As President Obama's "fiscal responsibility summit" consumes much of Washington's oxygen today, a critical question is being largely ignored in the mainstream media: Will this administration dispense with the notion of an overall "entitlements" crisis and begin treating Social Security and Medicare like the separate issues they are?
The New York Timesraises the issue, in a back-handed fashion, by reporting that congressional Democrats are warning Obama against attempting to shore up Social Security's long-term fiscal health. Per the Times:
Those who oppose action said Mr. Obama must focus on his bigger priority -- health care legislation to expand access to insurance and reduce the costs of care. They argue that success there would help control the unsustainable growth of Medicare and Medicaid, the government's other major benefit programs, which together pose a far greater fiscal problem.
It's not clear which Capitol Hill Democrats helped quash the idea of announcing a "Social Security task force" during today's fiscal summit -- but Obama would be well-served to heed their advice.
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A new polling analysis from Gallup shows a very interesting piece of data within the slight decline of President Obama's approval rating, down from its 68% honeymoon rating when he took office, to 63% now. Not only is the dip fueled solely by a fall in Republican support -- in fact, his ratings have gone up slightly among everyone else.
Between the polling sample from January 21-25, compared to February 9-15, Obama's ratings went from 90% to 94% among self-identified liberal Democrats, from 87% to 88% among moderate Dems, from 80% to 84% with conservative Dems, and from 47% to 50% among independents. On the other hand, his approval fell from 53% to 47% moderate Republicans, with a plummet of 36% down to 22% with conservative Republicans.
Obama's ratings are still very strong, and it appears the dip in his ratings is coming from people who were unlikely to have approved of him in the first place, but for the honeymoon factor. Everyone else, on the other hand, is either staying the same or approving even more.
Obama To Pick Interior Dept. Inspector General To Oversee Stimulus
President Obama will reportedly appoint Earl Devaney, the Interior Department inspector general responsible for investigating the Abramoff scandal, to be the chairman of the new Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board, overseeing the economic stimulus program. Obama is expected to announce the pick today.
Obama And Biden Speaking to Governors, Addressing Fiscal Summit
President Obama and Vice President Biden are speaking at 10:15 a.m. ET to the National Governors Association, where they will discuss what governors can do to implement the economic stimulus program. At 1 p.m. ET they will be delivering opening remarks to the Fiscal Responsibility Summit, with closing remarks at 4 p.m. ET.
Biden Meeting With George Clooney To Discuss Darfur Conflict
Vice President Biden is holding a closed-door meeting tonight with George Clooney, to discuss the Darfur conflict and Clooney's recent travels there.
GOP Looks Back To Early 90's For Opposition And Comeback StrategiesThe Politicoreports that Republicans are quite consciously looking back to the strategies employed during the first two years of Bill Clinton's presidency, in their opposition to President Obama's policies now. Grover Norquist said there are two choices: "One is 1990, [President George H.W.] Bush gets together with the Democrats at Andrews Air Force Base, raises taxes and loses the next election. The other is 1993, Democrats have a series of proposals to spend and tax. Republicans vote no and regain the House and Senate."
Feingold And Dreier Pitch Special Senate Elections To Illinois
Russ Feingold and Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) have co-authored an op-ed piece for the Chicago Tribune, finding a likely positive audience in the push for a constitutional amendment to end gubernatorial appointments to Senate vacancies in the wake of the recent controversies. "In the age of the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle, the backroom dealing isn't staying in the backroom anymore," the two write.
Bunning Predicts Ginsburg's Death, Blasts GOP For Lack Of Support
In explaining his commitment to ensuring the appointments of conservative judges, Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) told a local Republican dinner on Saturday that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has nine months to live. "Bad cancer. The kind that you don't get better from," Bunning said. He also criticized his national party for not giving him sufficient financial support, also claiming a lack of support for conservatives Jim DeMint, Tom Coburn and...David Vitter.
George P. Bush Attacks Pro-Stimulus Republicans On Fiscal Responsibility
George P. Bush, the son of Jeb Bush, spoke to a national conference of Young Republicans over the weekend and criticized certain unnamed Republicans -- understood to be Florida Gov. Charlie Crist -- for supporting the stimulus package. "We as conservatives have to ultimately balance the federal government's checkbook," the younger Bush said -- possibly unaware of certain events over the last eight years.
Oh, brother. The conspiracy-mongering that Barack Obama is secretly a Kenyan citizen who has hidden his real birth certificate has now found its way into the utterances of a United States Senator: Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama.
"Well his father was Kenyan and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven't seen any birth certificate," Shelby said on Saturday, in response to a constituent's question at a public event. "You have to be born in America to be president."
Click here for FactCheck.org's debunking of this whole business.
Late Update: Shelby's spokesman has responded to the story, telling Ben Smith that it's a "distortion." The spokesman says Shelby mentioned the birth certificate as a "throwaway line" in explaining the qualifications for office, and that Shelby "doesn't have any doubt" of Obama's eligibility.
Obama Plans To Cut Deficit -- From Enormous Down To Huge
President Obama is reportedly planning a budget policy that would cut the deficit in half by cutting the budgets for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and by ending the Bush tax cuts for individuals making over $250,000. But here's some math to show just what a tough job he has ahead of him: The deficit would still be $533 billion by the end of his first term, down from the $1.3 trillion he inherited from George W. Bush.
Obama Hosting Governors At The White House Tonight
President Obama and the First Lady are hosting the National Governors Association for dinner at the White House tonight, with entertainment by Earth, Wind and Fire. Expect this to be a huge, momentous gathering -- and that's just Earth, Wind and Fire.
Sanford: Clyburn's Accusation About Stimulus Money "Is Absurd"
Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) fired back at House Majority whip James Clyburn (D-SC) for saying his potential refusal of stimulus money was a "slap in the face" to his African-American constituents. "I think that any of us as governors -- and we do have 50 different incubators of different ideas and trying to get it right within our respective states, trying to make the judgment as best they can," said Sanford. "But the idea that color would filter into that decision-making process is absurd."
Barbour Accuses Obama Of Waging Permanent Campaign
In an interview with CNN, Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS), a former RNC chairman, noted that President Obama has been promoting the stimulus plan in swing states like Colorado, Indiana and Florida. "He's going to those places for a reason," Barbour said, attributing this development to the campaign skills of David Axelrod. "And so this is what we've become accustomed to, the perpetual campaign."
Feds Question Burris About BlagoThe Chicago Sun-Timesreports that federal authorities questioned Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) at his lawyer's office on Saturday, regarding the Blagojevich case and the circumstances of his Senate appointment. He has not been accused of wrongdoing.
Franken Camp Files New Ballot List
The Franken campaign has filed an amended list of 1,585 rejected absentee ballots that they say should be reconsidered for counting. Quite interestingly, nearly half of them were already on Norm Coleman's list of 4,800 -- but the conventional wisdom has been that both sides pick ballots that they believe will skew towards themselves. Does the Franken campaign know something that Team Coleman doesn't?
Schwarzenegger: GOP Is Creating Insecurity, Should Work With Obama
Appearing on This Week, Arnold Schwarzenegger criticized the Republican Party in Washington for being overly ideological, and not working constructively with President Obama. "They should make an effort to work together and to find what is best for the people," said Arnold, "because by derailing everything, it's not going to help anybody, and it creates instability and insecurity."
Obama Focuses On Stimulus Tax Cuts In YouTube Address
In his latest YouTube address, President Obama seeks to focus the public's attention on the tax-cut portions of the stimulus bill. "Never before in our history has a tax cut taken effect faster or gone to so many hardworking Americans," he says:
But Obama also stresses work remains to be done on helping people pay their bills, unlocking the credit markets, solving the housing crisis, generating growth and restoring fiscal discipline -- and that these issues are all inter-connected: "In short, we cannot successfully address any of our problems without addressing them all."
GOP Keeps Up Debunked Math About Stimulus
In the new weekly Republican response to president Obama's YouTube, Congressman Dave Camp (R-MI) continues to push the GOP's line that their own plan would have created more jobs at half the cost:
As we've pointed out, this claim is based on some very questionable math -- it involves reversing prior calculations about what a tax increase would do, and declaring the mirror image to be true for a tax cut, and also ignores the fact that the current deflationary crisis involves different fundamental economic assumptions than usual.
Governors In Washington This Weekend
The National Governors Association is meeting in Washington this weekend, and are set to have dinner at the White House tomorrow with President Obama. CQpoints out that several of the Republican governors have also been seen as potential presidential candidates -- Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal and Charlie Crist, among others -- and could be testing any potential support while they're in Washington.
WaPo Profiles Jim Messina, Obama's 'Fixer'The Washington Posthas a new profile of President Obama's Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, dubbing him "the fixer" who deals with solving Obama's problems. "The exact nature of that task changes from day to day," the Post says -- ranging from smoothing over the confirmation of Tim Geithner, to finding new potential nominees for Health and Human Services, or devising a strategy to track stimulus spending.
National GOP Sending Big Bucks To Minnesota Senate FightThe Hill reports that the national Republican Party has invested heavily in the Minnesota election dispute, with the RNC sending $250,000 to the Minnesota GOP. John McCain has sent $142,000 to the state GOP, as well, and other national figures have also sent money. "The RNC made the Minnesota recount a priority because we think Sen. Coleman has a strong case and deserves to return to the Senate," RNC spokesman Alex Conant told The Hill.
Report: Burris Has No Plans To Quit -- For NowRoll Callreports that Roland Burris has no plans to resign -- at least not yet. "Resigning has not been an option discussed," a source told the paper. "Who knows what's going to happen over the weekend? Anything can change."
Hillary Asks China For Cooperation On Climate Change
While touring China, Hillary Clinton called upon the country to work with the United States to curb greenhouse gases, and to manage its economic growth in an environmentally sound way. "When we were industrializing and growing, we didn't know any better; neither did Europe," said Hillary. "Now we're smart enough to figure out how to have the right kind of growth."
Socks The Cat Dies
Socks, the cat formerly owned by the Clintons during their years in the White House, and then given to personal secretary Betty Currie, has died at age 19. "Socks brought much happiness to Chelsea and us over the years, and enjoyment to kids and cat lovers everywhere," the Clintons said in a statement.
The Minnesota election court just heard arguments on Norm Coleman's motion to declare illegal ballots that he had previously agreed were legal, and boy was it tense.
The Coleman camp sent up James Langdon, the member of the team who has best come across as sympathetic and sincere. "We understand that we stipulated, and we take that very seriously," Langdon said. "However, our research told us we could not stipulate to make something legal that was in fact illegal."
The claim here is that the court has ruled that only strict standards will be applied in letting in any new ballots. But some of those 933 previously-rejected ballots that were counted on January 3 wouldn't pass this test. Therefore, the Coleman camp says, these ballots must be culled, tying the ballot itself to the original envelope for potential un-counting.
Langdon went even further and said that the Coleman campaign has filed a motion to apply the court's standards to all absentee ballots that have already been counted -- that is, the absentees from Election Night.
This contains an obvious problem: All those previous absentees were de-coupled from their envelopes on Election Night.
So the Coleman camp is now attempting to create a legal trap for the court: Undo the February 13th ruling and let in all those votes we want, or we will insist that the result is illegal.
And really, even if those other voters are let in, the Coleman camp might turn around and still insist that the whole count is illegal.
The stock market's rocky ride today, stoked by senior Democratic senators appearing to foreshadow bank nationalization, prompted White House spokesman Robert Gibbs to re-assert the government's lack of interest in financial takeovers.
"This administration continues to strongly believe that a privately held banking system is the correct way to go," Gibbs told reporters today.
The market proceeded to rebound slightly before closing lower, with the Dow 100 points down. Was Wall Street indicating skepticism about Gibbs' intentions? Not to Scott Talbott, chief lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable, which represents the market's biggest players in Washington.
Talbott is strongly opposed to and unconcerned about nationalization -- but he pointed out that the term remains undefined in the public discourse. "There are two ways to do this," he told me.
We've now found a case of lead Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg actually being concerned about ballot fraud, and wanting to keep a vote out as a result -- so much so that he'll speculate about a Franken-voter being mentally disabled.
Really. No joke.
In court just now, lead Franken lawyer Marc Elias went over a rejected ballot envelope for which he said a power of attorney had been granted by a disabled voter, to allow a family member to fill it out. The issue was that the mark made to authorize the family member was not a signature or a conventional "X", but was instead an amorphous scribble. Elias and Goodhue County elections official Carolyn Holmsted spent some time hashing it out.
Then Friedberg took issue with this whole idea of the power of attorney to fill out a ballot, which is a specifically allowed clause in Minnesota law for disabled voters.
"And normally, people give powers of attorney because they're incompetent, mentally disabled," Friedberg began, before he was interrupted by a very loud objection from the Franken side.
"Your honor, this door was opened," Friedberg replied.