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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. 

Former White House budget director Alice Rivlin (r), former Sen. Alan Simpson (R) of Wyoming (c), and Erskine Bowles, chief of staff in the Clinton White House, testify before a Senate hearing on fiscal responsibility on Nov. 1, 2011. Today, they announced a 'Fix the Debt Campaign' to, again, try to help resolve the nation's fiscal crisis. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File)

Bipartisan powers, activate! Can Congress's debt avengers be superheroes?

By Staff writer / 07.17.12

A bipartisan group calling itself the “Fix the Debt Campaign” kicked off its work Tuesday, and when these clear-eyed, pragmatic, bipartisan powers combine, they just might be the granddaddy of all Washington’s seemingly never-ending stream of commissions, working groups, and “gangs” of all membership levels aimed at correcting the nation’s treacherous financial trajectory.

But that name just doesn’t have the right swing – how about The Debt Avengers? The (Fiscal) Justice League? Or, if it wasn’t already sullied by congressional impotence, The Supercommittee?

Fix the Debt has arguably accumulated everybody who is anybody in Washington’s wonky, “let’s get real” set about federal debt and deficits. The effort is led by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R) of Wyoming and Democrat Erskine Bowles. Yes, the Simpson and Bowles of the Simpson-Bowles plan to reduce the nation’s debt by $4 trillion over 10 years, which nearly every elected official in Washington says (when trying to sound reasonable and bipartisan) that they love in theory but won’t touch otherwise. A vote for a plan along the lines of Simpson-Bowles in the House earlier this year turned up less than three dozen votes.

And that’s the group’s main question: What’s going to make it different from all the other herdings of well-meaning, rational, patriotic Americans who have beat their heads against the walls of Congress and the White House to no avail? Simpson-Bowles, after all, was the product of President Obama’s own debt commission – a fact easily forgotten considering the president left the plan largely for dead upon its publication, only to broadly endorse it later on.

But Messrs. Simpson and Bowles have backup. They are joined by Alice Rivlin, the first-ever director of the Congressional Budget Office who, by her own admission, “may have served on more debt commissions than anybody in Washington,” and is half of a duo (the other is former Sen. Pete Dominici (R) of New Mexico) that published a second bipartisan debt reduction plan.

Lawmakers looking for guidance from Wall Street types can look to famed investment banker Peter Peterson on the right or Steven Rattner, Mr. Obama’s auto czar, on the left. Those who want private-sector bona fides can find them in Honeywell chairman and CEO Dave Cote and World Fuel Services chairman and CEO Paul Stebbins. And for that down-the-middle, think tank-y wonkishness, there’s former World Bank chief Robert Zoellick and the president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Maya McGuineas.

How could they succeed? It won’t be as exciting as beating back an alien invasion, but could prove as difficult in today’s gridlocked Washington: First, they’ll become a clearinghouse for bipartisan pathways to solving the nation’s debt and deficit problems once the November elections are resolved.

“What we want is once this election cycle is over, we want to be available as a resource to whoever the next president is to be able to govern well and the next Congress to govern well,” said former Sen. Judd Gregg (R) of New Hampshire, one of the campaign’s co-chairmen. “We’re going to give them a lot of good ideas so they can accomplish that.”

Second, they’ll work outside Washington by building relationships with corporate leaders and running a “National Debt Tour” roadshow, among other measures, to build pressure for a comprehensive solution from beyond the Potomac. If the American people start pushing their representatives for a debt deal, they reason, its chances will improve dramatically.

“It’s necessary for us to create an environment where it becomes not only good policy to vote 'yes' for a debt-reduction plan but good politics as well,” said former Gov. Ed Rendell (D) of Pennsylvania, the campaign’s other co-chairman.

Yes, they say, a deal by July 4, 2013, is conceivable, but that would require Congress to delay some $600 billion in spending cuts and higher taxes from Dec. 31 through the middle of next year.

The group, however, is in the same bind that all organizations of former lawmakers and experts are in: They want action but are in no way able to make that happen.

They can chide the political parties, as Honeywell’s Mr. Cote did: “We can’t have people continue to revel in discordant pluralism or just indulging in simultaneous asphyxiation when we have a problem of this magnitude to address.”

They can urge the parties to act, as Mr. Bowles did: “We’ve got enough really good ideas out there, what we need now is to act. We need real action.... We do face a fiscal cliff. If we do nothing and we barrel through this fiscal cliff at the end of the year, we’re going to have about $7 trillion hit this country right in the gut.”

But what would they tell Congress to do? How are they going to help grease the levers of power in Washington to head off what they see as an imminent financial Armageddon?

“We don’t think it’s our job to tell Congress" how to deal with the fiscal cliff or with the lame duck session, said Mr. Gregg. “We’re just going to be here as a resource.”

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Former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin delivers the keynote address to activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington in this February file photo. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File)

Should Sarah Palin speak at GOP convention? (+video)

By Staff writer / 07.17.12

Should Sarah Palin speak at the Republican Convention in Tampa next month? The question arises because the time is drawing near, and the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate has yet to receive her podium invite. In fact, it’s not clear whether Mitt Romney’s forces want Palin to show up in Florida at all. It’s an apparent snub about which Palin sounds philosophical, yet vaguely wistful.

 “I’m sure I’m not the only one accepting consequences for calling out both sides of the aisle for spending too much money, putting us on the road to bankruptcy, and engaging in crony capitalism,” the former Alaska governor e-mailed Newsweek reporter Peter Boyer for a story on the subject published earlier this week.

The reasons why the presumptive 2012 GOP nominee might not want Palin around are obvious. She’s polarizing. She’s not great at interviews or off-the-cuff remarks. Democrats love to dislike her, and she’s not popular with independents. Her overall favorability scores are quite low. Her reality television show was a little . . . odd. She’s a reminder of a losing campaign Republicans would just as soon forget. And so on.

Plus, Mr. Romney doesn’t really need her. The theory is that a Palin appearance might win him greater Tea Party support. But at this point Republicans have all pretty much rallied behind Romney, whether they love him or not. Polls show he receives the overwhelming support of GOP-identifying voters.

Even some conservatives think her appearance in front of a Tampa microphone might be a bad idea.

“I think the negatives of such an appearance outweigh the net positives for those whose sole electoral goal is to get Obama out of office,” writes contributor Dustin Siggins at the conservative Hot Air web site.

However, here’s one point the nabobs of negativism may be forgetting: Sarah Palin is really, really good at giving convention speeches to Republicans.

Remember her 2008 St. Paul speech? We were there, and she blew the roof off the arena. At the time, delegates were a bit wary of a presidential nominee many felt lacked charisma and might be a closet moderate. (Sound familiar?) So when Palin asked them if they knew the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull, and then supplied the answer – “lipstick” – they leapt up and roared.

Who’s going to provide that kind of jolt for committed conservatives this time around? Herman Cain? Shucky ducky, no way. Rick Santorum? Nope, he’s still bitter. Rick Perry? Oops.

“She’s Numero Uno with the very voters who distrust Romney. If they can trot her out there for 10 minutes, and write remarks (and make her stick to them) that say in essence, ‘You don’t have to love Mitt Romney, but you do have to vote for him,’ I’d think that Romney would want that very much,” writes Daily Beast special correspondent Michael Tomasky today.

Yes, Democrats will howl that Republicans are promoting someone who’s mangled the history of Paul Revere’s ride, taken a hugely promoted national bus tour promoting her own noncandidacy, and otherwise served as a media-abetted gaffe production industry.

But Romney has not flinched from embracing such controversial GOP figures as Donald Trump and Dick Cheney. Why not Sarah Palin?

“Gov. Palin motivates and arouses an entire base,” said former Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich on conservative Laura Ingraham’s radio show Tuesday. “[She] should absolutely have a speaking slot.”

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President Barack Obama kisses the head of first lady Michelle Obama, left, after kissing her for 'Kiss Cam' in the second half while attending the Olympic men's exhibition basketball game between Team USA and Brazil, on July 16, in Washington. Team USA won 80-69. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Why did President Obama flub his 'Kiss Cam' moment? (+video)

By Staff writer / 07.17.12

President Obama flubbed a Kiss Cam moment yesterday, in case you haven’t heard.

He and First Lady Michelle Obama were attending a Team USA basketball exhibition game at the Verizon Center in Washington when the Kiss Cam turned its lens their way during a break in the action. The First Couple’s image appeared on the big arena screen, and the crowd began to cheer. That’s because when you show up on Kiss Cam, you’re supposed to plant a smooch on your partner.

But Obama clutched. He put his arm around Michelle, and smiled for the crowd, but that was it. Some in the crowd responded with boos.

Later in the game he got a second chance. That happens when you’re president. Imagine what went on behind the scenes – perhaps a livid David Axelrod screamed at a Verizon Center official to try POTUS again or they’d learn the true meaning of “outsourced job”.

Given a retry, Obama nailed his performance, giving Michelle a big spousal kiss on the lips, and one on her forehead for good measure. The crowd cheered. According to some accounts there were chants of “four more years”, though at that point in the game it’s possible some group was just ordering “four more beers”.

But here’s our question: why did he mess this up in the first place? We’ve got some theories:

IT WASN’T FOCUS-GROUPED. In a presidential campaign virtually every word a candidate says is scripted. All actions are pre-studied and analyzed for possible effect on swing voters in Ohio. Last week on his bus tour through swing states Obama entered a Pennsylvania bakery and ordered an apple pie, for instance. You think that was an accident? We would be unsurprised to learn that the campaign team had held a meeting beforehand to consider his pastry choices and rejected German chocolate cake as too European.

In that context, Obama just didn’t know what to do when the time came for spontaneous action. Had Axelrod run this by a focus group? Do voters want a little passion in their Kiss Cam couples, or restraint? Best not to move until the Gallup poll data comes in.

WHAT’S A “KISS CAM”? It’s also possible that Obama had no idea what was expected. We’re about the same era as POTUS, and we go out on the town about as much as he does, which is to say, seldom. We were at a sporting event over the weekend and were astonished by the range of between-action activities: Kiss Cams, Most Active Fan contests, mascot races and so forth. What happened to just watching the game? When did umpires get individualized walk-up music?

Presidents might be even more insulated in this regard than the rest of us. “Wow, Michelle, look at how bright that screen is – and now they’re showing us? Why are we appearing inside a heart-shaped graphic?”

HUSBAND = CLUELESS. A corollary of reason number two might be this: it’s possible that as a longtime married guy Barack Obama is not quick on the uptake when it comes to suggestions of spousal togetherness.

When you’ve been a husband as long as he has, candlelit dinners mean the power’s out. A weed whacker might seem a perfectly appropriate anniversary gift. You TiVo Stephen Colbert, because really, who can stay up that late?

So those are our ideas. We await the Kiss Cam special episode of “Situation Room” to find out the real story from Wolf Blitzer.

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Demonstrators stand outside a fundraiser for Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in Baton Rouge, La. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Mitt Romney: Republican 'friendly fire' grows over tax returns

By / 07.16.12

As Mitt Romney continues to fend off attacks from the Obama campaign, he’s facing a form of “friendly fire” that’s becoming less and less friendly.

Prominent Republicans have been voicing frustration with Mr. Romney for weeks now, over everything from his unwillingness to release more of his tax returns to what they see as his campaign’s flat-footedness in responding to Democratic attacks.

Strategic “advice” has been offered up on The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, and in a series of high-profile tweets from NewsCorp CEO Rupert Murdoch. Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley have said publicly they thought Romney should release the tax returns.

And lately, the hand-wringing has taken a more stinging turn.

On “Fox News Sunday” this week, Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol called Romney’s refusal to release more than two years of tax returns “crazy.” 

“He should release the tax returns tomorrow,” Mr. Kristol said. “You've got to release six, eight, 10 years of back tax returns.”

Over on ABC’s “This Week,” conservative columnist George Will chimed in by observing that Romney was “losing at this point in a big way.” Mr. Will added: “I do not know why, given that Mitt Romney knew the day that McCain lost in 2008 that he was going to run for president again that he didn't get all of this out and tidy up some of his offshore accounts and all the rest.”

Former Bush strategist Matthew Dowd then twisted the knife further by actually speculating that there is something damaging in the tax returns: “There's obviously something there, because if there was nothing there, he would say, ‘Have at it,’” Mr. Dowd commented. “So there's obviously something there that compromises what he said in the past about something…. [I]f he had 20 years of great, clean, everything's fine, it'd all be out there.”


Some of these folks were conspicuously not in Romney’s corner during the GOP primary campaign. Mr. Will’s wife worked briefly on Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s ill-fated presidential bid, and Will was a fairly harsh critic of Romney throughout the primary season. Mr. Kristol was one of those calling for a new candidate to jump into the race even after it was pretty clear that the field was set.

But that doesn’t mean the comments won’t hurt.

Our question is whether there’s anything Romney can do at this point to appease these critics (aside from releasing the tax returns –which at this point, we suspect, won't even do it). Maybe include them all in some campaign strategy sessions? Launch a personal charm offensive? Write some checks? (Just kidding.)

Actually, his best solution might lie with his vice presidential pick. By tapping a running mate who excites those Republicans least excited about Romney himself, Romney might finally silence some of the naysayers who’ve been nipping at him.

So who gets the most thumbs up from the down-on-Romney Republicans? Will has given his stamp of approval to Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Kristol also likes Congresssman Ryan, as well as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. (He likes Condoleezza Rice, too – though as we’ve written, we think that’s unlikely to happen.)

Of course, those are not the candidates most often cited as the true frontrunners (those would be Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty). Which means Romney may be about to disappoint his critics on the right again. Watch out for the knives.

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Beyonce accepts the award for best female R&B at the BET Awards on in this July 1 photo, in Los Angeles. Beyonce is the star of President Obama’s latest campaign ad, released online Monday, July 16. (Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

Beyonce praises Michelle Obama in new campaign ad. Will that win votes? (+video)

By Staff writer / 07.16.12

Beyonce is the star of President Obama’s latest campaign ad. In the spot – released online Monday – the singer reads a letter she wrote in April that praises First Lady Michelle Obama.

In the letter Beyonce praises Mrs. Obama as “the ultimate example of a truly strong African-American woman”.

“No matter the pressure and the stress of being under the microscope she’s humble, loving and sincere. . . she builds and nurtures her family while also looking out for so many millions in so many ways,” says the Grammy-winning performer.

How did the campaign get Beyonce to do this? It wasn’t hard, apparently – she and the First Lady have had a mutual admiration society for some time. Beyonce performed at the presidential inauguration in 2009. Michelle took daughters Malia and Sasha to see a Beyonce concert earlier this year, and in May the First Lady told People magazine that if she could be anyone else, it would be You Know Who.

“Gosh if I had some gift I’d be Beyonce, I’d be some great singer,” said FLOTUS.

Of course, not everyone thinks that the White House-celebrity culture link is a good one. Republicans have run a number of ads portraying the president as show-business wannabe who doesn’t understand the problems of regular non-Grammy winning folks. When Obama attended a fundraiser in May at actor George Clooney’s house, the Republican National Committee put out a press release saying the “celebrity-in-chief” was raising big Hollywood bucks from his celebrity pals.

That said, we’ll note that the Beyonce ad does not appear to be designed for wide release. It’s on the campaign’s YouTube channel, and online ads tend to be aimed at narrow, specific audiences. It’s probable that the Obama folks will be promoting this by email among demographic groups to which they believe it would appeal. That means young voters, single women, and women in general, most likely.

We’d also hold that the real star of this ad is not Beyonce, but Michelle Obama. Sure, the singer appears at several moments, reciting her letter aloud, but most of the ad is devoted to video of the First Lady doing First Lady stuff – talking, dancing, traveling, and so forth. It’s FLOTUS who gets all the action shots.

That’s in keeping with the Obama team’s recent use of the First Lady as something of a campaign secret weapon. While the media obsesses about Obama’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s time at Bain, Mrs. Obama has been traveling the country in recent days, raising money and making campaign stops on her own.

On Sunday, for instance, she appeared at a fundraiser in Pocantico Hills, New York. Her remarks were full of references to “family, “grandparents," and so forth. The First Lady held forth at length about her own life story growing up on the South Side of Chicago.

As other commentators have noted, Mrs. Obama has become one of the campaign’s primary weapons for outreach to the middle class. Perhaps that’s because she’s more popular than her husband. A Gallup poll from May 30 puts her favorability ratings at 66 percent – 14 points better than the president’s figure.

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In this June 19 photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney talks about the vetting of a vice presidential running mate in Holland, Mich. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Is Mitt Romney catching up? (+video)

By Staff writer / 07.16.12

Mitt Romney has had a tough time on the campaign trail in recent weeks. He’s had to insist over and over again that he left Bain Capital in 1999, despite Securities and Exchange Commission documents which imply that he didn’t. He’s been forced to defend himself against charges that he was involved in Bain investments in outsourcing firms from that post-1999 period. Plus, lots of folks on cable news – some of them Republicans – keep shouting at him to release more years of personal tax returns.

You’d think that all this controversy might cause him to slip in the polls. But that doesn’t appear to be happening. In fact, according to the Romney campaign, the presumptive GOP nominee is actually catching up.

A new memo out today from Romney campaign pollster Neil Newhouse notes that in April the RealClearPolitics rolling average of major polls put President Obama ahead by 5.3 percentage points. As of July 15, the same RCP measurement had Mr. Obama ahead by only 2.4 percentage points.

Three national polls released since Friday – Rasmussen, Gallup daily tracking, and McClatchy/Marist – show the race to be a dead heat, writes Mr. Newhouse. And this is so, says the Romney official, despite the fact that the Obama campaign has outspent its counterpart two to one on national advertising during the period.

“What has that bought the Democrats? A closer race – Obama has slipped and support for Gov. Romney has increased,” writes Newhouse.

Well, we have a couple of things to say about this assertion. The first is that it’s true that the presidential horse race so far has been remarkably stable. As we’ve written before, there is little evidence that the daily stuff seems to matter. The Supreme Court decision upholding Obama’s health-care reforms, bad jobs reports, Bain attacks, tax return controversies – at this point none of that seems to be seeping through to large numbers of voters.

The second is that you have to cherry-pick polls a little bit to say that Romney is actually catching up and we’re seeing a “closer race.”

At least one of the recent polls the Romney camp points to – the Gallup daily tracking numbers – has consistently shown the Republican doing a bit better than its counterparts. And the Romney memo leaves off a Pew Research poll released last Thursday that gave Obama a seven-point advantage.

Look at the RealClearPolitics line graph of its rolling average and you’ll see that there is a good deal of noise inherent in the measurement – daily numbers moving up and down around a fairly steady overall trend line. That’s what pollsters mean when they talk about margin of error. You expect day-to-day, and poll-to-poll, variations.

A recent analysis from Huffington Post polling director Mark Blumenthal says the race remains what it’s been for months: very close, with Obama retaining the slightest of leads.

“The narrow Obama advantage in the national polls translates, as expected, into a modest Electoral College advantage for the president in the individual state polls,” writes Mr. Blumenthal.

Blumenthal adds that as the election nears and more pollsters began screening their results to reflect the preferences of likely voters (as opposed to all registered voters) Romney might catch up. That’s because historically a higher percentage of Republicans actually vote.

“Buckle up, polling junkies, it’s going to be a bumpy ride,” he writes.

On the Campaign Trail with Mitt Romney

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In this April 17 file photo, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks at Mississippi College in Clinton, Miss. Vice-presidential speculation exploded Thursday with a story saying that the former secretary of State had emerged as a 'front-runner' to become Mitt Romney’s running mate. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)

What's really driving veep buzz about Condoleezza Rice?

By Correspondent / 07.13.12

Could it be Condi? Don’t hold your breath.

We’re referring to the vice-presidential speculation that exploded Thursday, with a story on the Drudge Report saying that the former secretary of State had emerged as a “front-runner” to become Mitt Romney’s running mate.

The buzz got an immediate boost from a variety of other voices on the right, with everyone from Rush Limbaugh to Sarah Palin to House majority leader Eric Cantor offering up approval.

It all strikes us, however, as a red herring.

True, Mr. Romney is probably getting close to making a decision on his No. 2 (if he hasn’t already). But if the campaign is hoping to get a significant bump in the polls after announcing the pick, a crucial component will be the element of surprise. Floating a trial balloon by leaking Condoleezza Rice’s name to Drudge would undermine that.

Then there are all the strikes against her:

1. She’s in favor of abortion rights. Given the lack of trust that many social conservatives have for Romney – whose position on abortion has, as he puts it, “evolved” over the years – it’s been widely assumed that he will choose a running mate with a strong antiabortion record, to reassure the base. (Interestingly, though, Ms. Palin seemed to indicate some flexibility on that point Thursday night, noting that while she’d prefer candidates be antiabortion, “it’s not the vice president that would legislate abortion ... that would be Congress’s role.”)

2. She’s too closely associated with the Bush years. George W. Bush left office with a 34 percent approval rating and a 61 percent disapproval rating – and Ms. Rice’s role in many of the most controversial elements of his presidency, like the Iraq war, would be revived and probed all over again.

3. She’s not a politician. We know, Rice gave an electrifying speech at Romney’s donor retreat in Utah last month, firing up the crowd and giving rise to all the vice-presidential rumors that are now in overdrive. But she has never run for elective office, and she still strikes us as extremely private and even somewhat shy. It’s hard to picture her out on the campaign trail, giving stump speeches and working the rope line, or being willing to endure the kind of intense media scrutiny that goes with the territory. And of course, she has said repeatedly that she’s not interested (and yes, everyone says that – but in this case, we believe her).

Given all that, it seems to us that the Romney folks were really just looking for a splashy way to change the subject Thursday, away from the downward-sucking spiral that has become Romney’s record at Bain, what year he actually “retired,” what’s in his tax returns, offshore bank accounts, etc., etc.

But if leaking Rice’s name to Drudge was mostly an effort to turn the page, it could have unintended consequences. Specifically, we’re now wondering if the chatter – and evident enthusiasm – about Rice has gone beyond what the Romney campaign anticipated, to the point where it could make his eventual choice seem less exciting by comparison.

Of all the vice-presidential contenders being discussed, Rice clearly leads the pack in both star power and intellectual heft. And it’s awfully intriguing to imagine the impact of putting a black woman on the GOP ticket. At the moment, the electorate seems even more divided by race than in 2008: President Obama is polling at new lows among white men, while retaining or even increasing his support among minorities. If Romney could steal even a small percentage of minority votes away from the president, it could change the whole electoral map.

In a way, the jolt created by the Rice speculation has underscored one of the biggest problems for Romney. He is widely perceived as uninspiring and, well, dull – even by Republicans. Qualified, efficient, pragmatic, sure. But dull.

Conservative columnist Peggy Noonan recounted in her Wall Street Journal column Thursday that when she mentioned Rice as a possibly “brilliant choice” for VP to a crowd of business people recently, “spontaneous applause” erupted. As Ms. Noonan put it, the crowd seemed suddenly energized by the notion that this campaign could get exciting, after all. 

That doesn’t mean picking Rice is the answer for Romney. But it raises new questions about the wisdom of putting a proverbial "boring white guy" on the ticket. Romney doesn't have many options left for injecting genuine excitement into his campaign. And he could use some. 

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In this July 11 photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks in Houston, Texas. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Did Mitt Romney run Bain after 1999? Will voters care if he did? (+video)

By Staff writer / 07.13.12

Did Mitt Romney run Bain Capital after 1999? Will voters care if he did, or didn’t?

These questions arise due to recent news reports on Bain Capital SEC filings indicating that Mr. Romney retained control over the firm for years after his announced 1999 departure to run the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. The Boston Globe reported on these documents this week, following stories by David Corn of Mother Jones and other journalists earlier in the month.

This might seem like political hair-splitting – what’s three years, after all? But Bain Capital, during those years, was involved in investments in outsourcing firms and several job-killing bankruptcies. Romney doesn’t want to be tied to those events – something the Obama campaign is trying to do.

“Either Mitt Romney, through his own words and his own signature, was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission], which is a felony, or he is misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments,” said Stephanie Cutter, President Obama's deputy campaign manager, on Thursday in a conference call with reporters.

In the past, independent journalistic fact-finding organizations have found that the Obama team’s attempts to link Romney to Bain’s outsourcing investments are a stretch at best and deceptive at worst. They say nothing in the new revelations changes that judgment.

Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler called the SEC documents “relatively unimportant,” and noted that Romney filed a federal financial disclosure form that states he had no active role in Bain during the years in question. A misstatement on the disclosure form would indeed be a felony, wrote Mr. Kessler.

“That filing would seem to trump these SEC documents,” he concluded.

At, Brooks Jackson cites a University of Pennsylvania law professor’s opinion that there is no basis for the Obama camp’s claim that Romney committed a felony on the SEC papers.

“None of the SEC filings show that Romney was anything but a passive, absentee owner during that time, as both Romney and Bain have long said,” writes Jackson. “It should not surprise anyone that Romney retained certain titles while he was working out the final disposition of his ownership.”

Does this mean the White House will have to abandon this line of attack? Ha! Haven’t paid much attention to this election cycle, have you?

The Obama team may believe that forcing Romney to explain why he wasn’t running Bain after 1999 is almost as good as actually proving that he was running Bain after 1999. That’s because every day the word “Bain” shows up in headlines, it reminds voters of Romney’s venture capital past – and it’s a day when job loss numbers didn’t dominate the national political conversation.

“Sure, Romney’s name appeared on Bain’s SEC filings. But he didn’t make Bain’s decisions. He only benefited financially from them,” writes Slate political blogger David Weigel. “Now you see why the Obama campaign thinks it can drag this out over weeks and months.”

But here’s the not-little-secret about the 2012 campaign: So far, the daily stuff doesn’t seem to matter. Bain, bad job reports, the US Supreme Court decision on health care, Mr. Obama’s comment that the private-sector economy is “doing fine” – there’s little evidence any of that has moved the polls one iota, according to Sean Trende, RealClearPolitics senior election analyst.

Since the end of the Republican primary season, virtually all major polls of registered voters have shown Obama slightly ahead of the presumptive GOP nominee. Virtually all surveys of likely voters have the candidates in a dead heat.

“This is a long way of pointing out that the various events in the campaign that journalists have focused on ... have done almost nothing to move this race,” writes Mr. Trende.

Obama’s attacks on Romney haven’t been able disqualify the former Massachusetts governor for the presidency in the minds of voters – particularly white working-class voters, a group for whom Obama holds little appeal. Meanwhile, Romney’s focus on job losses has ignored the fact that the economy isn’t terrible. It isn’t good, but it isn’t horrendous at this point, either.

“Overall, we just haven’t seen the type of event that would cause this campaign to break open one way or the other. If I had to bet, given the overall dynamics of the campaigns, I’d say we won’t see much net movement until the end,” writes Trende.

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Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington Thursday to discuss the Senate's upcoming vote on the Small Business Jobs and Tax Relief Act. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Why Democrats are hesitant to vote on Obama's tax plan

By Staff writer / 07.12.12

Lots of weird things happen in Congress in an election season. Case in point: For the next few weeks, Democrats swear they’re going to relish a fight on taxes.

 Taxes, of course, are typically GOP-controlled terrain, and that conversation typically goes something like this: We don't want any. But this year, Democrats think they have the winning hand, and so Senate Democratic leaders are twisting themselves into procedural pretzels to make sure the issue doesn't leave the public eye anytime soon.

Never mind that President Obama asked Congress last week immediately to pass a one-year extension of the Bush tax cuts up to $250,000 in household income. There's two weeks to go until Congress's summer break, and delaying a vote on the president's plan gives Democrats two weeks to pummel Republicans as middle-class-hating protectors of the fabulously wealthy and undertaxed. 

“We’re delighted to wait a few weeks and have the president go around the country and explain his tax proposal, our tax proposal, versus theirs,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) of New York. “Every day, the more people hear about the difference between the two, the more they side with ours.” 

This, however, has required some small amount of legislative gymnastics. 

The Republicans, of course, knew exactly what the Democrats were up to and tried to trump them. They wanted to attach their Bush tax cut proposal – preserving the cuts for all income levels – and the president's to a bill aimed at cutting taxes for small businesses who hire new employees.

This is a bread-and-butter maneuver for the Senate minority – amending a bill that many people like in such a way as to make it poisonous to the opposing party. In this case, the amendments would have allowed Republicans to get the Bush tax cut vote out of the way quickly and move on to other issues.

But Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada was having none of it. On Wednesday morning, he disallowed the amendments and later, for good measure, closed down all further amendments on the small businesses bill.

In the procedure-obsessed Senate, closing off amendments is like taking doughnuts from Homer Simpson. Expect things to get ugly. 

 Republicans expressed their shock that the Senate majority leader would block a vote on a plan that the president himself wanted passed as soon as possible (because they, after all, are always so eager to please the president). They also savaged Senator Reid's solution: The two tax plans would come up for a vote as bills of their own – at some point before the summer recess. 

Republicans already had their bill written, by Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Orrin Hatch of Utah. But who knows what the Democrats would put into their proposal, suggested Senate minority leader McConnell.

“If the president has a proposal, we’ll be happy to send an intern down to the White House to pick it up. But we can’t vote on a speech,” McConnell said Thursday. “And, frankly, we can’t continue like this. It’s long past time Democrats at the White House and in the Senate took the lives and challenges of working Americans as seriously as they take politics.”

The politics of the bill are quite clear. It's not about passing the bill, it's about scoring political points.

It won't have the 60 votes needed to overcome a Senate filibuster. Several vulnerable Democratic senators – Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Jon Tester of Montana – all gave lukewarm reactions to the president’s plan, and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut, who caucuses with Democrats, said he would vote against it. 

But Democratic leaders appeared confident at a press conference Thursday that they would have at least 51 votes for the president’s measure – a symbolic statement that would show Democrats in general are on board. Trying to add to this impression, Senate Finance Chairman Kent Conrad (D) of North Dakota said Tuesday that the “vast majority” of the caucus is “comfortable” with the president’s plan. 

And, it goes without saying, many will be comfortable talking about it – a lot – during the next two weeks. 

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Vice President Joe Biden greets participants after addressing the NAACP annual convention on Thursday in Houston. (Pat Sullivan/AP)

Joe Biden fires up NAACP. Where was President Obama?

By Staff writer / 07.12.12

Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday delivered a fiery speech defending Obama administration priorities to the NAACP annual meeting in Houston. His basic theme: For working-class black families, President Obama’s agenda is better than challenger Mitt Romney’s.

“I think Mitt Romney is a fine family man. I believe he’s driven by what he believes. But the differences are so basic about how we view the future of America,” said Mr. Biden.

For instance, education does not play a central role in Mr. Romney’s vision of the US, while it does for Mr. Obama, charged Biden. Romney opposes government support for the development of renewable-energy sources and efforts to equalize pay between men and women.

Biden drew perhaps his most enthusiastic crowd response when he said that the incumbent administration wants to expand voting rights, not diminish them. In a number of states, Republicans have led efforts to require that voters produce identification – a requirement that Attorney General Eric Holder has derided as a “poll tax” designed to suppress minority votes.

“Folks, there is a lot more to say, but this is preaching to the choir,” said Biden, stating the obvious as the audience applauded.

Polls show that Obama should win upwards of 95 percent of the African American vote, so in many ways Biden’s reception was foreordained. The pastor who led the invocation to open the day’s proceedings listed how the NAACP had been “blessed” to hear from a number of prominent individuals, but left that word out when referring to the presumptive GOP nominee, saying only that “we’ve heard also from Mitt Romney."

The NAACP crowed booed Romney on Wednesday when he vowed that if elected he’d repeal Obama's health care law. The audience did applaud some Romney pronouncements, such as his statement of opposition to gay marriage, and gave him a polite standing ovation at his end.

Given this context, one question stands out: Where was the president himself? If his challenger was willing to appear before the NAACP and be booed, why couldn’t Obama bestir himself to meet live with his most committed supporters?

Conservative commentators defending Romney were quick to make this comparison.

“Hey, one Presidential candidate cared enough about the African-American vote to show up to the NAACP’s annual convention in this election year. Too bad it wasn’t the Democrat,wrote conservative talk show host Ed Morrissey on the website Hot Air.

Republicans noted that CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer agreed with them. On his Situation Room show on Wednesday, Mr. Blitzer said that Romney did the “right thing” by appearing and that Obama, who was in Washington with no public meetings on his schedule, should have appeared as well.

“He’s got meetings. I assume those meetings are very important, but he could have found the time to pay his respects to the NAACP,” said Blitzer.

It’s true that most blacks will vote Democratic. But in swing states such as Virginia, Obama needs every single vote – and an energized African-American electorate could help him, said Blitzer.

Obama did appear at the NAACP via video just prior to Biden’s speech. “I stand on your shoulders,” he said, to polite but not overwhelming applause.

Are you more (or less) liberal than President Obama? Take our quiz.

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