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Decoder Buzz

Government is serious. Democracy is sacred. And then there is the politics that actually gets people talking. Decoder Buzz adds a dash of perspective to the stories that are setting tongues wagging. 

Then-Republican presidential candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (c.), Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (l.), and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Jan. 2012. (Charles Dharapak/AP/File)

Could a Gingrich-Santorum ticket have fared better against Romney? Or Obama?

By Correspondent / 03.22.13

Did we almost wind up with a President Gingrich and Vice President Santorum? Or President Santorum and Vice President Gingrich?

We learned Friday morning, via Bloomberg Businessweek's Josh Green, that a super-secret, and apparently quite serious, attempt was made to form a "unity ticket" last February between the campaigns of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, as a last-ditch attempt to wrest the Republican nomination away from Mitt Romney.

At the time, Mr. Romney appeared vulnerable, and the Gingrich and Santorum campaigns believed if they could stop splitting the conservative vote, they might be able to beat him. Tellingly, the plan was ultimately thwarted by the inability of the two candidates to decide which one of them would get to be president.

It's an entertaining read, chock-full of quotes like this one from John Brabender, chief strategist to Mr. Santorum: "It would have sent shock waves through the establishment and the Romney campaign." Or this one from Santorum himself: "It could have changed the outcome of the primary. And more importantly, it could have changed the outcome of the general election."

But while it may be fun to hypothesize about, in reality we have to say there's little question this plan – had it somehow come to fruition – would almost certainly have failed.

True, Romney was a flawed candidate from the beginning, and was never much liked by the GOP's conservative base. But, seriously: he was far less flawed than either Gingrich or Santorum (or, frankly, any of the other candidates that took a shot at the nomination). Contrary to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's assertion last week at CPAC that Republicans lost the White House in 2012 because they failed to nominate a true conservative, we'd argue Republicans lost because they fielded an incredibly weak team of candidates.

Both Mr. Gingrich and Santorum had brief surges in the polls, but they also cratered as soon as the spotlight was fixed on them, amid scrutiny of – to name just a few examples – their consulting work and past indiscretions (Gingrich), or way-out-of-the-mainstream stances on issues like birth control and homosexuality (Santorum).

Not surprisingly, the math wouldn't have added up for them, either. As The Atlantic Wire's Philip Bump points out, if you went back and combined Gingrich's and Santorum's vote totals in all the GOP primary contests, they only would have taken an additional 125 delegates from Romney –meaning, he'd still have had well more than he needed to secure the nomination. And in the unlikely scenario that the Gingrich-Santorum "unity ticket" could have somehow improved on the combination of their individual performances and won the nomination, they almost certainly would have fared worse in the general election among independent voters, leading to a more lopsided loss.

Looking back at public opinion polling from the first few months of 2012, the lead for the GOP nomination bounced around frequently, but one area where Romney consistently dominated was "electability." And while that was often portrayed as a semi-problem for him – voters somehow voting with their heads instead of their hearts – well, we'd just point out that the head usually gets it right. Republican voters may not have liked Romney all that much, but they were smart enough to realize he would have the best shot against Obama. 

As conservative columnist Noemie Emery put it this week, in a biting commentary in The Washington Examiner, Romney was "the last sane man standing in a field of conservatives whose credentials were lacking and whose personalities verged on bizarre." She went on: "Between Ronald Reagan (and Jack Kemp) and the new generation of Scott Walker and Marco Rubio, there were no appealing conservative figures, or none who could win on the national scene. Instead, against establishment types who were national figures, the conservative movement flung preachers and pundits (Pat Robertson, Alan Keyes, and Pat Buchanan), has-beens and losers (Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum), and others still worse (Herman Cain, for example), who on second thought lost even conservative primary voters."

The recent GOP "autopsy" report of what went wrong in 2012, and how the party can chart a path to victory going forward, may offer some sound policy suggestions for Republicans (it suggests, among other things, that they embrace immigration reform and take a more inclusive posture on gay marriage). But in many ways, the profile and charisma of the candidates matters as much – or more – than the platform. 

The good news for Republicans is that the field for 2016 is already looking to be much stronger. From Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida to Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, the GOP has a deep bench of younger candidates with strong political skills and the potential to both excite the base and appeal to a broader audience.

In 2012, that just wasn't the case.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota speaks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., last weekend. Her comments on the House floor on Thursday, suggesting that Obamacare will literally kill people, set off a firestorm. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Obamacare 'kills': Has Michele Bachmann finally gone too far?

By Staff writer / 03.22.13

Obamacare “kills.” That’s what Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota said Thursday on the floor of the House. In a fire-breathing speech, the tea party favorite and former GOP presidential hopeful urged her fellow lawmakers to “repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens."

Congress should not go along with that, said Representative Bachmann. “Let’s love people. Let’s care about people. Let’s repeal it now while we can.”

Later, she came back on the floor and added that Medicaid, the big federal/state health entitlement program for lower-income Americans, is a “ghetto."

OK, in terms of political rhetoric this is going pretty far. Bachmann has long been kind of a bomb thrower. But even in that context, this is nuclear, isn’t it?

Well, we’ve got a couple of comments here. The first is that political debate over the Affordable Care Act specifically and health care in general has long been rhetorically charged.

Remember when Sarah Palin and others in the GOP charged that President Obama’s reforms would create “death panels” ruling on which seniors get what care? It’s not far from that to “kills." So, in that sense, Bachmann is within the stream of her party’s thought, if not exactly the mainstream.

Liberals are outraged at what they feel are these exaggerations. The alleged “death panel” meme came from the law’s inclusion of various boards intended to judge the cost-effectiveness of certain treatments, for instance. But prior to the bill’s passage, a few Dems did edge out on that limb themselves, charging that people would die from lack of care, if it didn’t pass.

We’re not saying there is strict equivalence here. We’re just saying the law has, um, always raised strong feelings.

Second, the conservative wing of the Republican Party is pretty annoyed about the Affordable Care Act at the moment. In particular, they’re angry that many House and Senate Republicans, by voting for the short-term continuing resolution that funds the government for the rest of the fiscal year, have voted to continue Obamacare’s implementation.

They think it’s so important to block the law that the GOP, as a whole, should have shut down the government in that effort.

Influential conservative blogger Erick Erickson has been big on this, charging on the RedState blog that if a Republican voted for the CR’s final passage, that lawmaker voted to support Obamacare, even if, before that, he or she cast a ballot for an amendment that would have defunded the law.

On Friday he has reposted a list of senators who, he said, have done just that.

“If any one of those senators tells you they did not vote to fund Obamacare, or, in fact, voted against funding Obamacare, they are being mendacious,” writes Mr. Erickson.

Lastly, Bachmann may be trying to distract the political world from the other stuff she’s been saying recently. In a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, she charged that Mr. Obama has a “lavish lifestyle” in the White House that includes “five chefs on Air Force One,” as well as two live-in projectionists for the White House movie theater and that “we pay someone to walk the president’s dog."

The chefs and projectionists don’t exist. We wouldn’t rule out staffers holding Bo’s leash, but there is no pro pet sitter on the White House payroll.

Confronted by a CNN camera crew and asked to explain herself, Bachmann literally bolted. Conservative Fox News host Bill O’Reilly earlier this week slammed Bachmann for being trivial and distracting attention from the real problem of the national debt.

At CPAC, Bachmann also said that Alzheimer’s disease could be cured if not for government regulations, taxes, and lawyers. She added that 70 percent of every food stamp dollar goes to “bureaucrats."

Politifact.com rated the former claim “pants on fire” false, saying researchers blame the disease itself and lack of research funding for the fact that no cure yet exists.

And the food stamp assertion? Not true either. Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler assigned it “four Pinocchios," his worst rating.

“There really aren’t enough Pinocchios for such misleading use of statistics in a major speech,” he writes.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California (l.) and the committee Vice-Chairman Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) of Georgia listens to testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington, last week. Sen. Chambliss is getting some flak online for remarks he made to Politico about gay marriage. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Gay marriage: Why Sen. Chambliss' clunky quote indicates softening GOP stance

By / 03.21.13

Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss is getting some blowback online for remarks he made to Politico about gay marriage. Asked if he might ever reconsider his opposition to marriage equality, Senator Chambliss is quoted as saying: "I'm not gay, so I'm not going to marry one." 

Predictably, this has sparked a slew of mocking headlines and comments.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Chambliss's hometown paper, went with "Gay Marriage? Saxby Chambliss says he's taken." Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall posted simply: "Tough Hurdle: So Sen. Saxby Chambliss has to become gay apparently before he'll support marriage equality." New York Magazine's Jon Chait joked: "Given that personal experience seems to be how Republican senators change their minds on the issue, I would urge gay-rights groups to introduce some handsome, charming guys to Senator Chambliss and see if sparks fly."

What's interesting to us about Chambliss's "quip," however inartful, is that it doesn't really sound like strident opposition. Unlike previous election cycles, when most Republicans were actively promoting legislative measures to prevent gay marriage, these days they seem to be taking pains to emphasize that their opposition to it is strictly personal.

Policy-wise, they're no longer pushing for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, but increasingly arguing that it is an issue that should be left up to the states. And more and more GOP officials like Chambliss are describing their views with lines that sound almost like "this old dog can't learn new tricks." The implication: they're not really trying to fight the tide of history. They're just asking to be allowed to maintain their own views.

We heard the same kind of tone in House Speaker John Boehner's comments on the subject last weekend on ABC's "This Week." Asked about Ohio Sen. Rob Portman's recent announcement that he now supports gay marriage, Mr. Boehner said he could not envision himself having a similar change of heart. "Listen, I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman," Boehner said. "It's what I grew up with. It's what I believe. It's what my church teaches me. And I can't imagine that position would ever change." Asked how he could justify denying Portman's son, who is gay, the right to marry, Boehner added: "Listen – I think that Rob can make up his – his own mind, take his own position."

This rhetorical shift seems in line with the conclusion in the Republican National Committee's recent "autopsy report" that Republicans must offer a more inclusive posture on issues like gay marriage, which, it said, is causing many young people to view the GOP as "totally intolerant of alternative views." According to the report: "there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be. If our Party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out."

This week a new Washington Post/ABC poll found a record 58 percent of Americans now believe gay marriage should be legal, including 52 percent of Republicans between the ages of 18 and 29.

Still, actually supporting gay marriage remains a dicey stand for GOP elected officials. For many social conservatives – who play an active role in Republican primary contests – opposition to gay marriage is a strongly held plank. As The Family Research Council's Tony Perkins told The Hill this week, if the GOP abandons its opposition to gay marriage, "evangelicals will either sit the elections out completely – or move to create a third party. Either option puts Republicans on the path to a permanent minority."

So it's not surprising to see most Republican elected officials still saying they oppose gay marriage – while trying in general to shift focus away from the issue, and couching their opposition in increasingly personal, and far less political terms.

House Speaker John Boehner holds a news conference at the US Capitol in Washington Thursday. The US House of Representatives on Thursday approved a budget blueprint marked by deep spending cuts to social programs that defines Republicans' positions on new fiscal battles this year and the 2014 congressional elections. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

Why House vote for short-term spending bill is important (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.21.13

The House on Thursday approved a short-term funding bill that will pay for the operations of the US government through this September, the end of the 2013 fiscal year. The Senate had approved the bill Wednesday, meaning it has cleared Congress and now goes to President Obama, who has promised to sign it when he gets back from the Middle East.

Whew! Stop the presses! (Or in today’s digital journalism maybe we should say “stop the servers!”) Washington has just accomplished something many voters may have thought wasn’t possible: It has avoided a partisan budget battle. On purpose.

Yes, you might think that lawmakers today are fighting bitterly over fiscal matters. And in some ways they are. The House floor this week rang with arguments about fiscal 2014 budget outlines. On Thursday the GOP-controlled chamber also passed Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which aims to balance the nation’s books in a decade by sharply cutting safety-net programs and curtailing government agency spending.

But that’s about next year and the magical “out years” beyond. Those are far off and safer to dispute. The short-term funding bill is different. As we noted, it’s for 2013. In other words, it’s about what happens right now.

Here’s why the huge $984 billion short-term 2013 bill, also known as the “continuing resolution,” is notable.

The government stays open. The continuing resolution authorizes discretionary federal spending for the next six months. If Congress had not approved it by March 27, when the current CR expires, government agencies would have had to shut down. That’s happened before, of course, most notably in 1995 when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich and President Bill Clinton went toe to toe. But now neither party wants such a showdown. Agreement on the CR shows Washington can actually run the country when a real deadline looms.

The sequester gets locked in – and softened. Remember "the sequester"? It’s been almost four weeks since those automatic budget cuts kicked in due to congressional disagreement over other ways to reduce the US deficit.

The White House is still closed to tours. Airport security lines are longer. Acadia National Park in Maine will open a month late, and so forth.

The just-passed CR locks in government spending at a level that assumes those reductions will stay in place for the rest of the year. That means that despite White House warnings of the sequester’s effects, it’s here and it’s staying. Get used to it.

But the CR does soften some sequester cuts. It contains specific appropriations language for many (but not all) government agencies, and some of those details shift money around within agency budgets.

For instance, within the Defense Department budget, Congress has now authorized the shifting of billions to fill depleted operations accounts. The Agriculture Department can move $55 million to prevent furloughs among food inspectors.

Partisans are peeved. Both sides had to compromise to make the CR happen. This means there are Democratic and Republican partisans who are unhappy with what’s going on.

Some Democrats believe that by making the sequester reductions permanent the CR represents a defeat for the administration. President Obama made all those speeches about the dire nature of those reductions, traveling around the country to do so. Yet now they remain.

“That’s left Democrats resigned to malfunctioning and underfunded government in perpetuity, and Republicans confident they can weather the coming months and turn sequestration spending levels into a new normal,” writes Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo.

In contrast, some Republicans aren’t happy that, in helping the CR pass, GOP leaders have in essence given up for now on getting rid of Mr. Obama’s health-care reforms, because funding for those reforms now stays in place.

At the conservative RedState website, for instance, editor Erick Erickson has posted a list of all the Republican senators who voted for the CR on final passage. Among those on the roll: Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky.

Senator McConnell has given fire-breathing speeches about the need to get rid of Obamacare, notes Mr. Erickson.

“Mitch McConnell excels at saying one thing and doing another. Yesterday, Mitch McConnell voted to fund Obamacare,” writes Erickson on Thursday.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada, seen here on Capitol Hill earlier this month, said on Tuesday that fewer than 40 of his chamber's 100 members support a White House-backed bill to renew a ban against military-style assault weapons. (Susan Walsh/AP/File)

Assault weapons ban shelved. Background checks next? (+video)

By Staff Writer / 03.20.13

Gun control legislation that the Senate will consider next month may be turn out to be much less sweeping than proponents originally envisioned.

It won’t contain a ban on assault weapons, for one thing. Majority leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that such a prohibition could be offered on the floor as an amendment, but that it doesn’t have enough support to be included from the start in the main bill.

It’s also possible the firearms bill won’t contain an expansion of background checks to cover private sales. Asked if background checks would make the cut,  Senator Reid said he was working toward legislation that could win 60 votes and then noted that “there are a couple different background check proposals floating around."

In other words, he was noncommittal.

“I want something that will succeed. I think the worst of all worlds would be to bring something to the floor and it dies there,” Reid said.

For the Obama administration, loss of background checks would constitute a bigger political setback than the noninclusion of the assault weapons ban. The latter has been controversial from the start, among Democrats from gun-culture states as well as Republicans. The former, in contrast, has attracted some bipartisan support and is seen by many experts as the bigger item, both substantively and politically.

“This is the game, folks, and it’s always been the case: Background checks will define success or failure,” notes NBC’s “First Read” political blog Wednesday.

“First Read” adds that it is still likely that checks will be included when the bill hits the floor in April. The Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month approved background check legislation drawn up by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) of New York, after all.

That bill, S. 374, would require all private gun sales between individuals to be run through the existing National Instant Criminal Background Check System. For that purpose, the people involved would have to take the gun to a federally licensed gun dealer, manufacturer, or importer.

S.374 makes exceptions for transfers between spouses, parents and children, siblings, and grandparents and grandchildren. It also contains language allowing the loan of firearms at a gun range or while hunting or otherwise for a short period of time.

But this legislation is likely just a place holder. It could not get 60 votes as it stands. Reid noted yesterday that Sens. Schumer, Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia, and Mark Kirk (R) of Illinois are working on “a couple different background check proposals."

While this group is nominally bipartisan, Senator Kirk is a moderate from a bluish state whose record on gun matters is rated “F” by the National Rifle Association. To stand a chance of reaching the 60-vote threshold, any background check bill must attract the support of a more conservative Republican.

Schumer has worked hard to attract the support of Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma, who has sounded amenable. But this partnership has foundered over the basic background check problem: enforcement.

Specifically, those who want background checks have to resolve concerns for members from both sides of the aisle who don’t want to create a national gun registry.

This is a long-standing gun control divide. To Democrats and the moderate Republicans who want tighter gun restrictions, some kind of permanent record-keeping would be an integral part of background-check enforcement. Without it, the law would be just a suggestion. Police would have no way of knowing whether a particular firearm had been obtained legally or not.

The NRA is adamantly opposed to permanent recordkeeping, however. The organization sees that as the beginning of a federal gun registry.

In a fire-breathing speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre called universal background checks a “placebo” that will make no one safer and will “only serve as universal registration of lawful gun owners – the real goal they’ve been pushing for decades.”

“What’s the point of registering lawful gun owners anyway.... In the end, there are only two reasons for government to create that federal registry of gun owners – to tax them and to take them,” said Mr. LaPierre.

Current law prohibits the establishment of any federal electronic database of firearms owners or firearms transactions. The FBI is allowed to keep records from the existing dealer-based background check system for only a short period of time before destroying them, according to a Congressional Research Service survey of federal gun legislation.

“No other area of federal law enforcement suffers from so many legislative barriers to action,” concludes the liberal Center for American Progress, in a report on the ability of gun lobbyists to hobble firearms regulations.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid, shown here on Capitol Hill in February, said Tuesday that fewer than 40 of his chamber's 100 members support a White House-backed bill to renew a ban against so-called assault weapons. (Jason Reed/Reuters/File)

Assault weapons ban now unlikely to pass. What happened?

By Staff writer / 03.19.13

The assault weapons ban is not going to be included in the package of gun control measures that majority leader Harry Reid will bring to the Senate floor for a vote.

Assault weapons prohibition sponsor Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California told reporters Tuesday that she’ll be able to offer her legislation as a separate amendment, but that she recognizes its exclusion from the primary bill all but dooms its chance of passage.

“Obviously I’m very disappointed.... The enemies on this are very powerful. I’ve known that all my life,” said Senator Feinstein.

What’s behind this development? The assault weapons ban was unlikely to pass the Senate in any case, and had become so unpopular it risked taking down with it other gun control measures, such as new restrictions on weapons trafficking and a possible expansion of federal background checks.

Senator Reid, a Nevada Democrat, made this point clear Tuesday in surprisingly blunt remarks of his own. He noted that Feinstein feels deeply about the ban, dating back to when, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, she found gay activist and city official Harvey Milk shot dead in his office by a rival politician. But he added that his job is to try to cobble together a gun bill that might command 60 Senate votes and thus pass despite any GOP filibuster. [Editor's note: The original version of this paragraph incorrectly identified Mr. Milk.]

The assault weapons ban “has less than 40 votes,” said Reid. “That’s not 60.”

In truth, it’s been clear for a long time that the assault weapons ban was doomed, notes Washington Post political blogger Chris Cillizza.

For one thing, the ban was just too controversial. Gun rights advocates argue that the difference between assault weapons and non-assault hunting rifles is largely cosmetic, and that banning guns based on style won’t make Americans any safer. In the proposed prohibition of an entire class of firearms many saw the beginnings of their nightmare of Washington coming after their guns.

For another, some Senate Democrats were uneasy about the ban. Reid was never behind it, and it made a number of Democrats from red states uneasy.

As Mr. Cillizza points out, Democratic senators from Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia all face reelection in 2014.

These are “all states where gun rights are viewed as part and parcel of the culture and where there remains significant resistance to curtailing those rights,” Cillizza writes.

By pulling the assault weapons ban from the main bill yet scheduling it for a separate vote as an amendment on the Senate floor, the wily Reid may hope to get a two-fold political advantage, writes conservative commentator Ed Morrissey on the Hot Air! website.

For one thing, by defining Feinstein’s ban as the extreme in the gun debate, Reid may be trying to make background checks appear to be a more moderate approach. Many experts think the White House believes such checks would be a more significant advance than the assault weapon ban, at least in political terms.

Plus, endangered Senate Democrats now not only won’t face White House pressure to vote for assault weapon prohibition, they’ll get a chance to go on record as voting against it.

“It’s a win-win for Reid,” writes Mr. Morrissey.

Reid and other Senate leaders are expected to release their larger bill sometime this week. Besides an effort to broaden background checks, it’s likely to include a provision tightening federal laws against gun trafficking and straw purchases, and school safety measures.

Floor votes aren’t likely until next month.

Children roll Easter eggs at the White House Easter Egg Roll hosted by President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, April 2011, on the South Lawn of the White House. This year's invitations went out with a warning that the event may yet be canceled, due to 'funding uncertainty.' (Charles Dharapak/AP/File)

White House Easter Egg Roll: next victim of Washington's money woes? (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.19.13

Is the White House Easter Egg Roll on the fiscal chopping block? Will it be the next victim of Washington’s money woes, now that White House tours are already canceled?

That’s the hand-wringer de jour in D.C. this week as VIP parents peruse their just-received tickets to the festive presidential egg-rolling event. Included with the tickets is this warning: “This event is subject to cancellation due to funding uncertainty surrounding the Executive Office of the President and other federal agencies. If canceled, the event will not be rescheduled,” according to a report on the fracas in Politico.

Many Republicans in Congress, particularly those with little kids, cried “Fowl!” at this warning that it's possible no eggs will be pushed on the White House lawn with a wooden spoon on April 1, the roll’s scheduled date.

(Sorry, that should be “foul” above. The Monitor regrets the error, even though it was committed on purpose.)

Look, the sun-splashed, colorful, kid-filled fun-fest known as the Easter Egg Roll is one of the most joyous Washington events of the year. It’s bipartisan. Usually the most sought-after celebrity at the event isn’t the president or first lady, but the first dog – in this case, Bo, the Obamas' Portuguese water dog.

Right now, the White House is saying the roll is still on, and the controversy is overblown. The warning was just included as a courtesy, according to administration officials. "The Easter Egg roll is entirely likely to continue and proceed," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.

We think that’s right and the eggs will go on. Why? First off, the Easter Egg Roll isn’t paid for by taxpayers. Much of it is funded via private donations, as Mr. Carney noted in a briefing last week.

Second, even if subsidiary funding problems could cause the White House to crack the roll’s yolk, we’re not talking about the sequester, which has already occurred and led to the cancellation of tours. Officials make it clear they’re looking forward to the continuing resolution, which funds all government programs. If that’s not passed by the end of the month, the federal government will go through a shutdown. The roll might topple off the wall, and all the king's horses, etc.

But right now it looks as if that’s not likely to happen. Both House Republicans and the White House say they just want to sign a CR that keeps funding at current levels and proceed from there.

Third, the White House has already invited its own special guests. First lady Michelle Obama has asked the family of Hadiya Pendleton, for instance. Hadiya Pendleton was the 15-year-old who was killed in Chicago shortly after performing at President Obama’s second inauguration.

So we’d bet our omelette that the 135th production of this great event will go on. The administration has already been poached by the controversy of ending White House tours. It’s unlikely it wants to face the heat it'd get from canceling the Easter bunny.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) of Massachusetts questions a witness at Senate Banking Committee hearing on anti-money laundering on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 7. Warren suggested at a recent hearing raising the minimum wage to $22 per hour. (Cliff Owen/AP)

$22 minimum wage: Could it pass Congress? (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.19.13

Should the minimum wage be $22 an hour? That’s what Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) of Massachusetts suggested at a recent hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Here’s her logic: If you took the minimum wage from 1960 and indexed it for workers’ gains in productivity, it would be $22 an hour today. And why shouldn’t employees reap the benefits of their own improved labor practices?, she asked at the hearing, rhetorically. Today, the actual minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

“What happened to the other $14.75? It sure didn’t go to the worker,” Senator Warren said.

Those gains went to corporate and top-executive profits, said a witness at the hearing, Arindrajit Dube, an economist from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. That’s simply more evidence of how income inequality has grown in America, he said.

“It is quite remarkable that had the minimum wage kept up with overall productivity, it would have been $22 per hour in 2011,” Dr. Dube said in his prepared remarks. “Had it kept up with the growth in income going to the top 1 percent, it would have been even higher, at $24 per hour; and the wage would have exceeded $33 per hour at its peak in 2007.”

Hold on a second there, economic conservatives: Neither Warren nor Dube was actually suggesting raising the minimum wage that high as a matter of public policy. Doing so in one go would crash companies and destroy jobs.

“Rather, the exercise demonstrates how different the growth rates have been for incomes going to those at the bottom of the labor market as compared to the economy as a whole and to those at the top end of the distribution,” Dube said.

The fact is that even tacking a few bucks on to today’s $7.25 minimum wage would be a hard political lift. It’s almost certain to face stiff opposition in the GOP-controlled House.

President Obama in his State of the Union message suggested raising the rate to $9. He’s still pushing that, saying Monday at the introduction of his new nominee for secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez, that “a minimum wage should be a wage that you can live on.”

Sen. Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa has introduced legislation that would push the minimum wage even a bit higher, to $10.10.

“We don’t want minimum-wage workers left behind and left out of this recovery,” he said last week when introducing the legislation.

But those who employ many low-wage workers are adamantly opposed to something that they say would cost some employment.

Going from $7.25 to $10.10 is almost a 40 percent wage increase, noted David Rutigliano, a partner in SBC Restaurant Group of Shelton, Conn., at the Senate Health panel hearing.

“At a time when many businesses are struggling to keep their doors open and in some cases employers are forgoing their own paychecks to avoid laying off employees, mandating wage increases will only hurt those employees which his proposal seeks to help,” he said in his own prepared statement.

In her first public statement since stepping down as secretary of State Hillary Clinton has issued an official declaration of support for gay marriage. (Human Rights Campaign/AP)

Hillary Clinton backs gay marriage. A sign she's serious about 2016? (+video)

By Correspondent / 03.18.13

She may not be a declared candidate for president (yet). But Hillary Clinton is making it clear that she intends to continue to be part of the national political conversation. 

In her first public statement since stepping down as secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton has issued an official declaration of support for gay marriage.

In a video released by the Human Rights Campaign, she says: "LGBT Americans are our colleagues, our teachers, our soldiers, our friends, our loved ones, and they are full and equal citizens and deserve the rights of citizenship. That includes marriage. That's why I support marriage for lesbian and gay couples. I support it personally and as a matter of policy and law."

This is not an unexpected position for Clinton to take, nor is it likely to be controversial. If anything, she's just a bit late to the party. President Obama, of course, has already endorsed gay marriage, as has Vice President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi – along with pretty much every Democrat currently eyeing a 2016 run.

Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, made clear that he supported gay marriage back in 2009. Mr. Clinton also recently published an op-ed declaring that he now believes the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) – which he signed into law back in 1996, and which is now being challenged before the Supreme Court – is unconstitutional. 

When Mrs. Clinton ran for president in 2008, her official position (like Mr. Obama's) was to favor civil unions, not gay marriage, saying she thought the matter should be left to the states. In response to a Human Rights Campaign questionnaire in 2007, she said she favored repealing the plank of DOMA that would deny federal benefits to couples in states that recognize gay marriage.

Since then, however, public opinion has continued to shift rapidly. With recent polls showing a majority of Americans overall now support gay marriage outright – including nearly three-quarters of Democrats – it's probably safe to say that all Democratic candidates for president will have to support gay marriage going forward, if they want to win their party's nomination.

Still, it's noteworthy that Clinton chose this moment to make her support for marriage equality official. It's been just over a month since she left the State Department, and while she is officially "taking time off," she also seems to be making it clear that she does not intend to lay low for long. Polls show she'd be a formidable – perhaps unbeatable – candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2016, and her uber-heavyweight status has essentially frozen the race for other Democratic hopefuls, who are waiting to see what Clinton decides before making their own plans.

Former Obama adviser David Plouffe echoed that view in a talk over the weekend, saying of Clinton: "She is, in both parties right now by far, I think, the most interesting candidate, probably the strongest candidate."  

One reason Clinton is seen as so strong, aside from her personal popularity, is her fundraising prowess. But it's worth noting on that front that making her support for gay marriage official was almost certainly going to be a necessary step for many of her wealthy Hollywood donors. Now she's checked that box. 

The issue of gay marriage is far more contentious for Republicans. The party's base is still strongly opposed to gay marriage, but many party strategists recognize that the issue is hurting the GOP among young voters, who tend to support it, and who will, by definition, play a larger and larger role in future elections.

The Republican National Committee's much anticipated "autopsy," released Monday, stated flatly: "For the GOP to appeal to younger voters, we do not have to agree on every issue, but we do need to make sure young people do not see the Party as totally intolerant of alternative points of view. Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be. If our Party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out."  

Recently, more and more Republicans have been expressing support for gay marriage. Last month, dozens of top GOP officials signed on to an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court in favor of overturning California's Proposition 8, a ballot initiative barring gay marriage. Just last week, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman – who had been on Mitt Romney's short list for the vice presidential nomination – announced he now supports gay marriage, explaining that his son is gay and that he wants him to be able to experience the "joy and stability of marriage."

Ironically, the "leave it up to the states" position that was once held by Democrats like Clinton is now being increasingly adopted by Republicans. As Florida Sen. Marco Rubio – seen as a frontrunner for his party's 2016 nomination – said over the weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC): "Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in the traditional way does not make me a bigot."

Republican strategist Karl Rove gestures while at a luncheon at the California Republican Party convention, in Sacramento, Calif., earlier this month. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

Rove mocks Palin. Who'll win this feud? (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.18.13

Karl Rove on Sunday hit back at Sarah Palin for suggesting he’s a clueless apparatchik who should stop trying to vet GOP candidates and instead run for office himself.

Mr. Rove on “Fox News Sunday” sarcastically thanked Ms. Palin for her encouragement that he should throw his hat in the ring in his native Texas but added, “I don’t think I’m a good candidate: [I’m] kind of a balding, fat guy. And second, if I did run for office and win, I would serve out my term, and I wouldn’t leave office midterm.”

We see what you’re doing there, Karl. You’re calling ex-Governor Palin a quitter. She resigned her office midway through her first term, in 2009, in case you’ve forgotten. She’d had a taste of the political big time via the losing 2008 McCain-Palin campaign and decided it was time to leave Alaska to get ready for her next political adventure – which, as Rove noted, does not appear to involve running for office herself.

So it’s on! Why does this feud seem particularly prone to framing as a high school spat, as if it’s the head cheerleader versus the student-body president?

Anyway, here’s the background: Rove, President George W. Bush’s political adviser, has long been a ferocious competitor who puts winning as perhaps the highest political virtue. Because of that, he has often complained out loud about Republican candidates who win primaries but he feels are unsuited for general elections.

Remember Christine O’Donnell, the Delaware tea party activist who was a surprise winner of the state’s 2010 Senate primary and then got clocked in November? Remember her “I am not a witch” ad? Rove was her vocal foe from the beginning.

“This is not a race we are going to be able to win,” Rove said on Fox while she was still celebrating her primary win.

Rove similarly complained about Todd Akin, the losing Missouri Senate candidate whose “legitimate rape” comments turned off many swing voters.

More recently, Rove has suggested that his American Crossroads group will bankroll opponents to such tea party-backed politicians as a means to get more Republicans actually elected. It’s his view that right now, the GOP might well control the Senate as well as the House if the party had been more ruthless in candidate selection.

That’s the real split here, of course. It isn’t cheerleaders versus the math club. It’s Palin and her tea party ideology versus a more traditional Washington GOP establishment.

In her highly entertaining Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) speech over the weekend, Palin took on Rove over this issue without mentioning him by name.

“If these experts who keep losing elections and keep getting rehired and getting millions, if they feel that strongly about who gets to run in this party, then they should buck up or stay in the truck. Buck up or run,” Palin said. “[They] can head on back to the great Lone Star State and put their name on some ballot – though for their sakes, I hope they give themselves a discount on their consulting services.”

The CPAC crowd, which leans toward libertarian tea party types, ate that up. (They also loved it when she drank from a Big Gulp and made fun of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but that’s another story.)

So there you have it. This split is about more than two people. In a way, it represents the struggle now going on for the heart of the Republican Party. Does the GOP have to tack with the winds, adjust its position on such issues as immigration to meet voter preferences, and become more like the Democrats to win? Or should it double down on conservative positions to better motivate America’s true believers?

All we can say is we’d love to see Palin and Rove argue this over face to face. Perhaps they could do a home-and-home reality series. In the first episode, they’d go deer hunting. First to bag a buck wins. In the second, they’d be tested on the nation’s congressional districts and the percentage of the GOP vote in each, while sitting in a D.C. office without windows or fresh air.

In the third and last episode, they’d just sit there, and viewers would phone in pledges to their favorites. The one with the biggest political-action committee at the end wins and is congratulated by the host, Stephen Colbert.

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