

He said the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya two weeks ago was caused by a terrorist attack, something Obama has refrained from saying. 

"Many Americans are troubled by the developments in the Middle East," Romney said. "Syria has witnessed the killings of tens of thousands of people. The president of Egypt is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. ... And Iran is moving toward nuclear weapons capability. 

"We feel that we are at the mercy of events, rather than shaping events," he added. 

Although Romney did not overtly criticize Obama's foreign policy in the speech, as he had on Monday, his words took on a sharper edge when he suggested to CNN during an interview that the White House had misled the American people by not characterizing the violence in Libya as a terrorist attack. 

"The White House's failure to acknowledge that the assassination of our ambassador was a terrorist attack, a terrorist event, suggests that they are trying to paper over the seriousness of what's happening in the Middle East," Romney said. 

In his New York speech, Romney said that if he is elected, he will create "prosperity pacts" in the Middle East, private-public partnerships designed to remove barriers to free markets around the region. He said developing countries would receive U.S. assistance "focused on developing the institutions of liberty, the rule of law and property rights." 

Obama, in a speech later in the morning to the U.N. General Assembly, said the recent assaults on U.S. citizens in Libya "were attacks on America" and called on world leaders to join in confronting the root causes of the rage across the Muslim world. 

But in a slap at Romney, Obama said "let us remember that this is a season of progress" in the Arab World, where autocratic leaders have been deposed in several countries. 

In another jab, he said, "Among Israelis and Palestinians, the future must not belong to those who turn their backs on peace." 

Obama didn't mention it, but Romney says on a videotape that recently came to light that "the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace. The pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish."  

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Clinton delivers for Obama – and himself

There’s nothing like an almost-depression to put the sins of philandering Bill Clinton in perspective. Your choice: an Oval Office sexcapade vs. full employment, a house that’s not underwater and some hope of retiring by 75.

Clearly, America’s chosen. Most of us have forgiven the seducer-in-chief, whose favorability ratings — along with Hillary’s — reached 66 percent in July. That compares to 41 percent for the struggling president whom Clinton called “cool on the outside” last night.

But there was nothing cool and calm last night about Bill Clinton, basking before the swooning faithful. He remained the powerful, passionate, coy, charming, talk-a-dog-off-a-meat-wagon Southern boy who used to jog to McDonald’s and lick secret sauce from pudgy fingers, all the cameras tolling. And last night he showed he still can convince us he feels our pain — and knows how to ease it.

“Are we better off then when he took office?” he asked, stealing the line used over and over at last week’s GOP convention. Yes, he answered himself. Then he went right down the list: jobs added since Obama saved the economy from a free fall into depression. A saved auto industry that Romney wanted to go bankrupt. He praised the cost savings from so-called Obamacare — something I’ve never heard from Obama himself. Clinton praised Obama’s willingness to compromise and reach across the aisle.
“Heck, he even appointed Hillary.”

Like Obama, Clinton said, “I have never learned to hate (Republicans) the way the far right who controls their party seems to hate our president.”

And then he answered the other question hanging over Obama’s re-election. He said the economy Obama inherited was in such drastic shape that “no one” could have fixed all the damage done in just four years. Said Clinton, “I believe it with all my heart.”

Speculation’s been rampant this week about what was in it for Clinton to show up last night. It looked to me like he enjoyed himself immensely during his biggest, best, latest moment in the sun. The New York Times [NYT] reported yesterday that Clinton talks frequently about living on borrowed time. At 66, he’s outlived most men in his family. Of his foundation, he said, “We trying to build it to make sure it’ll still run if I drop dead tomorrow.”

It does occur to you, watching him: He’s not so robust anymore: But it occurs to you, too, how often we’re blind to a politician’s enormous talent until years after he exits the stage. Bill Clinton wowed ’em in Charlotte last night. He wowed anybody watching. And if Barack Obama pulls off a second term, Bill Clinton can expect — and will get — lots of credit.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Obama pledges to work with Congress on violence

In one of his most expansive responses yet to gun crime, President Barack Obama on Wednesday embraced some degree of control on the sale of weapons but said he would also seek a national consensus on combating violence. He said responsibility for curtailing bloodshed also rests with parents, neighbors and teachers to ensure that young people "do not have that void inside them."

Speaking just six days after the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., that left 12 dead, Obama pledged to work with lawmakers of both parties to stop violence, not only the sudden massacres that have bedeviled the nation, but the steady drip of urban crime that has cost many young lives.

"We should leave no stone unturned and recognize that we have no greater mission that keeping our young people safe," Obama said in a speech to the National Urban League.

Obama called for stepped-up background checks for people who want to purchase guns and restrictions to keep mentally unbalanced individuals from buying weapons. He says those steps "shouldn't be controversial, they should be common sense."

But he also added: "We must also understand that when a child opens fire on other children, there's a hole in his heart that no government can fill."

Obama's speech represented a bookend to a four-day trip that began in Colorado on Sunday when he visited with survivors of the theater massacre.

For Obama, the address to the National Urban League was a necessary overture to a voting bloc that overwhelmingly backs him but that has sustained much of the brunt of the economic downturn.

In his speech Obama promoted his economic and health care policies, tailoring what has become a standard campaign speech to his African-American audience. He drew attention to initiatives that have helped Americans in general, and African-Americans in particular.

But, as he did during his 2008 campaign, he also pressed personal responsibility.

He said young Americans are competing against kids in Beijing and Bangalore. "You know, they're not hanging out ... they're not playing video games, they're not watching 'Real Housewives,'" he said. "I'm just saying. It's a two-way street. You've got to earn success."

Ahead of Obama's remarks, the Urban League played a video showing photos of famous African-Americans that culminated with images of the president and his family the night of the 2008 election. The crowd of several thousand responded with thunderous applause that was sustained as Obama walked on stage and peppered with chants of "four more years."

Obama spoke on the same day that the Senate gave him a political victory by passing an extension of Bush-era tax cuts for households with less than $250,000 in earnings. The president has made retaining current tax rates for middle-class taxpayers a central piece of his economic policy while rejecting Republican efforts to extend the current tax rates for all. Under Obama's plan, taxes for wealthier Americans would rise. 

The Senate measure, however, was expected to go no further because of the Republican-dominated House.
While enthusiasm among some Obama supporters has faded since 2008, support for America's first black president remains high among African-Americans. In a recent Associated Press-GfK poll, 82 percent of black adults said they would vote for Obama. His approval rating among blacks was 87 percent.

Obama skipped an appearance at the NAACP earlier this month, raising questions about whether his campaign was taking black voters for granted. The White House blamed a scheduling conflict and sent Vice President Joe Biden to address the nation's oldest civil rights organization.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney also addressed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, raising eyebrows when he told the crowd: "If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him."

Obama announced that he would sign an executive order on Thursday that creates a new office to bolster the education of African-American students. The White House says the office will coordinate the work of communities and federal agencies to ensure that these youngsters are better prepared for high school, college and career.

Obama also was raised campaign money at two separate stops in New Orleans: an intimate 20-person event at the cost of $25,000 per person, and a larger event at the House of Blues for 400 people, with tickets starting at $250.

Obama raised at least $6 million at events this week in California, Oregon and Washington. The president started the trip Sunday with a stop in Colorado to meet with survivors and families of the victims of last week's movie theater massacre.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

First lady in Chicago for fundraisers, military families

First lady Michelle Obama returned to Chicago on Tuesday for a pair of campaign fundraisers, squeezing in an appearance with Gov. Pat Quinn as he signed a measure that will make it easier for military spouses to get professional licenses when they move to Illinois.

The new law will allow regulators to issue temporary licenses for military family members who are licensed in another state to practice everything from nursing to plumbing. By doing so, they are able to search for jobs and start working without delay as the state checks out their credentials — a process that can take months.
The measure is aimed at making the transition from state to state smoother for military families, an issue Michelle Obama has made a priority in her effort to support military families and highlight the role they play as their loved ones serve the country.

"They're folks who are giving their heart and soul to this country every single day. Every time our country asks them to pick up their families and move across the country at a moment's notice, they do it and they do it with pride," she said during her remarks at the Illinois National Guard Armory in the South Loop. "So we owe it to these individuals to get this licensing issue right."

Earlier in the day, the first lady spoke at a "Women for Obama" fundraiser at the Standard Club, where she was introduced by "Glee" actress Jane Lynch, who's from Dolton. About 500 people attended, with tickets starting at $250, according to a campaign official.

The first lady pointed to friends in the crowd, telling audience members to sit down when they rose to their feet.

"Don't act like you don't know me," she said. "It's wonderful to be home with so many familiar faces."

The first lady offered a sales pitch on behalf of President Barack Obama, who is being challenged by Republican Mitt Romney on Nov. 6. "Will we allow everything we've fought for… to just slip away? Is that what we're going to do?" she asked.

Donors shouted "no" in response.

The second fundraiser skewed toward a younger crowd, with tickets starting at $44 and reaching $2,500 for a group photo opportunity. About 375 people packed into a hip meeting space on the city's Near West Side, where Michelle Obama spoke about the need for Congress to move quickly to keep interest rates on student loans from rising, saying the president "knows what it's like to be drowning in student debt."

Acknowledging that the next few months will be hard-fought, she encouraged attendees in the president's hometown to "pack a bag and spend some time in a battleground state."

"There's only 130-something days left, but it is going to be long," she said. "And it is going to be hard."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Romney revives attacks on Obama’s health-care plan

Mitt Romney pledged to replace the U.S. health-care overhaul with a plan relying on private markets to provide “access to good health care” for every American, as he revived attacks on President Barack Obama’s signature achievement that the U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to rule on.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee told small- business owners in Orlando, Florida, that he would implement policies, including tax breaks, aimed at helping the private market care for the uninsured and those with preexisting medical conditions.

“Free enterprise is the way America works,” Romney told the group gathered in the warehouse of Con Air Industries, which makes air filters. “We need to apply that to health care.”

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision on the Affordable Care Act by the end of the month, ruling on a law that would expand insurance to at least 30 million people and transform an industry that accounts for 18 percent of the U.S. economy.

Romney, 65, said if the justices fail to overturn the law completely, he would repeal the remaining pieces on his first day as president by granting waivers for every state to opt out of the restrictions.

“Regardless of what they do, it’s going to be after the next president to either repeal and replace or replace Obamacare,” Romney said. “And I intend to do both.”

Reducing Benefits
Democrats charged Romney with trying to roll back the benefits of the law for young people, women, and the uninsured.

“For too long, American families have faced a choice between going bankrupt to afford the care they need or going without that care at all, and Mitt Romney wants to take us back to that time,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement.

As Democrats attack Romney’s health-care policies, Obama said his opponent is promoting economic plans focused on cutting funding for national priorities in education, transportation and research.

“You’ll never see a sharper contrast between the two parties in the vision that they have for where this country needs to go,” Obama told a crowd of Democrats at a private home in Owings Mills, Maryland.
Obama was raising more than $3 million yesterday in Maryland and the battleground state of Pennsylvania, seeking to maintain a cash advantage over Romney. He’s holding six fundraisers, three in each state, bringing to 160 the number of events to solicit cash for his campaign since he declared his candidacy for re-election on April 4, 2011.

Republican Rhetoric
He dismissed Republican rhetoric on the economy by saying it could be boiled down to fewer than the 140 characters allowed in a post on Twitter.

“You can pretty much put their campaign on a tweet and have characters to spare,” he said.

Standing in front of a banner reading “Repeal & Replace Obamacare,” Romney said caring for the uninsured is his top priority. He would put that responsibility on the states and not require people to obtain insurance or face financial penalties, as the federal law does. To provide the care, Romney would divert money from Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor, and other funding to local governments.

He also vowed to maintain coverage for people with preexisting conditions, though only those who risk losing their benefits when they change jobs or get laid off.

Romney’s proposal is a more limited version of a provision included in Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which requires insurance companies to cover all people with preexisting conditions -- even first-time buyers.
Between 36 million and 122 million adults, or from 20 percent to 66 percent of the U.S. adult population, reported having medical conditions that could result in health insurance coverage restrictions, according to a March 27 report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s auditing arm.

It’s unclear how insurance companies could cover those with preexisting conditions without the individual mandate for everyone to buy insurance -- part of the law Romney has said he would repeal if it isn’t struck down by the Supreme Court.

Romney also didn’t mention the provision in the current law, which Obama signed in March 2010, that lets children stay on their parents’ plan until the age of 26.

Health Insurance
UnitedHealth Group Inc., Aetna Inc. and Humana Inc. said this week they would save some of the law’s provisions, including letting young adults stay on parents’ plans, regardless of how the court rules.
Without the law, parents would have to pay for their child’s coverage with after-tax dollars, resulting in a higher tax bill.

Though Romney first laid out his health-care plans in a May 2011 speech in Michigan, he largely avoided the issue in the Republican primaries while his rivals sought to use it against him.

During his 2003-2007 term as governor of Massachusetts, Romney helped craft health-care legislation that included the insurance mandate for all state residents. Aspects of the federal law are similar to the Massachusetts measure, including the provision that adults must buy insurance or face a financial penalty.

Santorum Criticism
Romney, while not retreating from his support of the Massachusetts law, has said he doesn’t back imposing its provisions nationwide. His chief rival in the Republican race, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, argued Romney’s record meant he couldn’t provide an effective contrast to Obama on the health-care issue.
Having locked down his party’s nomination, Romney is seeking to depict the Affordable Care Act as another example of how Obama is out of touch with the economic anxieties of many Americans.

Romney seized on a statement the president made about the law in an interview yesterday. When a television reporter in Iowa asked Obama about a small business that blamed its closing on the health-care law, Obama replied, “That’s going to be hard to explain.”

Obama continued: “The only folks that have been impacted in terms of the health-care bill are insurance companies who are required to make sure that they’re providing preventive care, or they’re not dropping your coverage when you get sick. So this particular company probably wouldn’t have been impacted by that.”

Romney yesterday called the response “something else that shows just how out of touch” Obama is.
“It was like: really? Have you not been out talking to small businesses and hearing what they have to say,” he told Florida donors gathered for a fundraiser this afternoon at the Isleworth country club, a gated community that is home to many professional golfers.


Friday, April 27, 2012

Obama Administration’s Prebuttal on Its Record With China

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s speech Thursday in San Francisco is designed to be a preview of key concerns he’ll address next week in Beijing during the fourth round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the three-year-old forum for the two countries to discuss economic and security issues.
It could also be read as a preview of the Obama administration’s defense against criticism (regarding its engagement with China) during the presidential race over the next six months.

Ahead of the diplomatic gathering, Geithner hit all the usual notes: The world’s two largest economies share “complementary” economic strengths. China faces a “very complicated set of challenges” as it opens up. What the U.S. wants from China (on the exchange rate and intellectual property) is “fundamentally in China’s interest.” And, to keep the focus on what the U.S. can do, Geithner says the strength of the U.S. will not depend on China’s decisions “but on the choices we make here at home.”

Then he runs through no fewer than 11 points highlighting what the U.S. has accomplished in pressing China over the past three years. The list appears to touch on just about every complaint from U.S. businesses, lawmakers and the GOP’s presumptive nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, about whether the U.S. has pushed China hard enough.

Among the “significant progress” Geithner cites:

–U.S. exports of goods to China have almost doubled since early 2009, twice as fast as exports to other countries.
–China’s exchange rate has appreciated about 13% against the U.S. dollar after inflation since June 2010. Its trade surplus fell to less than 3% of China’s GDP last year vs. 8% in 2008. –China has committed to protecting U.S. intellectual property rights, by ensuring that government agencies use legitimate software and agreeing that technology transfer will not be a precondition for accessing China’s market.
–China agreed to unwind an indigenous innovation policy that limited government purchases to Chinese domestic products, locking out U.S. companies.
–China opened up new sectors, such as auto insurance and bond underwriting, to foreign firms.
–China cut some tariffs and taxes on services, and “appears to be prepared to negotiate” new rules for government-backed financing of exports. (China routinely undercuts other countries.)

He also cites the administration’s legal cases against China, including 36 antidumping and countervailing duty orders on imports from China, a trade case to protect U.S. tire-industry jobs and challenges at the World Trade Organization.

Geithner says the U.S. will keep pushing China on just about all of those points, along with pressing the country to open up its financial system (now dominated by state-owned firms) and to end preferences for state-owned businesses.

Romney, during his primary campaign, pledged he would take on China even more forcefully from his first day in office. For fall debate prep, Romney now has President Barack Obama’s arguments neatly compiled in one place.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Obama seeks halt to tax subsidies for oil industry

President Barack Obama is calling anew on Congress to end tax subsidies for the oil and gas industry, saying the nation needs to develop alternative sources of energy in the face of rising gasoline prices.

Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address that he expected Congress to consider in the next few weeks halting $4 billion in tax subsidies, something he hasn't been able to get through Congress throughout his presidency. He said the vote would put lawmakers on record on whether they "stand up for oil companies" or "stand up for the American people."

"They can either place their bets on a fossil fuel from the last century or they can place their bets on America's future," Obama said.

Industry officials and many Republicans in Congress have argued that cutting the tax breaks would lead to higher fuel prices, raising costs on oil companies and affecting their investments in exploration and production. The measure is considered a long shot in Congress, given that Obama couldn't end the subsidies when Democrats controlled Congress earlier in his term.

Republican presidential candidates have accused Obama of delaying drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico and in a national wildlife refuge in Alaska and faulted him for not advancing the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas Gulf Coast refineries. They have also criticized policies pursued by the Environmental Protection Agency as inhibiting energy development.

Obama said there is no quick fix to high gas prices, which climbed to $3.83 on Friday according to AAA, but he pushed back against critics who say he is opposed to more drilling. He said the U.S. is producing more oil than at any time in the past eight years and has quadrupled the number of operating oil rigs.

"If we're truly going to make sure we're not at the mercy of spikes in gas prices every year, the answer isn't just to drill more -- because we're already drilling more," Obama said. He said his administration was trying to develop wind and solar power, biofuels and usher in more fuel-efficient vehicles to make the nation less dependent on oil.

In the weekly Republican address, Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said his constituents have been hard hit by an increase in gasoline prices and were "fed up with the way the president is handling this issue, and rightfully so. The most forceful thing the president has done about high gas prices is try to explain that he's against them."

Gardner said the $800 billion stimulus spending sought by Obama promoted energy companies that went bankrupt, wasting taxpayer money.

"After spending money we don't have on what won't work -- and overregulating what would -- is it any wonder gas prices have more than doubled on the president's watch? Make no mistake, high gas prices are a symptom of his failed `stimulus' policies," Gardner said.

Obama is expected to keep up a drumbeat on energy this week, traveling to four states over two days to push his administration's "all of the above" energy strategy. The trip includes stops in Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Ohio.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

In Colorado, 'anybody but Obama' may not be good enough

As the rancorous contest for the Republican presidential nomination spreads across the nation's heartland, the leading candidates have begun to turn off swing voters, a setback in the party's quest to unseat President Obama.

Independents, the dominant political force in Colorado and other swing states, have been warming to Obama in recent weeks while souring on the Republican Party's top potential challengers, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, polls show.

Here in Broomfield, a bellwether Denver suburb, conversations with independents last week laid bare a shift in campaign dynamics that does not bode well for the Republicans vying to unseat the Democratic president. Though disappointment in Obama was widespread, so were negative opinions of Romney and Gingrich as their nasty scuffle drew more attention in advance of Tuesday's caucuses.

"He seems kind of weaselly," Renee Combs, 29, said of Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.

Combs, an independent who sells beverages wholesale to restaurants in Broomfield's flagship mall, Flatiron Crossing, was unsure whether she would vote for Obama again. But she described Romney as "one of those people who puts on a big front," echoing an argument of his GOP rivals.

Mike Butler, 52, a Broomfield independent who dislikes Obama, ruled out Gingrich as an alternative last month when the former House speaker proposed colonizing the moon. "We need that like a hole in the head," said Butler, a machinery salesman on disability.

Obama still faces a difficult path to a second term, particularly if the nation fails to sustain its modest job gains since unemployment peaked at 10% in 2009.

But as the Republican contest has unfolded in recent months, Obama's popularity has been climbing from the low point of his presidency. Polls show voters almost evenly split now between those who approve of Obama's job performance and those who disapprove. Obama also holds a narrow edge over Romney in head-to-head matchups and a wider lead over Gingrich.

Much can change in the nine months left before the election, but the trend for the Republican candidates has been especially troubling among independents expected to dictate the outcome in key states. A late January poll by NBC and the Wall Street Journal found that 42% of independents had negative feelings toward Romney, up from 22% in November.

"There's no doubt that independent voters have been somewhat scared away from the Republican field, given the tone of the campaign and just how negative it has become," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College poll in New York.

By dint of the Republican contest calendar, independents in some general election swing states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida and Nevada — have been exposed to a blast of TV ads casting aspersions on the GOP candidates' character and integrity.

In New Hampshire, where Romney won the Jan. 10 primary, a University of New Hampshire poll released Friday found Obama holding a clear lead over Romney in that state for the first time.

Voters in other swing states, such as Colorado, have been spared the brunt of the TV ads. But nationally televised debates and news coverage have nonetheless stoked bad impressions of the party's candidates.

"I can't say I'm enamored with any of them," said Edward Messier, 39, a Republican who stopped by Flatiron Crossing on his lunch hour. Messier, wearing a fleece jacket and white-rimmed sunglasses, said he voted for John McCain in 2008 but might switch to Obama this year because "things may be finally starting to turn around."

Messier mistrusts Gingrich because of his ethics transgressions as House speaker, an issue raised by Romney. Messier is also skeptical of Romney. "I don't know that he's been forthcoming with his finances," he said, voicing a concern raised by Gingrich.

Like Colorado as a whole, Broomfield swings back and forth between Democrats and Republicans in statewide elections. In 2004, President George W. Bush carried the state and county. In 2008, Obama won them both.

A suburb of about 56,000 people, Broomfield is easy to miss on the highway between Denver and Boulder. Scattered across foothills on the Rockies' front range, its generic middle-class houses and national retail chain stores make it indistinguishable from hundreds of similar communities, apart from its stunning vistas of snowcapped mountains.

"Broomfield is like everywhere but no place in particular," said Andy McPherson, who runs the Swift Originals imported goods store at Flatirons Crossing.

But Broomfield, like older suburbs in nearby Jefferson and Arapahoe counties, will play an outsized role in determining the fate of Obama and his Republican challenger, thanks to its status as a swing area of a swing state.

Dick Wadhams, a former state Republican chairman, said independents on the outskirts of Denver were disenchanted with Obama "and want to vote for a Republican, but they've got to like the one we nominate."

"It's not automatic," he said. "It's not 'anybody but Obama.' "

A cautionary tale for Republicans in Colorado is the 2010 defeat of the party's Senate candidate, Ken Buck. In a Republican year, Buck was roundly rejected by independents, a key factor in his loss. For the Republican presidential nominee, strictly conservative approaches on immigration, healthcare, abortion and other issues — already emphasized by the candidates — pose similar risks this year.

Given the disaffection of many of Obama's 2008 supporters — at a Broomfield thrift shop, independent John Lowe of Westminster said he was "disgusted" by Obama's record on Iraq and Afghanistan — the president is unlikely to duplicate the immense grass-roots operation of his last campaign in Colorado.

Another vulnerability is Obama's weak ties to the established political networks of Colorado's Democratic officeholders and party leaders. In 2008, his campaign team largely bypassed them. This time, however, those are "precisely the people they need to cultivate" for the reelection race, but until recently Obama's political team made little effort to do so, said Alan Salazar, chief strategy officer for Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, a Democrat.

"My sense is that having won the state four years ago, the administration didn't put down roots here," he said. "I do think there was a missed opportunity."

Pam Alden, 52, an independent who manages the bakery at Safeway in Broomfield, is one of the swing voters Obama is unlikely to win over. "I think he's just a little too much talk," she said.

A more promising prospect is Karen Cernazanu, a 60-year-old esthetician. An independent, she voted for Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama, but she has not decided whether to back the president for reelection. Her business is down; skin care is a luxury in a slow economy. And her husband, a computer project manager, has been out of work twice in the last four years.

But Cernazanu likes Obama's proposal to raise taxes on the rich. "It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever" for billionaire Warren Buffet's secretary to pay a higher tax rate than her boss, she said. And she doesn't blame the poor economy on Obama.

"He was handed a big basket of garbage when he came into office," she said. "I can't fault the man."