Political Highlights December 20, 2010: Lame Duck Congress Passes Bipartisan Tax Cuts Package & Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, President Obama Updates Afghanistan Progress — Christmas at the White House

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor / Features Editor at HNN, and Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 111TH & 112TH CONGRESS:

The President records the Weekly Address

STATS & POLLS

  • White House Holidays: Simple Gifts
  • Fox News Poll: Majority Approves Tax Cut Agreement: A majority of American voters approve of the proposed deal to preserve Bush-era tax cuts agreed on between President Obama and Republican leaders in Congress, and voters are more likely to think the compromises made by both sides represent how things “should” work in Washington.
    A Fox News poll released Thursday found that by 68 to 26 percent, most voters approve of the compromise deal.
    Moreover, approval is across the board: 69 percent of Republicans, 68 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of independents endorsed the deal.
    When asked what they would do if forced to choose between either continuing the tax cuts for all Americans or letting taxes increase for all Americans, 73 percent of voters said they would continue the tax cuts for all. That includes 83 percent of Republicans, 73 percent independents and 64 percent of Democrats…. – Fox News, 12-16-10
  • Gallup Poll: Obama loses the backing of some liberals: President Obama’s support among liberals falls to 79% in a Gallup tracking poll.
    Liberals, part of President Obama’s core backers, continue to be unhappy with the president, according to the Gallup tracking poll released Thursday.
    The poll shows that support among liberals has dipped to 79%, the first time it has fallen below 80%, according to Gallup. A week before the midterm elections, Obama stood at 88% with those who called themselves liberals…. – LAT, 12-16-10
  • Congress gets 83% disapproval rating in Gallup Poll, worst in over 30 years: People who identified themselves as Democrats registered the biggest decline in approval, from 38% to 16%. But the institution should bounce back in approval ratings in the next few months, if a pattern of past changes in partisan power hold true, Gallup noted.
    Just 13% of Americans say they approve of the way Congress is doing its job while 83% disapprove, the worst disapproval rating for lawmakers in more than 30 years, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday.
    The previous record low approval rating was 14% in July 2008, a time of high prices for gasoline and a poor economy. For the year, Congress averaged about a 19% approval rating, tied with the averages in 2008 and 1979, another tough year for the economy.
    Politically, independents and Republicans were down slightly in their view of Congress, while those saying they were Democrats had the biggest drop. From October to December, Democratic support fell from 38% to 16%. Republicans fell from 9% to 7% and independents from 16% to 13% during the same period…. – LAT, 12-15-10
  • Post-ABC poll: public not yet sold on GOP: Republicans made major gains in the November elections but they have yet to win the hearts and minds of the American people, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. The midterm elections – where Republicans gained 63 seats to take control of the House of Representatives and added six seats to their Senate minority – were widely seen as a rebuke to President Obama. Still, the public now trusts Obama marginally more than congressional Republicans to deal with the country’s main problems in the coming years, 43 to 38 percent. And when it comes to who has taken the stronger leadership role in Washington, it’s an even divide: 43 percent say Obama, 42 percent the GOP.
  • Facebook’s Zuckerberg is Time’s Person of the Year: The social networking magnate beats out WikiLeaks’ Assange and the Tea Party
    The man behind the world’s largest social network has been named Time’s Person of the Year. Time magazine announced today that its editors picked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for the annual honor, beating out runners-up Julian Assange, the man behind the internationally controversial WikiLeaks, and the Tea Party.
    Time credited Zuckerberg with connecting more than half a billion people with through Facebook and mapping the social relations among them. And because Facebook’s 26-year-old CEO also is credited with creating a new system of exchanging information that is changing how people live their lives, he was named Person of the Year.
    “The way we connect with one another and with the institutions in our lives is evolving,” wrote Time managing editor Richard Stengel in an essay posted online today. “Our sense of identity is more variable, while our sense of privacy is expanding. What was once considered intimate is now shared among millions with a keystroke.” Zuckerberg, according to Stengel, is at the epicenter of these cultural and social changes.
    “The social-networking platform he invented is closing in on 600 million users,” he added. “In a single day, about a billion new pieces of content are posted on Facebook. It is the connective tissue for nearly a tenth of the planet. Facebook is now the third-largest country on Earth and surely has more information about its citizens than any government does. Zuckerberg, a Harvard dropout, is its T-shirt-wearing head of state.”
    Hadley Reynolds, an analyst with IDC, noted that 2010 was the year when the media hype about Zuckerberg went through the roof.
    “Hopefully, Time is giving him the recognition because he is the youngest tech baron to pledge to give away billions — in his case, before they’ve even been monetized. Bill Gates had practically retire before he got the Time kudo in 2005. More likely, they know Zuckerberg’s face will sell magazines, and they can only dream of being in touch with an audience like the one Facebook touches every minute.”…. – Computerworld, 12-15-10
  • The Man Who Took On Obama Health Care — and Won One Round: Virginia’s attorney general, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a Republican who filed the Richmond lawsuit against the U.S. government, challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care act.Jay Paul for The New York Times Virginia’s attorney general, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a Republican who filed the Richmond lawsuit against the U.S. government, challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care act.
    Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Virginia’s attorney general, is quick to cite the legal basis for challenging President Obama’s signature legislative achievement: Congress has no power to punish people who choose not to buy private health insurance, he says.
    A federal judge on Monday agreed with him, ruling that parts of the health care reforms Mr. Obama championed violate the Constitution. Mr. Cuccinelli sued the federal government on behalf of Virginia.
    “On the issues the Tea Party cares about, I land right in their bulls eye.” — Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia attorney general
    “I wouldn’t have brought a case like this if it didn’t have legal merit,” he said in an interview with The Caucus. He added that he had turned away plenty of activists urging him to sue the federal government in other areas. “My answer is usually, ‘no.’ I don’t get to sue just because I don’t like something.”
    But it doesn’t take long for Mr. Cuccinelli to acknowledge that his motivations are not purely legal. The onetime state senator is a conservative Republican who has long sought to shrink government, limit federal powers and trumpet state rights…. – 12-14-10

THE HEADLINES….

President Barack Obama makes Congressional calls on the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010

President Barack Obama makes Congressional calls from the Oval Office before Senate’s final vote on the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010. December 18, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

  • Biden defends White House compromise on tax cuts: Vice President Joe Biden defended the Obama administration for its willingness to extend tax cuts for top earners, despite earlier promises that he and the president would fight against the Bush-era policy.
    “We got to the end, we couldn’t get it done, and we had to make a decision,” Biden said about President Barack Obama’s compromise with Republicans to allow tax cuts across the income scale to continue. The vice president told NBC’s “Meet The Press” in an interview broadcast Sunday that he and Obama still believe tax cuts for the wealthiest are “morally troubling” and that they would fight to avoid renewing the cuts when they expire in 2012.
    “The one target for us in two years is no longer extending the upper income tax credit for millionaires and billionaires,” Biden said…. – AP, 12-19-10
  • Republicans fail in second bid to amend START: A second Republican bid to amend President Barack Obama’s strategic nuclear arms treaty with Russia failed during debate in Senate on Sunday and top Democrats expressed confidence they would have the votes to approve the accord. Republican Senators concerned about the large disparity in tactical, short-range nuclear weapons between Russia and the United States rallied behind a treaty-killing amendment that would have inserted a reference to the issue in the preamble of the accord. The amendment was defeated 60-32. Democratic Senator Bob Casey said members of both parties were concerned about Russian tactical nuclear weapons but there was a simple reason the New START nuclear treaty did not address them — because it is an agreement dealing with strategic, or long-range, atomic arms…. – Reuters, 12-19-10
  • Senate Rejects Republican Effort to Amend Treaty: The Senate rejected another Republican attempt to rewrite the new arms control treaty with Russia on Sunday as the signature foreign policy agreement of President Obama’s tenure moved closer to a decisive vote expected later this week. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he would vote against the arms control treaty with Russia. Senators voted 60 to 32 to defeat an amendment proposed by Senator Jim Risch, Republican of Idaho, to add language to the treaty preamble recognizing the importance of tactical nuclear weapons. The treaty, known as New Start, focuses only on reducing strategic nuclear weapons, meaning those that can be delivered at great distances. The vote on the amendment came after three prominent Republican senators announced they would vote against the treaty. Senators Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Jon Kyl of Arizona, the top two Republican leaders, said on Sunday talk shows that they would oppose it because of concerns about its possible impact on missile defense and other issues…. – NYT, 12-19-10
  • Backers of 9/11 health bill optimistic: Backers of a bill in Congress to help people who became sick after working in the World Trade Center dust created by the Sept. 11 attacks said Sunday they’re optimistic the Senate will approve the measure before the lame-duck session ends.
    “We are on the verge of a Christmas miracle,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. Gillibrand and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., are offering a less-costly alternative to the original bill to aid 9/11 responders and survivors, saying that they believe it will gain needed support from the GOP. They said the Senate was expected to consider the new bill once they finish dealing with the U.S.-Russia treaty on nuclear weapons. “Barring a setback, we believe we are on the path to victory by the end of the week,” Schumer said.
    Supporters were three votes short of the 60 votes they needed for the original bill on a recent Senate test vote. The House has passed the original bill but would have to consider any new version as the final days of the lame-duck session wear down. New York lawmakers are pressing House Democratic leaders to stay in session long enough to vote after the Senate acts on the new bill…. – AP, 12-19-10
  • In historic vote, Senate moves to end ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’: Eight Republicans joined Democrats to vote for an end to the 1993 ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law banning gay troops from serving openly. Proponents compare it to ending racial segregation in the military.
    The Senate Saturday voted to end a longstanding ban on gay troops serving openly in the US armed services – a move Democrats compare to President Truman’s ending the ban on racial segregation in the military in 1948.
    “It is time to close this chapter in our history,” said President Obama in a statement. “It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed. It is time to allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly.” Six Republicans – Sens. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and George Voinovich of Ohio – broke with their party to give Democrats the votes needed to break a GOP filibuster. The measure subsequently passed, 65 to 31. Sens. John Ensign (R) of Nevada and Richard Burr (R) of North Carolina also joined Democrats on the final vote.
    The House passed an identical repeal on Wednesday, 250-175, sending the bill to the White House. At least 60 days before the law takes effect, both the President and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have to certify that ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy won’t adversely affect military readiness or morale.
    That issue was a major theme in today’s Senate debate. The Senate Armed Services Committee held two days of hearings on the final report of a Pentagon working group that reviewed the issue. Its conclusion was that a repeal of the ban “would present a low risk to the military’s effectiveness even during a time of war,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan, who chairs the panel. “Seventy percent of the surveyed members believe that the impact on their units would be positive, mixed or of no consequence,” he added, during Saturday’s floor debate. “While combat units expressed more concerns about the consequences of repeal, those concerns disappeared for troops who have worked with a gay or lesbian coworker.”… – CS Monitor, 12-18-10
  • John McCain’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Last Stand: In the end, eight Republican senators cast their votes to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces, repealing the 17-year-old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.\ But Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) did not join them and used his time on the Senate floor Saturday to stand athwart history yelling stop.
    “Today is a very sad day,” McCain announced, detailing his continuing opposition to allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to be open about their sexuality. “There will be high-fives over all the liberal bastions of America,” he predicted, from “the elite schools that bar military recruiters from campus” to “the salons of Georgetown” and the “talk shows” where people — “most of whom have never have served in the military” — will crow over the law’s repeal.
    Allowing gays to serve openly in the Marines would prove a potentially deadly distraction McCain said, quoting from a Marine Corps Commandant warning, “and I don’t want to permit that opportunity to happen.”…. – The Atlantic, 12-18-10
  • White House unveils science integrity policy: The White House released a long-awaited federal scientific integrity policy on Friday, which says, “political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings.” President Barack Obama talks with Erika DeBenedictis, 18, a student at Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico, during an unscheduled tour of auxiliary exhibits in the East Garden Room of the White House following the White House Science Fair, Oct. 18, 2010. DeBenedictis won the top award in the Intel Science Talent Search for developing a software navigation system to improve spacecraft travel through the solar system.
    Released by Office of Science and Technology Policy chief John Holdren, the four-page guidance to federal agencies and departments gives them 120 days to report on their implementation of policies. President Obama called for the science integrity rules in March of 2009, following years of disputes over political interference with scientists at NASA, FDA, the Fish and Wildlife Service and elsewhere in the executive branch during the Bush Administration.
    “The new memorandum describes the minimum standards expected as departments and agencies craft scientific integrity rules appropriate for their particular missions and cultures, including a clear prohibition on political interference in scientific processes and expanded assurances of transparency,” Holdren writes on a White House blog. The guidance lists principles for scientific integrity standards, public communication, federal advisory committee membership, scholarly development and implementation of the guidance. “Scientific progress depends upon honest investigation, open discussion, refined understanding, and a firm commitment to evidence,” Holdren says…. – USA Today, 12-18-10
  • Senate Blocks Bill for Young Illegal Immigrants: The Senate on Saturday blocked a bill that would have created a path to citizenship for certain young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children, completed two years of college or military service and met other requirements, including passing a criminal background check. The vote by 55-41 in favor of the bill, which is known as the Dream Act, effectively kills it for this year, and its fate is uncertain. The measure needed the support of 60 senators to cut off a filibuster and bring it to the floor. Supporters said they were heartened that the measure won the backing of a majority of the Senate. They said they would continue to press for it, either on its own or as part of a wide immigration overhaul that some Democrats hope to undertake next year and believe could be an area of cooperation with Republicans, who will control a majority in the House…. – NYT, 12-18-10
  • Republicans Prepare for Looming Budget Battle: The collapse of a government-wide spending package in the final days of this Congressional session sets up a politically charged fiscal showdown early next year, testing the determination of Republicans about to take over the House with promises to slash an array of domestic programs. Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio vowed Friday that Republicans would continue to focus on cutting spending. President Obama signing the $858 billion tax and unemployment insurance bill into law. As Congress struggled to assemble a stopgap measure to finance the government at least into the first months of 2011, House and Senate Republicans on Friday hailed their ability to derail a $1.2 trillion spending measure put forward by Senate Democrats, and promised to use their new Congressional muscle to respond to public demands to shrink government.
    “Beginning in January, the House is going to become the outpost in Washington for the American people and their desire for a smaller, less costly and more accountable government,” said Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the incoming House speaker. “I will tell you,” he added, “we are going to cut spending.” With the lame-duck session entering its final days, there was an air of partisan chaos on Capitol Hill as both parties scored important legislative victories and events changed on an almost hour-to-hour basis as the end of Democratic control of the House approached….. – NYT, 12-18-10
  • Napolitano confirms gang killed border agent in battle: An elite Border Patrol squad was pursuing a gang that preyed on drug smugglers when agent Brian Terry was shot and killed Tuesday night, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Friday. “They were seeking to apprehend what’s called a ‘rip crew,’ which is a name given to a crew that it is organized to seek to rip off people who are drug mules or traversing the border illegally,” she said during a meeting with The Arizona Republic’s editorial board. “That’s why they were in that area.” Her comments were the first official confirmation that Terry and other members of the Border Patrol’s specially trained tactical unit known as BORTAC were pursuing bandits the night the 40-year-old agent was killed in a gunbattle, which occurred in a remote canyon near Rio Rico…. – USA Today, 12-18-10
  • Could Lame Duck Be a Big Win for Obama Agenda?: Is President Obama on the verge of one of his most productive months in office? Far from being the legislative wasteland that some had predicted, this year’s Congressional lame-duck session has developed into an intense, make-or-break series of cliffhanger events for the president and his soon-to-expire Democratic majority in the House. “There’s a clean slate coming starting Jan. 1, when Republicans are back in control. They are going to start judging then.” — Kevin Madden, Republican strategist
    Mr. Obama is now on the knife’s edge; the hours and days ahead could go either way for him. But the president is concluding 2010 by directly confronting issues that have come to define the sweep of his presidency – the economy, foreign engagement and questions of social justice.
    In the early hours of Friday morning, the president won passage of the $858 billion tax deal he reached with Republicans and he appeared close to achieving approval of the landmark nuclear treaty he negotiated with the Russians. Both political parties have grudgingly agreed to do whatever is necessary to keep the federal government operating by approving an extension of the current budget authority into early next year.
    And in something of a surprise, it appears there may be enough Republican support to provide Mr. Obama with a victory on a major promise: to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that bars gay people from serving openly in the armed forces.
    “This might turn out to be a very good month for the president,” said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for Human Rights Campaign, which backs repeal. “Getting rid of D.A.D.T. is important not just to the gay community but to progressives as a whole. If he’s able to get this done, I think it will send an important message that he’s still got his progressive creds.’”…. – NYT, 12-17-10
  • Obama signs tax-cut legislation: ‘This is real money that is going to make a real difference in peoples’ lives,’ Obama says as he signs the measure, which extends the Bush-era tax cuts.
    President Obama on Friday signed the bill that extends the George W. Bush-era tax cuts, while Congress moved to wind up its lame-duck deliberations in a session marked by the changing nature of politics and power.
    Speaking at the signing ceremony, Obama again defended his compromise, worked out with Republicans. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was prominent at the ceremony, as was Vice President Joe Biden, who bargained with the Republican leader
    “This is real money that is going to make a real difference in peoples’ lives,” Obama said. Without the bill, the tax cuts would have expired at the end of the year.
    The measure won final approval in the House late Thursday night. In addition to extending the tax cuts for two years, the bill adds 13 months of jobless benefits and cuts the payroll tax by 2 percentage points for a year….. – LAT, 12-17-10
  • Obama Signs Tax Deal, Hails Bipartisan Effort to Grow Jobs President: ‘It’s A Good Deal for the American People’: President Obama today signed into law an agreement to extend Bush-era tax cuts into 2011, ending with the stroke of his pen a bitter schism in his own party and heading off what could have been a major standoff with Republicans. The president hailed the bipartisan effort, acknowledging that both parties compromised on the deal by extending both tax cuts for the wealthy and benefits for the unemployed.
    “It’s a good deal for the American people. This is progress and that’s what they sent us here to achieve,” Obama said before an assembled group of lawmakers from both parties. The bill, he said, “would protect our middle class, grow our economy and create jobs.” Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle “did what was right for the country,” despite what he called “occasional political discomfort” from partisans who thought the deal made too many concessions to one party or the other….
    “By a wide bipartisan margin, both houses of Congress have now passed a package of tax relief that will protect the middle class, that will grow our economy, and will create jobs for the American people,” the president said…. – ABC News, 12-16-10
  • When out walking Bo, Obama says he scoops the poop: He may be leader of the free world, but when he takes his dog for a walk, President Obama says he bends down to do the nasty work of cleaning up like anyone else. Answering questions Friday from youngsters at an elementary school, Obama described going for nighttime walks with first dog Bo on the White House South Lawn. He says that’s fun. But, Obama says, “Sometimes I have to scoop up his poop, because I don’t want to just leave it in the lawn!”
    The response from the kids: “Eeew!” Obama admonished them: “If you guys have a dog, you’ve got to walk your dog, too — and clean up after him.”…. -
  • House puts Obama tax deal on ice — for now: The bill to temporarily extend tax cuts and jobless benefits is on ice — for now — in the House. House Democratic leaders have pulled the rules for debate, which first have to get approved before lawmakers can take up the tax legislation. A party caucus meeting is set for this afternoon. Many liberals in the Democratic caucus are upset at the bill’s provision on estate taxes and want to amend the measure and send it back to the Senate. The problem is that Democrats would have to vote on the Senate-passed bill if they want to change the estate tax provision. The deal worked out by President Obama and congressional Republicans would extend for two years tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 for all income levels. Liberals such as Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., are upset that the extension includes families earing more than $250,000…. – USA Today, 12-16-10
  • What the Tax Deal Means to Your Wallet: The pressure is off — at least for now. With the Bush-era tax cuts extended for all Americans for at least the next two years under the law signed today by President Obama, government leaders have managed to postpone some tough decisions to be made surrounding the U.S. tax code until 2012.
    The law has been labeled “compromise” legislation, and for good reason. In exchange for the tax-cuts extension, Republicans agreed to extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. They also agreed to give a one-year tax break to workers, giving those who make approximately $40,000 annually an additional $800 in their pockets throughout the course of 2011.
    So what can the average taxpayer expect in the year to come? According to experts, more of the same. Here are some of the key things you should know regarding the new law, and what it means for your tax preparation in the year ahead and beyond…
    The law affects more than just 2011….
    The most immediate benefit will be a 2% payroll tax cut…. Payroll taxes will drop, and it is on your employer to act ASAP….
    Tax preparation sites are up to speed….
    Wealth transfer provisions are on target….. – Fox Business, 12-17-10
  • House urges Obama to block unilateral Palestinian statehood: The U.S. House of Representatives called on President Obama to veto any United Nations Security Council resolution recognizing a Palestinian state.
    The non-binding resolution passed unanimously Wednesday evening calls on the Obama administration to “affirm that the United States would deny recognition to any unilaterally declared Palestinian state and veto any resolution by the United Nations Security Council to establish or recognize a Palestinian state outside of an agreement negotiated by the two parties.” The resolution also affirms “strong support for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resulting in two states, a democratic, Jewish state of Israel and a viable, democratic Palestinian state, living side-by- side in peace, security, and mutual recognition.”
    White House officials have said that they are working to push back a Palestinian Authority effort to garner international recognition of statehood, but have stopped short of pledging to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution…. – JTA, 12-16-10
  • Obama: US will back UN on rights of native peoples: President Barack Obama said Thursday that the United States will reverse course and support a United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous people.
    Obama told Native American leaders that the declaration affirms the importance and rich cultures of Native peoples throughout the world. The U.S. voted against the declaration when the General Assembly adopted it in 2007, arguing that it was incompatible with existing laws. Three other countries, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, also opposed the declaration, but have since announced their support.
    The declaration protects the rights of more than 370 million native peoples worldwide, affirming their equality and ability to maintain their own institutions, cultures and spiritual traditions. It also establishes standards to combat discrimination and marginalization and eliminate human rights violations against them.
    “We’re making progress. We’re moving forward. And what I hope is that we are seeing a turning point in the relationship between our nations,” Obama told a conference of tribal nations attended by more than 500 people representing more than 320 tribes…. – AP, 12-16-10
  • Senate Passes Compromise Tax Plan by Wide Margin: The Senate on Wednesday approved the $858 billion tax plan negotiated by the White House and Republican leaders — the first concrete product of a new era of divided government and acid compromise. The vote was 81 to 19, as Democrats yielded in their long push to end the Bush-era lowered tax rates for high-income taxpayers, and Republicans agreed to back a huge economic stimulus package, including an extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed and a one-year payroll-tax cut for most workers, with the entire cost added to the federal deficit.
    The bill goes next to the House, where Democratic leaders said they expected to bring the bill to the floor on Thursday. They predicted that it would be approved this week, despite lingering opposition among rank-and-file Democrats who are still intent on making changes to a provision that grants a generous tax exemption to wealthy estates. Republicans have said they will not accept any change.
    “A tremendous accomplishment,” the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, declared shortly before the vote on Wednesday. “Whether you agree with all the contents of the bill or not, everyone should understand this is one of the major accomplishments of any Congress where two parties, ideologically divided, have agreed on a major issue for the American people.”
    The two-year tax measure will touch virtually every American — poor and rich, old and young, married or single, with children or living alone, and even those who die. And, with a reprise of this year’s contentious debate now slated for the height of the 2012 presidential campaign, the bill is likely to be a precursor to a broader effort by President Obama to overhaul the nation’s labyrinthine tax code and begin tackling the long-term deficit…. – NYT, 12-15-10
  • Dems fight over 3 percent of the tax deal: Congressional Democrats are making noise over the estate tax cuts, though they’re only 3 percent of the total cuts. These cuts are deep and deficit-funded, but so is the rest of the agreement. The Senate is about to pass the full tax cut “compromise,” but House Democrats are trying to hold out for a more fiscally responsible option. The strong Senate vote also appeared to have weakened resolve among House Democrats to block the measure when it comes to the floor this week. After meeting for two hours with rank-and-file lawmakers late Tuesday, senior Democrats said the House is likely to stage votes to change the terms of a revived estate tax that many Democrats view as overly generous to the wealthy. Outraged by the agreement to exempt individual estates worth as much as $5 million from taxation, senior Democrats said they would press to lower the threshold to $3.5 million. They also want to impose a stiffer tax on larger estates, by setting the rate at 45 percent rather than the 35 percent demanded by Republicans and agreed to by Obama….. – CS Monitor, 12-15-10
  • Executives Look for Place on the Obama Team: Terry McGraw, the chairman and chief executive officer of the McGraw-Hill Companies, said he had been “very pleasantly surprised” by President Obama’s recent efforts to promote the interests of American business. But Mr. Obama could do better, he added, if he had a high-powered adviser with more of a business bent in the White House.
    “You’ve got to strengthen the team,” Mr. McGraw said in an interview on Tuesday. “You’ve got to get some gravitas.” Nearly halfway through Mr. Obama’s term, the dearth of business and Wall Street types in his administration rankles many executives, if only as a proxy for their unhappiness with his policies and occasional antibusiness political speech. And the White House has struggled to find such a person to fill the one spot about to open in Mr. Obama’s inner circle, the director of the National Economic Council, the job being vacated this month by Lawrence H. Summers.
    The president’s uneasy and somewhat distant relationship with the worlds of business and finance will hang over his meeting on Wednesday with the chiefs of about 20 corporations, among them Google, American Express, UPS and Intel. While Mr. Obama has held such roundtables in the past, this one is part of a new effort by the administration to build closer ties over the next two years, officials say. Relations have improved since the big Republican gains in the midterm elections: Mr. Obama has concluded a free-trade agreement with South Korea, negotiated a tax-cut package with Congressional Republicans and delayed antipollution emissions regulations, all steps applauded by business constituencies…. – NYT, 12-15-10
  • Govt sues BP, 8 other companies in Gulf oil spill: The Justice Department on Wednesday sued BP and eight other companies in the Gulf oil spill disaster in an effort to recover billions of dollars from the largest offshore spill in U.S. history. The Obama administration’s lawsuit asks that the companies be held liable without limitation under the Oil Pollution Act for all removal costs and damages caused by the oil spill, including damages to natural resources. The lawsuit also seeks civil penalties under the Clean Water Act.
    “We intend to prove these violations caused or contributed to the massive oil spill,” Attorney General Eric Holder told a news conference. The amount of damages and the extent of injuries sustained by the United States as a result of the Deepwater Horizon Spill are not yet fully known, the lawsuit states…. – AP, 12-15-10
  • Don’t ask, don’t tell’ repeal goes to Senate again. Has anything changed?: Last week, Senate Republicans blocked a repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Now the House has passed the repeal in a different form. But the result in the Senate could be the same.
    The House today passed a repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning gays from serving openly in the military, but it’s not clear that the Senate can muster the time or political will to move it to the floor before the end of the 111th Congress.
    Only last week, Senate Republicans blocked a bid to repeal of the Clinton-era ban as part of the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill. Democrats fell three votes short of the 60 votes needed to break the filibuster. The House has now decoupled the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal from the defense authorization bill in the hopes that the repeal might pass on its own in the Senate. House majority leader Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland called the 250-to-175 vote for repeal “a very strong statement that it is time to move forward.”…. – CS Monitor, 12-15-10
  • US House votes to lift military gay ban: The US House of Representatives voted to end the US military ban on gays serving openly, leaving it to the Senate to seize what backers of repeal say may be their last chance for years. US President Barack Obama, in a statement shortly after the vote, called ending the prohibition “the right thing to do” and said all those who risk their lives for their country must be “treated fairly and equally.”
    By a 250-175 margin, the House approved a stand-alone bill to scrap the 1993 policy, popularly known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” that requires gays to keep quiet about their sexual orientation or face dismissal.
    “‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ doesn’t contribute to our national security and it contravenes our American values,” Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, charging the policy had led to the ouster of 13,000 US troops. “Fighter pilots, infantry officers, Arabic translators and other specialists have been discharged at a time when our nation is fighting two wars,” in Iraq and Afghanistan, she said on the floor of the House…. – AFP, 12-15-10
  • Obama review cements troop withdrawal, challenges: President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan war review will conclude the United States has made enough security gains to begin withdrawing troops in July, but the findings will also emphasize lasting troubles, from Afghanistan’s ability to serve its people to Pakistani havens for extremists.
    In a detailed preview of statements Obama will make Thursday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the yearlong review of Obama’s war plan will, essentially, offer no surprise. The president plans to stick with his pledge to start drawing home troops next summer after ordering one year ago that 30,000 more troops be sent to Afghanistan to blunt the Taliban’s momentum. The goal of coalition forces is to shift control to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.
    A summary of the classified war report is expected to be released Thursday, when Obama will speak about the effort from the White House…. – AP, 12-14-10
  • Lifting gay ban could endanger US Marines: general: The chief of the US Marine Corps said Tuesday that ending a ban on openly gay troops in the military could jeopardize the lives of Marines in combat by undermining closely knit units. General James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps and an opponent of lifting the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” prohibition, cited a Pentagon study saying Marines fighting in Afghanistan were worried that permitting gays to serve openly could disrupt “unit cohesion.”
    “When your life hangs on a line, on the intuitive behavior of the young man … who sits to your right and your left, you don’t want anything distracting you,” Amos told reporters at the Pentagon. “I don’t want to lose any Marines to distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda (hospital) with no legs,” he said.
    He added that “mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines’ lives. That’s the currency of this fight.” His comments were the toughest yet on the issue, after he testified at a congressional hearing that he opposed lifting the ban in a time of war. Amos said Marines in combat in Afghanistan sent a “very strong message” in the Pentagon’s study released earlier this month, expressing opposition to repealing the ban in a survey. “I have to listen to that,” he said…. – AP, 12-14-10
  • Veteran U.S. diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke dies in Washington hospital, according to the Associated Press: Richard C. Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, died in Washington Monday after undergoing surgery to repair a tear in his aorta, according to the Associated Press. He was 69.
  • Diplomat Richard Holbrooke dies at 69: President Obama’s emissary to Afghanistan and Pakistan began his career as a junior Foreign Service officer during the Vietnam War.
    Richard C. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s emissary to Afghanistan and Pakistan and one of the most celebrated American diplomats of the last half-century, died Monday. He was 69.
    Holbrooke died at George Washington University Hospital, where he had undergone surgery after doctors discovered a tear in his aorta on Friday.
    Holbrooke, who began his career as a junior Foreign Service officer in the Vietnam War and ended it helping lead the battle to overcome militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, shaped the narrative of U.S. diplomacy as an advisor to presidents, secretaries of State and Democratic presidential candidates.
    A 6-foot-2, barrel-chested man, he was renowned for his ruthless negotiating style, which earned him such nicknames as “The Bulldozer” and “Raging Bull.” His most important achievement came in 1995 when he intimidated Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic and brokered the Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnian War.
    Holbrooke served every Democratic president since John F. Kennedy, and was a contender to be secretary of State for two decades, though he never accomplished the goal. But he was the only person to be assistant secretary of State for two regions — East Asia and Europe — and was also U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as well as ambassador to Germany.
    In adding him to his administration two days after his inauguration, President Obama praised Holbrooke as “one of the most talented diplomats of his generation.”…. – LAT, 12-13-10
  • In region he oversaw, a mixed review for Holbrooke: In Kabul, he was seen as out of touch and too combative to forge a partnership with Afghan leaders. But in Islamabad, he is called a seasoned envoy who tried to strengthen U.S. ties with Pakistan.
    Richard C. Holbrooke is being praised in the United States after his death as a giant of diplomacy, but in South Asia, the turbulent region that constituted his last assignment, his legacy received mixed reviews. In Kabul, he was regarded as out of touch with the society and too combative to forge a meaningful partnership with Afghanistan’s leadership. But in Islamabad, Pakistan, he was lauded as a seasoned envoy who earnestly tried to strengthen Washington’s fragile alliance with the country…. – LAT, 12-14-10
  • Tax-Cut Package Passes Crucial Test in Senate: With robust bipartisan support, the Senate on Monday advanced the tax-cut package negotiated by President Obama and Congressional Republicans, increasing pressure on House Democrats to set aside their opposition.
    The vote, to cut off debate and end any filibuster, assured that the Senate would approve the $858 billion package on Tuesday and send it to the House, where Democrats are still demanding changes to a provision granting a generous tax exemption to wealthy estates.
    The Senate vote was 83 to 15, with 45 Democrats and 37 Republicans in favor. Opposed were nine Democrats, five Republicans and Senator Bernard Sanders, independent of Vermont…. – NYT, 12-13-10
  • Has Obama won the tax cut staredown of 2010?: Both the left and right are mad about the tax-cut bill. Does that mean President Obama will benefit from appearing to stand at the center of American politics?
    The tax-cut bill agreed to by President Obama and congressional Republicans should start to move through Congress this week. Many D.C. vote-counters think it’s likely the legislation will eventually pass, but liberals still don’t like it. Many Democrats remain unhappy over its continuation of tax breaks for the wealthy.
    There has been “much consternation” among Democratic House members about parts of the bill, said House majority leader Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland on Monday at the National Press Club.
    That said, there is grumbling about the effort on the right as well. Some in the GOP think Republican leaders gave away too much to get an across-the-board Bush tax cut extension.
    Both the left and right are mad. Does that mean Mr. Obama will benefit from appearing to stand at the center of American politics?… – CS Monitor, 12-13-10
  • Obama signs anti-hunger, anti-obesity school lunch bill: US President Barack Obama on Monday signed into law a bill that will fight childhood hunger and bolster his wife’s project to roll back obesity in kids by making school meals healthier.
    “Right now, across the country, too many children don’t have access to school meals and often the food that’s being offered isn’t as healthy as it should be,” Obama said at a signing ceremony for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act at an elementary school in Washington.
    The new law would help reverse the worrying trend of doctors diagnosing what used to be considered adult conditions — high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes — in increasingly fatter American children, and would do so “without adding a dime to the deficit,” Obama said.
    The new law, which pledges 4.5 billion dollars over 10 years to child nutrition programs, will give thousands more US children access to school meals and allow the Department of Agriculture to set nutrition guidelines for food sold in schools, including in vending machines. It comes at a time when 17 million US children live in households that have to sometimes skip meals to make ends meet, and one in three US kids is obese or overweight.
    Childhood hunger and obesity were “two sides of the same coin,” Michelle Obama said at the signing ceremony. AP, 12-13-10

111TH & 112TH CONGRESS

The President signs the tax cut compromise

  • With era ending, Patrick Kennedy embraces new opportunities: Representative Patrick Kennedy stepped carefully around a clutter of half-packed cardboard boxes, overstuffed luggage, and several open bags of potato chips at his Capitol Hill apartment. It seemed more like a scene of a college student heading home than the end of a 64-year political legacy. But Kennedy’s upcoming retirement will break a bond between the nation’s capital and Camelot. When the new House is seated in January, it will mark the first time since 1947 — the year a 29-year-old John F. Kennedy was sworn in as a Massachusetts congressman — that no member of the Kennedy family will be serving in the House, Senate, or White House.
    The House is scheduled to end its session today, but late bills may delay the wrapup. Patrick Kennedy, 43, an eight-term Democrat from Rhode Island and the son of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, is bracing for entry into a world he has never known, away from the public spotlight.
    “I feel liberated to try to live a life as foreign to me as anything — a life outside of politics,” Kennedy said in an interview. “I’m actually for the first time in my life venturing out on my own. This is unfamiliar territory.”… – Boston Globe, 12-17-10
  • Key senator: ‘We’ve got the votes’ to repeal ‘don’t ask’: A leading Senate force behind repeal of the ban on gay people serving openly in the military says there are the votes to pass the measure. The Senate will vote Saturday on a procedural move to break a logjam on a bill to overturn the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that has been in place since 1993. The Pentagon was taking steps Friday to implement repeal. “We’ve got the votes. It’s time to get it done,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. Lieberman’s comments came in an interview with CNN’s John King, which will air Friday night.
    The senator said there are more than 60 votes for the procedural move, which would signal the bill would easily pass when it comes up for a separate vote. Final passage could occur as early as Saturday, if senators agree to move ahead with debate.
    Lieberman told CNN that repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” would be remembered as a historic civil rights achievement. “This will allow gay and lesbian Americans to be called … what they want to be called, which is Americans — not gays or lesbians — who want to serve our country,” Lieberman said…. – USA Today, 12-17-10
  • Senate plans showdown votes Saturday on 2 big issues: The Senate plans crucial votes Saturday on two of the year’s most incendiary political issues: repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays and lesbians and revamping immigration laws to help put children of illegal aliens on a path to citizenship.
    Opponents have blocked both measures for months. The Senate will try to cut off debate on each bill, a maneuver that requires the votes of 60 of the 100 senators. Should either bill fail to get 60, it’s dead, probably for years to come, since Republicans will control the House of Representatives for two years starting next month. Both measures were campaign promises of President Barack Obama, and neither is expected to get many GOP votes.
    Many Republicans were outraged that the votes were even being taken. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., protested that the action is “clearly in keeping with the other side’s political agenda.”
    The “don’t ask, don’t tell” bill is the better bet to move ahead. The House of Representatives passed the measure Wednesday by a largely partisan 250-175 vote. The bill’s Senate co-sponsor, Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, said he was confident he had the votes to end debate and move to a final vote, since at least three Republicans are expected to join virtually all the Senate’s 56 Democrats and two independents who support it. A previous Senate effort to end debate on the question failed, but this is a new version of the legislation and three Republicans say they’re ready to back it now.
    The Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, aimed at changing immigration law, faces more opposition. The bill would allow illegal immigrants younger than 30 who entered the U.S. before age 16, lived here for five years without committing serious crimes, graduated from high school and attended college or joined the military to be eligible for legal residency after meeting other criteria. A study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the act would help 300,000 to 500,000 undocumented immigrants….. – McClatchy Newspapers, 12-17-10
  • Rep. Dennis Kucinich drops Oversight Committee bid: Cleveland Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich is dropping his bid to be top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and will support the candidacy of Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings. The committee’s current chairman, Rep. Edolphus Towns of New York, announced today that he won’t seek the committee’s top Democratic job when Republicans take over Congress next year. Cummings and Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York are now vying for the spot. Kucinich says Cummings would provide a strong Democratic counterpoint to the next GOP chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa. Although Issa represents California in Congress, he happens to be a native Clevelander. Kucinich said Issa will likely make “unsubstantiated charges” against the Obama administration that will need to be challenged.
    “My bid has never been about my own personal advancement,” Kucinich said in a press statement. “It has been about protecting the oversight process from abuse. Mr. Cummings is well prepared for the challenge. Tomorrow, I will recommend to the Steering and Policy Committee and to the Democratic Caucus that they choose Mr. Cummings as Ranking Member.” – The Plain Dealer, 12-14-10
  • Dreaming of a Post-Christmas Congress: The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said on Tuesday that Democrats were not prepared to give up any of their priorities and would work as long as it takes – right up until the end of the 111th Congress on Jan. 4 – to deal with their punch list of major items: the tax package; the New START arms control treaty with Russia; a huge spending bill; a bill to authorize repeal of the military’s don’t ask, don’t tell policy; and an immigration measure that would create a path to citizenship for certain illegal immigrants brought to the United States as young children.
    “I hate to report all this to you,” Mr. Reid told reporters at a news conference at the Capitol, “but you know, there’s still Congress after Christmas. So if the Republicans think that they can stall and stall and stall that we take a break, we’re through, we’re not through. Congress ends on January 4th. So we’re going to continue working on this stuff until we get it done, or we have up-and-down votes and find that it can’t happen that way.”… – NYT, 12-14-10
  • House Democrats to Make Final Push on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’: House Democratic leaders have decided to make one last push to repeal the military’s ban on gays serving openly before the end of the lame-duck Congress.
    Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the House majority leader, said he and Representative Patrick Murphy, Democrat of Pennsylvania, would bring a standalone repeal of the ban to the floor as early as Wednesday. The House move comes in response to the Senate’s failure last week to break a Republican filibuster against a broader Pentagon measure that would have lifted the ban.
    Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Independent of Connecticut, urged Senate leaders to try to pass a separate measure ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule, untangling the issue from the broader military policy measure.
    “I look forward to bringing this bill to the House floor soon, and I hope the Senate will swiftly take action as well so that the bill can be signed into law as soon as possible,” Mr. Hoyer said Tuesday. “This discriminatory and harmful policy has weakened America’s security by depriving us of the work of tens of thousands of gay and lesbian troops who have served their country honorably. And it has severely compromised our armed forces’ core value of integrity…. – NYT, 12-14-10

ELECTIONS 2010, 2012….

  • Getting a Head Start on the 2012 Presidential-Debate Drinking Games: With the notable exception of Barack Obama, not a single politician has publicly confirmed his or her intentions to run for president in 2012. As the home page of Politico will insist day after day after day, this does not mean that the 2012 presidential race is not already well underway. To wit: so far there are five scheduled debates: ABC News and WMUR-TV’s Republican-primary debate in New Hampshire, the CNN–WMUR-TV–New Hampshire Union Leader primary debate, NBC News and Politico’s Republican-primary debate at the Reagan Presidential Library, Fox News and the South Carolina Republican Party’s debate, and, as of today, the widely necessary CNN/Tea Party Express debate. “The Tea Party movement is a fascinating, diverse, grassroots force,” deadpanned Sam Feist, CNN’s political director. He added, “Undecided voters turn to CNN to educate themselves during election cycles, so it is a natural fit for CNN to provide a platform for the diverse perspectives within the Republican Party, including those of the Tea Party.” Tampa, Florida, the global cradle of the hard-core death-metal persuasion, will host the debate, as well as the cycle’s Republican National Convention…. – Vanity Fair, 12-17-10
  • CNN and Tea Party team up for debate: CNN and the Tea Party Express (a political action committee) are teaming up to co-host a presidential primary debate for the 2012 Republican contenders. The showdown will take in Tampa, Fla. around Labor Day in 2011.
    “If you’re producing a debate that is for Republican candidates that is intended to try and raise issues important to Republican primary voters – you would be remiss in not thinking about the Tea Party,” CNN Political Director Sam Feist told MediaBiz today.
    Feist said news organizations “regularly partner” with groups that are part of a political party’s coalition and he pointed out that CNN partnered with the Congressional Black Caucus in 2008 for a debate.
    “We have all sponsored debates with Republican state party organizations. Primary debates are for primary voters. Primary voters are Republican voters, and the Tea Party is a big part of the Republican coalition,” Feist said. Feist added that it’s “not at all unusual” for debates to be sponsored with groups that have political agendas.
    “In this case, they have an agenda that is of particular interest to Republican voters and because this is a Republican primary, we thought it would be the right group to partner with,” Feist said…. – Boston Herald, 12-17-10
  • As Republicans’ Power Grows, So Do Rifts: What do Republicans stand for? As the first half of President Obama?s term comes to a close, three political realities are forcing Republicans to confront that question more directly, and producing interesting conflicts along the way. The first reality is the assumption of power by Republicans in the House next year. After two years of being a political minority in Congress, the party’s lawmakers are showing signs of the disagreement that comes with the responsibility to lead. The second reality is the presidential campaign that begins in earnest for Republicans as soon as Washington returns from the holidays next month. The search for a challenger to Mr. Obama is designed to highlight the differences among Republicans, and it’s already beginning to do so…. – NYT, 12-15-10
  • Fox News, CNN Announce Dates Of First Presidential Debates: On Monday, CNN announced that it will host a Republican debate in New Hampshire on June 7, in collaboration with the Manchester Union-Leader and television station WMUR. It will be the first debate of the 2012 cycle to take place in the pivotal state.
    On Wednesday, Fox News announced that it will host two Republican debates in South Carolina. The first will take place on May 5, 2011, and the second will take place sometime in 2012.
    ABC and NBC News also announced debates this week. ABC said this Wednesday that it will host a debate in early 2012, between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
    NBC News will host the first debate of the overall cycle. It will take place in the spring of 2011 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. – Huff Post, 12-15-10
  • Tax Deal Is Shaping 2012 GOP Campaign: The tax deal now before Congress has kicked off the first real debate of the 2012 Republican presidential campaign, with several prospective candidates heralding the package as a victory for taxpayers and others criticizing it as a costly stimulus bill in disguise.
    Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have both come out sharply against the measure, which President Barack Obama hammered out last week with Senate Republican leaders. Both cite the deal’s price tag, with Mr. Romney saying it will heap billions more onto the nation’s debt load. Supporting the package are former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, all of whom praise the deal as good for the economy and the only way to spare Americans the jolt of a sudden tax increase that otherwise would take effect on Jan. 1.
    The debate suggests an early line of cleavage among the potential 2012 Republican aspirants on the key issues of taxes and government spending.
    The tax package was expected to win final passage in the Senate Tuesday night or Wednesday and advance to the House, which could take it up as early as Wednesday afternoon.
    In opposing the deal, Ms. Palin and Mr. Romney are aligning themselves with several large tea-party groups that see the tax deal as a betrayal of the Republican Party’s pledge during the last election to slash spending and attack the deficit. By opposing their party’s own leaders in Congress, who negotiated the package with Mr. Obama, the two also appear intent on shoring up their outsider, anti-Washington credentials…. – WSJ, 12-14-10
  • Bloomberg for president? Nolabels.org could be just the vehicle: New York’s mayor is says he is not – ‘no way, no how’ – running for president. But his role in the nonpartisan political movement Nolabels.org raises speculation…. – CS Monitor, 12-13-10
  • GOP National Chairman Michael Steele to run again: Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele says he will run for a second term. The news was posted on the Twitter account of Saul Anuzis, a former Michigan GOP party chairman who is among several candidates seeking to oust Steele. The RNC will pick its chairman next month.
    Steele outlined his record during a conference call tonight with the 168-member committee. “I’m asking tonight for your support, I’m asking for another term,” Steele said, according to an ABC News blog post…. – USA Today, 12-13-10

QUOTES

President Obama speaks on the Afghanistan-Pakistan Annual Review

  • The President on the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010: “An Historic Step”: Today, the Senate has taken an historic step toward ending a policy that undermines our national security while violating the very ideals that our brave men and women in uniform risk their lives to defend. By ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” no longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay. And no longer will many thousands more be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love.
    As Commander-in-Chief, I am also absolutely convinced that making this change will only underscore the professionalism of our troops as the best led and best trained fighting force the world has ever known. And I join the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the overwhelming majority of service members asked by the Pentagon, in knowing that we can responsibly transition to a new policy while ensuring our military strength and readiness.
    I want to thank Majority Leader Reid, Senators Lieberman and Collins and the countless others who have worked so hard to get this done. It is time to close this chapter in our history. It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed. It is time to allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly. I urge the Senate to send this bill to my desk so that I can sign it into law. – WH, 12-18-10
  • Weekly Address: START is About the Safety and Security of America; Not Scoring Political Points
    Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery Weekly Address The White House December 18, 2010:

    This week, Congress passed – and I signed into law – an essential economic package that will help grow our economy, spur businesses, and jumpstart job creation.
    Instead of a New Years Day tax hike on the vast majority of Americans, two million Americans who’ve lost their jobs through no fault of their own will now know with certainty that they won’t lose their emergency unemployment insurance at the end of the month. Eight million college students who’d otherwise face a tuition hike next semester will continue having access to the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Twelve million families with twenty-four million children will benefit from extensions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. And millions of entrepreneurs who’ve been waiting to invest in their businesses will receive new tax incentives to help them expand, buy new equipment, or make upgrades, freeing up money to hire new workers.
    This package, which is so important for our economy at this pivotal time, was the product of hard negotiations. Like any negotiations, there was give and take on both sides. But I’m heartened by our ability to come together to do what’s best for middle class families across this country, and our economy as a whole.
    Before going away for the holiday break, I’m hopeful we can also come together on another urgent national priority – and that is, the new START treaty that will reduce the world’s nuclear arsenals and make America more secure. Twenty- five years ago, the Soviet Union and United States each had about 25,000 nuclear weapons. In the decades since, that number has been reduced by over 70 percent, and we have had on-site inspections of Russian nuclear facilities. That progress would not have been possible without strategic arms control treaties….
    We have taken the time to get this right. The START treaty has now been under review by the Senate for over seven months. It’s gone through 18 hearings. Nearly 1,000 questions have been asked – and answered. Several Republican Senators have come out in support of ratification. Meanwhile, further delay comes at a cost. Every minute we drag our feet is a minute that we have no inspectors on the ground at those Russian nuclear sites.
    It’s time to get this done. It’s time to show the same spirit of common purpose on our security that we showed this week on our economy. It’s time to remember the old saying that politics stops at the water’s edge. That saying was coined by a Republican Senator, Arthur Vandenberg, who partnered with a Democratic President, Harry Truman, to pass landmark national security measures at the dawn of the Cold War. Today, over sixty years later, when we’re threatened not only by nuclear weapons, but an array of other dangers, that’s a principle we must continue to uphold. Thank you, and have a nice weekend…. – WH, 12-18-10Mp4Mp3
  • Biden Says Tax-Cut Deal Reflects Bipartisan Aims: Vice President Joseph Biden said the administration’s effort to work with Republicans on issues such as extending tax cuts shows a conscious effort by the White House to respond to the voter discontent displayed in November’s mid- term elections.
    “We understand that the message is the American public wants us to cooperate, wants us to work together,” Mr. Biden said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. Americans “want us to reasonably compromise to move the business of the nation forward,” he said.
    “We got to the end, we couldn’t get it done and we had to make a decision,” Mr. Biden said. He said the tax-cut extensions were important to middle-income Americans and businesses, and so the administration wanted to preserve them. But the administration was still committed to eventually ending the tax cuts for top earners, he said.
    “The one target for us in two years is no longer extending the upper-income tax credit for millionaires and billionaires,” Mr. Biden said. “We’re coming back and going at it again.”… – WSJ, 12-19-10
  • The President Signs the Tax Cut & Unemployment Insurance Compromise: “Some Good News for the American People this Holiday Season”: First and foremost, the legislation I’m about to sign is a substantial victory for middle-class families across the country. They’re the ones hit hardest by the recession we’ve endured. They’re the ones who need relief right now. And that’s what is at the heart of this bill.
    This bipartisan effort was prompted by the fact that tax rates for every American were poised to automatically increase on January 1st. If that had come to pass, the average middle-class family would have had to pay an extra $3,000 in taxes next year. That wouldn’t have just been a blow to them — it would have been a blow to our economy just as we’re climbing out of a devastating recession.
    I refused to let that happen. And because we acted, it’s not going to. In fact, not only will middle-class Americans avoid a tax increase, but tens of millions of Americans will start the New Year off right by opening their first paycheck to see that it’s actually larger than the one they get right now. Over the course of 2011, 155 million workers will receive tax relief from the new payroll tax cut included in this bill -– about $1,000 for the average family.
    This is real money that’s going to make a real difference in people’s lives. And I would not have signed this bill if it didn’t include other extensions of relief that were also set to expire -– relief that’s going to help families cover the bills, parents raise their children, students pay for college, and business owners to take the reins of the recovery and propel this economy forward.
    As soon as I sign this legislation, 2 million Americans looking for work who lost their jobs through no fault of their own can know with certainty that they won’t lose their emergency unemployment insurance at the end of this month. Over the past few weeks, 600,000 Americans have been cut off from that lifeline. But with my signature, states can move quickly to reinstate their benefits –- and we expect that in almost all states, they’ll get them in time for Christmas.
    Eight million college students who otherwise would have faced a tuition hike as soon as next semester will instead continue to have access to a $2,500 tax credit to afford their studies.
    Twelve million families with 24 million children will benefit from extensions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. And when combined with the payroll tax cut, 2 million American families who otherwise would have lived in poverty next year will instead be lifted out of it. (Applause.)
    And millions of entrepreneurs who have been waiting to invest in their businesses will receive new tax incentives to help them expand, buy new equipment, or make upgrades — freeing up other money to hire new workers.
    Putting more money in the pockets of families most likely to spend it, helping businesses invest and grow — that’s how we’re going to spark demand, spur hiring, and strengthen our economy in the New Year. WH, 12-17-10Mp4Mp3
  • President Obama on the Afghanistan-Pakistan Annual Review: “A Very Difficult Endeavor” but “Significant Progress”: I want to be clear. This continues to be a very difficult endeavor. But I can report that thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians on the ground, we are on track to achieve our goals.
    It’s important to remember why we remain in Afghanistan. It was Afghanistan where al Qaeda plotted the 9/11 attacks that murdered 3,000 innocent people. It is the tribal regions along the Afghan-Pakistan border from which terrorists have launched more attacks against our homeland and our allies. And if an even wider insurgency were to engulf Afghanistan, that would give al Qaeda even more space to plan these attacks.
    And that’s why, from the start, I’ve been very clear about our core goal. It’s not to defeat every last threat to the security of Afghanistan, because, ultimately, it is Afghans who must secure their country. And it’s not nation-building, because it is Afghans who must build their nation. Rather, we are focused on disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and preventing its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.
    In pursuit of our core goal we are seeing significant progress. Today, al Qaeda’s senior leadership in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan is under more pressure than at any point since they fled Afghanistan nine years ago. Senior leaders have been killed. It’s harder for them to recruit; it’s harder for them to travel; it’s harder for them to train; it’s harder for them to plot and launch attacks. In short, al Qaeda is hunkered down. It will take time to ultimately defeat al Qaeda, and it remains a ruthless and resilient enemy bent on attacking our country. But make no mistake — we are going to remain relentless in disrupting and dismantling that terrorist organization.
    In Afghanistan, we remain focused on the three areas of our strategy: our military effort to break the Taliban’s momentum and train Afghan forces so they can take the lead; our civilian effort to promote effective governance and development; and regional cooperation, especially with Pakistan, because our strategy has to succeed on both sides of the border.
    Indeed, for the first time in years, we’ve put in place the strategy and the resources that our efforts in Afghanistan demand. And because we’ve ended our combat mission in Iraq, and brought home nearly 100,000 of our troops from Iraq, we’re in a better position to give our forces in Afghanistan the support and equipment they need to achieve their missions. And our drawdown in Iraq also means that today there are tens of thousands fewer Americans deployed in harm’s way than when I took office. With those additional forces in Afghanistan, we are making considerable gains toward our military objectives. The additional military and civilian personnel that I ordered in Afghanistan are now in place, along with additional forces from our coalition, which has grown to 49 nations. Along with our Afghan partners, we’ve gone on the offensive, targeting the Taliban and its leaders and pushing them out of their strongholds….
    We’re going to have to continue to stand up. We’ll continue to give our brave troops and civilians the strategy and resources they need to succeed. We will never waver from our goal of disrupting, dismantling, and ultimately defeating al Qaeda. We will forge enduring partnerships with people who are committed to progress and to peace. And we will continue to do everything in our power to ensure the security and the safety of the American people. – WH, 12-16-10Mp4Mp3
  • Obama: Significant Progress In Fighting al-Qaida, Taliban: President Barack Obama says the U.S.-led coalition is making progress in fighting al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The president talked with reporters Thursday about his administration’s annual review of its policy in the region.
    “This continues to be a very difficult endeavor,” said President Obama. “But I can report that, thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians on the ground, we are on track to achieve our goals.”
    “Senior leaders have been killed,” said Obama. “It is harder for them to recruit. It is harder for them to travel. It is harder for them to train. It is harder for them to plot and launch attacks. In short, al-Qaida is hunkered down.”
    “In many places, the gains we have made are still fragile and reversible,” he said. “But there is no question we are clearing more areas from Taliban control, and more Afghans are reclaiming their communities.”
    “Now, our review confirms, however, that for these security gains to be sustained over time, there is an urgent need for political and economic progress in Afghanistan,” said Mr. Obama.
    “Nevertheless, progress has not come fast enough,” he said. “So we will continue to insist to Pakistani leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders must be dealt with. At the same time, we need to support the economic and political development that is critical to Pakistan’s future.”… VOA, 12-16-10
  • Meet The Next House Speaker, Rep. John Boehner Lesley Stahl Profiles The Ohio Republican Who Will Be Third In Line For The Presidency: John Boehner is about to replace Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House, and become the most powerful Republican in the country – and third in line to the presidency. He was swept in with the biggest Republican landslide in the house since 1938.
    As “60 Minutes” and correspondent Lesley Stahl set off to meet him, we had two questions: Which John Boehner will show up as speaker? The compromiser that he’s been in the past, or the more hard-line conservative of late, who’s aligned himself with the Tea Party that helped bring him and his party back into power…. – CBS News, 12-13-10
  • Huckabee: Obama self-destructed defending tax cuts: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) harshly criticized President Obama in an interview, saying the president “has shown no appetite for compromise with Republicans, zero.” Huckabee, who is a possible 2012 presidential candidate, said Obama to “some degree, he still has his head in the sand.” He added: “He is a very ideologically left-of-center person who wants to take the country in a very dramatic direction, and I don’t think that’s what people wanted.”
    In the interview with National Journal, Huckabee said the tax-cut extension Obama worked out with congressional Republicans was “the best anyone can hope for” but said he was shocked that it was only two years. “Politically, I was shocked it was going to be two not three, because it puts this whole thing in the very center, the bullseye of the 2012 presidential election,” the former governor said. “The most bizarre part of the whole process was watching President Obama self-destruct at the podium [Dec. 7th]. I was just stunned — I really couldn’t believe that a man that was elected president was as amateurish as he was and essentially launched from the podium at some of his own, taking aim and mowing down everybody in D.C. and walking away having not understood that he just lost a lot of people.”… – The Hill, 12-13-10

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • Julian E. Zelizer: Obama tax deal: why estate tax is the new sticking point: House Democratic leaders set very tight rules for debate of the Obama tax deal Thursday, and rank-and-file Democrats revolted. Their main frustration now: the estate tax.
    “That’s how you prevent a deal from being undone in Congress,” says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey. “Speaker Pelosi is obviously deeply disappointed with this bill, which gives up on one of the Democrats’ major promises in 2008 to oppose tax breaks for the wealthy, but there’s almost no wiggle room in this deal between Republicans and the president,” he adds. “By limiting amendments, the Speaker is bowing to the president.”… – CS Monitor, 12-19-10
  • With era ending, Patrick Kennedy embraces new opportunities: Boston Globe, 12-17-10
  • CNN and Tea Party team up for debate: Boston University political professor Tom Whalen said it hasn’t taken long for the Tea Party to go “big time.” “Maybe they’re going to loose their moorings, at least what they profess to be their moorings, of being close with the people and not to be bought by anyone,” Whalen said. “They’re supposed to be common people – now they’re aligning themselves with this mega-media company,” Whalen added. “It just seems like old style, power politics.” Boston Herald, 12-17-10
  • Julian E. Zelizer: Why George W. Bush must be smiling: Somewhere in Texas, former President George W. Bush must be smiling. When President Obama and the Republican leadership reached a deal on extending all of the Bush tax cuts, including a generous exemption for estate taxes, the current president ratified a key policy from the former administration.
    While Obama ran as the candidate who would fight to overturn Bush’s record, a huge number of his policies remain in place. This says a lot about President Bush. One of the key measures that we have to evaluate the success of a president is not simply how many of his proposals pass through Congress but also how many of his policies outlast his time in office. Many of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s programs, including Social Security and the Wagner Act, survive into our time…. – CNN, 12-13-10
  • Opposition to Health Law Is Steeped in Tradition: “We are against forcing all citizens, regardless of need, into a compulsory government program,” said one prominent critic of the new health care law. It is socialized medicine, he argued. If it stands, he said, “one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.”
    The health care law in question was Medicare, and the critic was Ronald Reagan. He made the leap from actor to political activist, almost 50 years ago, in part by opposing government-run health insurance for the elderly. Today, the supposed threat to free enterprise is a law that’s broader, if less radical, than Medicare: the bill Congress passed this year to create a system of privately run health insurance for everyone. On Monday, a federal judge ruled part of the law to be unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court will probably need to settle the matter in the end.
    We’ve lived through a version of this story before, and not just with Medicare. Nearly every time this country has expanded its social safety net or tried to guarantee civil rights, passionate opposition has followed. The opposition stems from the tension between two competing traditions in the American economy. One is the laissez- faire tradition that celebrates individuality and risk-taking. The other is the progressive tradition that says people have a right to a minimum standard of living — time off from work, education and the like…. – NYT, 12-14-10
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