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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. 

Pictured in this April 25 file photo, Mogul/reality-show host Donald Trump gives evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Economy Energy and Tourism Committee in Edinburgh, Scotland. Mr. Trump is thinking of starting his own super PAC. (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/AP)

Donald Trump mulls super PAC. What's next – VP?

By Staff writer / 05.25.12

Mogul/reality-show host Donald Trump is thinking of starting his own super PAC. That’s what he told the conservative media organization Newsmax, anyway. In a lengthy interview with former Congressman John LeBoutillier, Mr. Trump – a Mitt Romney supporter – said that some unnamed people have approached him about starting such an independent political funding organization and that he might do just that.

Why? Partly because he thinks the quality of some pro-Romney ads is not high.

“There was a recent [anti-Obama] commercial done where they made him look like a superhero. I’m saying, who made this commercial? I thought it was one of the worst commercials I’ve ever seen,” Trump told Newsmax.

Trump also said he “would certainly consider it” if asked to give the keynote speech at the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., in August. Plus – and you knew this was coming – Trump said that he, The Donald, should be Romney’s choice as a running mate.

He was kidding. We think. Asked about the VP slot, he ticked off Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and some other names and then said, “Probably the best choice of all would be Donald Trump.”

Newsmax noted that he was smiling as he said it.

Anyway, we’re more than glad that Trump is mulling a return to more active involvement in the 2012 campaign. The political world has been duller since he pulled back. Also more coherent, but that’s another story.

That said, here’s our prediction as to how this particular arc in Trump’s storied career will play out:

1. Trump forms a super political-action committee and then holds a naming contest. He specifies that all entries must contain the word “stupendous” and cannot be written on computers made in China, because, in his (actual) words, “they think we're stupid.”

2. Trump’s “Stupendous Priorities for American Glory” super PAC gets in an ad war with Stephen Colbert’s “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow” super PAC. Trump agrees to appear on Mr. Colbert’s show and settle the matter via a trivia contest about the Founding Fathers. Ratings rise for Colbert and Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” which was the point of the whole feud anyway.

3. Trump continues to mention himself as the best choice for VP, with less apparent irony as the campaign goes on. He agrees with a number of interviewers that he would be the best possible secretary of State/Treasury/Defense/Agriculture/Education/Health and Human Services and so forth, but he says he’s making too much money to leave the private sector.

4. Trump’s continued assertion that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and, as a youth, was a pothead who did not really deserve to get into either Columbia or Harvard becomes a distraction for the Romney campaign. Tagg Romney is dispensed to get Trump to zip it, but he can’t get past the doorman at Trump Towers.

5. Trump, denied a role in Tampa, says the GOP campaign would be going better if Rep. Michele Bachmann had won.

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President Obama speaks at a campaign grassroots event at the Iowa state fairgrounds, in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday. (Nati Harnik/AP)

Obama blames Romney for spreading 'cow pie of distortion.' Is he right? (+video)

By / 05.25.12

President Obama during an Iowa campaign appearance on Thursday went after Mitt Romney with a vengeance. Among other things, Mr. Obama said that a recent Romney speech criticizing the administration’s accumulation of US debt was a “cow pie of distortion.”

“I don’t know whose record he twisted the most – mine or his,” said Obama to laughter from the crowd at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.

Um, OK. That’s a pretty pungent metaphor for those of us who aren’t hearing it in the context of a Midwestern livestock arena. Is the president right?

We’ll note first of all that big numbers such as America’s annual deficit and the accumulated debt seem solid, but they’re not. They’re prone to manipulation in analysis, depending on which numbers you choose, what your start and end dates are, and so forth.

In particular, Obama was responding to a Romney charge that a “prairie fire of debt” is sweeping the United States. (Do speechwriters get together in a bipartisan manner to dream up unfortunate metaphors? Dried cow patties could fuel a prairie fire, though. Just saying.)

In Iowa Thursday, Obama said that it’s true the recession has added to the debt. More people need unemployment insurance. Tax receipts are lower.

Obama kind of glided past the unpopular phrase “stimulus spending,” however, saying only that his administration’s efforts had helped keep the US auto industry alive and more teachers on the job.

“But what my opponents didn’t tell you was that federal spending since I took office has risen at the slowest pace of any president in almost 60 years,” said Obama.

This assertion has become an article of faith among Democrats in recent days. It stems from an analysis by Rex Nutting of MarketWatch in The Wall Street Journal that found federal spending under Obama has risen at an annualized rate of only 1.4 percent.

That’s the slowest pace since President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“Of all the falsehoods told about President Barack Obama, the biggest whopper is the one about his reckless spending spree,” Mr. Nutting writes.

However, a new Washington Post analysis of that same ground on Friday finds methodological problems with Nutting’s analysis. (See our warning about the fluidity of apparently solid numbers, above.)

We won’t go into depth here, beyond noting that according to the Post, Nutting shaves off much of Obama’s first year in office, attributing that to locked-in budgets put in place by President Bush. He also assumes that drastic automatic cuts now looming because of a congressional budget clash will, in fact, happen.

Under Obama, federal spending as a percentage of the US gross domestic product has risen from 20.8 percent to 23.3 percent. Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler gives the “slowest since Ike” assertion, which was repeated Thursday by White House spokesman Jay Carney, a rating of Three Pinocchios. That means Mr. Kessler finds it mostly wrong.

“The White House might have a case that some of the rhetoric concerning Obama’s spending patterns has been overblown, but ... the picture is not as rosy as [Mr. Carney] portrayed it when accurate numbers, taken in context, are used,” writes Kessler.

Think this is the final word on the subject? We doubt it. We suggest reading the analyses listed above, and the inevitable responses and counterresponses, for yourselves.

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Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky (c), flanked by Sen. John Thune (R) of South Dakota (far left) and Sen. John Barrasso (R) of Wyoming (back), speaks on Capitol Hill after a weekly strategy luncheon on May 8 discussing, among other things, the partisan gridlock on student loans. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File)

Psst, students. Still hope for low-rate student loans, despite Senate balking

By Staff writer / 05.24.12

With interest rates on certain student loans set to double on July 1, the Senate channeled its inner college student by pulling the legislative equivalent of picking up an Xbox controller or logging into Facebook.

That is, the senators procrastinated in the face of an impending deadline.

The Senate was looking to "express itself" on the student loan issue on Thursday, as minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky put it the day prior. What senators expressed was a willingness to put actual work on student loan rates aside until at least after next week's district work period, as senators rejected both the Democratic and Republican options for picking up the $6 billion tab for extending low interest rates another year.

Without a congressional fix, interest on some subsidized federal loans would double to 6.8 percent starting in July. That's an outcome that neither party – and neither presidential nominee – says is desirable. Yet the parties can't decide how to come up with the cash to pay for keeping the rate low.

By allowing votes on both doomed measures, Senate Democrats nudged the student loan debate incrementally forward: Republicans blocked a vote on the Democratic proposal that would generate $6 billion by closing a payroll-tax loophole for a certain subsection of corporations, earlier in the month.

“We already know how this story ends," Senator McConnell said earlier in the day. "So why are Democrats forcing us to vote on their failed proposal yet again? Because, as I’ve said, they’re more interested in drawing our opposition – and of creating a bad guy – than in actually solving the problem."

By voting on both proposals, however, Republicans will be on record as voting for a proposal to cap student loan interest rates (paid for by raiding a preventive health-care fund), as well as voting against one, netting out any nettlesome political effects.

The Republican bill fell 34 to 62, while the Democratic proposal landed at 51 to 43, short of the 60 votes needed for passage.

The student loan votes capped a long day (by Senate standards), as the senators voted on some dozen amendments to a bill reauthorizing the Food and Drug Administration's authority to collect user fees to fund its review of drugs and medical devices. The FDA bill passed nearly unanimously, 96 to 1.

Then, senators turned their attention to whacking both student loan measures before high-tailing it out of town for the Memorial Day holiday and a week in their home states.

When they return, the Senate will face a rare full month of work in Washington, with issues including a farm bill, flood insurance legislation, small business tax relief, cybersecurity, and pay fairness for women on the agenda.

And then there are those pesky student loans which, as David Hawkings of Capitol Hill news group CQ wrote, "already looks like the get-out-of-town vote on June 29."

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A screen grab from Mitt Romney's 'Day One, Part Two' political ad. (Romney Campaign/YouTube)

New Romney ad outlines Day 1 of his presidency. Realistic? (+video)

By Staff writer / 05.24.12

Mitt Romney has got a new ad out that outlines what he’d do on his first day as president of the United States. It’s a positive, introductory spot – probably an attempt to counter President Obama’s attacks on his Bain Capital record. But is it realistic?

We ask that because candidates for president often make sweeping campaign promises that actual presidents don’t have the power to carry out. And to us it appears as if the Romney ad is no exception to this rule. (Candidate Obama did the same thing. We’ll get to that in a second.)

Let’s take a look at the video, shall we? The ad is only 30 seconds, short and punchy. “What would a Romney presidency be like?” is the first thing viewers see. Then the narrator, over upbeat music that sounds like a newscast theme, says, “Day One, President Romney announces deficit reductions, ending the Obama era of big government, helping secure our kids’ futures.”

Let’s hold it right there. The president of the United States cannot “announce deficit reductions.” He can propose deficit reductions that Congress may or may not approve, after months of partisan dispute and enough press conferences to fill 10 C-SPAN channels. We’re not questioning Romney’s commitment to fiscal discipline. We’re just saying the magic spell “descendum budgetata” works only in Harry Potter.

OK, back to the ad. Second, the narrator says, “President Romney stands up to China and demands they play by the rules.” Yes, the US president can completely do that. It’s not an exaggeration. Whether China will do anything in response, or whether that’s different from what the current administration thinks it’s been doing, is another question.

Finally, the ad ends with, “President Romney begins repealing job-killing regulations that are costing the economy billions.” This is mostly doable – presidents do have the power to issue executive orders and (generally) control the regulatory output of executive agencies. We’ll note, however, that the word “begins” here is crucial – it’s a longer process than you’d think, involving proposed new rules, publishing in the Federal Register, comment periods, and bureaucrats who may or may not want the whole thing to slow to a slug’s pace.

So there you have it. As to Obama, remember the campaign slogan “Change”? One word, big promise. Turns out that requires a lot of other people to go along, and is harder to accomplish in many areas than 2008 campaign spots implied.

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Newark Mayor Cory Booker speaks onstage at Gospelfest in Newark, NJ, on May 12. (Charles Sykes/AP/File)

Has Cory Booker hurt his own political career? (+video)

By Staff writer / 05.23.12

Has Cory Booker hurt his own political career? That’s a valid question in the wake of his misstep last Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Mr. Booker – the Democratic mayor Newark, N.J. – called President Obama’s anti-Bain Capital campaign ads “nauseating." He and the Obama campaign have been in full damage-control mode ever since.

Well, one thing’s for sure – a prime time Booker speech at the Democratic National Convention is now pretty unlikely. That would only cause the “Meet the Press” clip to run in rotation on cable news again. So the Newark mayor, often described as a rising star, won’t get the exposure that then-little known Barack Obama did when he delivered the DNC keynote address in 2004.

Plus, his own ties to Wall Street have now become press fodder. On Monday, the liberal website Think Progress revealed that Bain officials and others in the finance industry contributed more than $565,000 to Booker’s first mayoral campaign in 2002. Stories about links between financial groups and Booker, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, and other Democrats who criticized the Bain ads came out so fast that some on the right suspect they were planted by the Obama camp.

“I expected them to send out oppo research on Republicans.... But I don’t think I ever would’ve predicted they’d be digging up dirt on their own campaign surrogates,” wrote Ben Howe on the conservative RedState blog.

Booker’s in-state party rivals have even begun tweaking him over his misstep. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) of New Jersey, for instance, holds a seat that Booker is rumored to want for himself. On Tuesday, Senator Lautenberg said Booker’s words were “a terrible blow, in my view, for President Obama."

The mayor of Newark is spending too much time giving speeches elsewhere, Lautenberg told Roll Call.

“Newark needs hands-on kind of leadership, and it’s not getting the attention" it needs, Lautenberg said.

But here’s our view: Booker is OK here. If anything, he’s helped his chances of winning a statewide New Jersey office, such as governor or senator.

First of all, he’s now more famous than ever. He’s gotten plenty of media exposure – and he’s a naturally appealing political talent. Yes, he’s eating a little humble pie, but in general voters agree with his original sentiment: Negative advertising is nauseating, and there’s way too much of it in our current political culture.

Second, it’s New Jersey. See that city on the other side of the Hudson? It’s New York, where Wall Street is. Any New Jersey politician will have constituents with financial-industry ties and likely will find it expedient to raise Wall Street money. In that context, it might be dangerous for Booker to come across as anti-Bain.

Third, Booker may be better off in the Garden State if there’s some distance between him and Obama. New Jersey is reliably blue at the presidential level, but it’s not liberal – Gov. Chris Christie is not only a Republican, he’s a possible Mitt Romney VP pick. And what Booker’s comments might really have done is expose the rift between liberals and the more pro-business, moderate wing of the Democratic Party.

Booker is a leading Democratic moderate, writes Josh Kraushaar in National Journal. He won his 2002 race by taking on the Newark Democratic establishment and the city’s widespread cronyism.

“The Booker governing model, premised on bipartisanship and taking on ideological party factions, runs contrary in many ways to Obama’s record. It’s why Booker’s call for Obama to elevate the rhetoric drove Chicago batty: It was a stinging reminder that the candidate’s promise of a post-partisan approach in 2008 had given way to the reality of governing in a polarized Washington and the necessity of running a highly negative campaign against Romney,” Kraushaar writes in his “Against the Grain” column this week.

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President Obama waves as he boards Air Force One before his departure from Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Wednesday. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Obama loses 42 percent of Kentucky, Arkansas primary vote. Should he worry? (+video)

By Staff writer / 05.23.12

For President Obama, the good news out of last night’s Kentucky and Arkansas primaries was that he won in both states. The bad news was that he did not win as triumphantly as one might expect, given that he’s the incumbent US chief executive.

In Kentucky, 42 percent of Democratic voters checked off “uncommitted” on their ballot. In Arkansas, 42 percent opted for a little-known Tennessee attorney, John Wolfe.

Two weeks ago, a Texas prison inmate named Keith Judd won 41 percent of the vote in West Virginia’s primary. What’s going on here? Should the Obama campaign team be worried about lackluster results versus non-entity opponents?

Well, no and yes. No, in the sense that it’s no surprise Mr. Obama is unpopular in Southern states and Appalachia. He’s a lock for the Democratic nomination, so Democrats in this region feel free to express their opinion via protest votes.

Kentucky and Arkansas are going to be Romney states in November. Obama won’t campaign in either place (much). He’s already written them off. So last night’s results were a chronicle of an embarrassment foretold. The opinion of some left-leaning analysts was that the media should move along here, nothing to see.

“You will forgive me, I hope, a lack of excitement about the ‘story’ of the president’s weakness in these two states (and in other border states with large fossil-fuel energy industries and relatively few African-Americans), since I’ve been reading about it since the 2008 primaries,” writes Ed Kilgore Wednesday in the Washington Monthly’s Political Animal blog.

Part of the Southern resistance to Obama may be due to his race. White Democrats in this region, some D.C. Democrats say, just won’t vote for an African-American White House candidate. But unhappiness with Obama’s policies, including his stricter environmental standards, plays into it, notes Chris Cillizza in his Washington Post blog The Fix. So does discontent with the national Democratic Party.

“Overall, showings in Kentucky and Arkansas are certainly an embarrassment for Obama; the question is whether they portend a real enthusiasm problem in the fall,” writes Mr. Cillizza.

As Cillizza notes, the key issue here may really be whether Kentucky and Arkansas are a portent of trouble for Obama in North Carolina. North Carolina is a crucial swing state with relatively few swing voters: It’s balanced almost evenly between Republicans and Democrats. In that situation, the defection of a party faction could spell trouble for either side.

Beyond North Carolina, Tuesday night’s results could also indicate that the Obama team has to work harder on its white working-class problem. That part of the electorate will almost certainly break for Mitt Romney in November. White working-class voters have been disproportionately hurt by the economic downturn, and they're resistant to what they see as Obama’s liberal health-care reforms and support of gay marriage.

“Obama will never carry white working class. But he can’t afford to lose it by massive margins, either,” writes University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato Tuesday night on his Twitter feed.

In that sense, writes Mr. Sabato, Democrats who think Tuesday night’s results are a non-story are “whistling past a potential graveyard.”

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Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin participates in an onstage interview during the Peterson Foundation 2012 Fiscal Summit in Washington earlier this month. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Paul Ryan goes into Obama attack mode at the Reagan library

By Staff writer / 05.23.12

Paul Ryan is the latest rising GOP star to make the pilgrimage to the Reagan library, where the House Budget Committee chairman delivered an address Tuesday night.

Walking to the podium with Nancy Reagan in the shrine devoted to President Reagan is a passage recently taken by two other Republican superstars who garnered presidential (and then vice presidential) buzz: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

(However, Representative Ryan didn't get the full treatment: Mrs. Reagan stayed at home for health reasons.)

Ryan's speech in Simi Valley, Calif., however, differed from those of Governor Christie and Senator Rubio in notable ways.

When Rubio and then Christie took the podium in August and September, respectively, some Republicans were pining for both to enter the GOP's presidential primary. Christie even fended off an audience question specifically beseeching him to run.

On Tuesday night, the focus was less on Ryan as an individual than as a part of the Republican team – and he filled his role with relish, taking on President Obama in ways that Rubio and Christie did not. (However, he did demur when asked whether he would be Mitt Romney's vice-presidential pick.)

By Ryan's account, Mr. Obama is a modern-day Jimmy Carter needing a bold Reagan to ride to his rescue. 

"We wonder if we will be the first generation in American history to leave our children with fewer opportunities and a less prosperous nation than the one we inherited," he said.

Ryan's line of attack on Obama differed from Rubio's and Christie's not only in tone but also in substance.

Christie had criticized the president's leadership generally. Rubio dismissed the president as a symptom of a greater problem. Ryan, however, took dead aim at Obama's policies, gliding through the ones the GOP loves to hate: the stimulus package, health-care reform, Wall Street regulation, and the failure to rein in the federal debt.

For someone regarded primarily as a budget wonk with an earnest passion for conservative political philosophy, perhaps that was to be expected.

Ryan wasn't all negative, however. At the core of his speech was his call for Republicans to offer American a concrete plan for the future.

"A bold reform agenda is our moral obligation," Ryan said. "If we make the case effectively and win this November, then we will have the moral authority to enact the kind of fundamental reforms America has not seen since Ronald Reagan’s first year."

While foreign-policy challenges also confronted Mr. Reagan in his first term, Ryan largely ignored America's issues abroad. While Christie had talked loftily of the need for "American exceptionalism" to be "demonstrated, not just asserted," and Rubio had sounded a similar note, Ryan took a different tack. 

For Ryan, foreign affairs were limited to Europe as a potential window on America's future under Obama: "This storm has already hit Europe," Ryan said, "where millions are enduring the painful consequences of empty promises turning into broken promises."

Ryan didn't even allow himself a diversion into reminiscences about Reagan's impact on his political life – as Rubio and Christie had. In fact, he was so down to business that didn't even tell a full Reagan joke. He just repeated the punch line: "There must be a pony in here somewhere!" 

The joke, as Reagan told it, was about a boy so optimistic that, when taken to a room filled to the ceiling with horse manure in an attempt to deflate his spirits, he happily began looking for the pony. Ryan's point was strictly Reagan-esque, and his target was plainly Obama.

"There must be a pony in here somewhere, right? And the good news is, there is," Ryan said. "If you hear me say one thing today, hear this: This will not be our destiny. Americans will never accept this shrunken vision of our future. That’s not who we are."

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From left, Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, AOL founder Steve Case, Sen. Jerry Moran (R) of Kansas, Sen. Mark Warner (D) of Virginia, and Kauffman Foundation vice president Bob Litan stand next to a job creation chart during a news conference unveiling Startup 2.0 legislation at the Capitol in Washington Tuesday. (Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS)

Is Congress broken? Startup Act shows what can work.

By Staff writer / 05.22.12

Much of the time, Congress is, well, Congress. Gridlocked, combative, dysfunctional are only three of the adjectives that might be routinely applied.

But some days, like Tuesday, there is a hint of a different institution – you might call it the Voltaire Congress, refusing to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

That phrase, borrowed loosely from the 18th century French philosopher, leads to legislation like the Startup 2.0 Act, unveiled Tuesday.

The bill is not perfect. It does not deal with America's most pressing legislative issues, such as the looming budget "sequester" or the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, nor is it a magic bullet for the American economy. But the act has sponsors on both sides of the aisle who say it is attempting something good – making life easier for startup businesses by easing immigration rules for highly skilled workers, paring back some regulations, and changing taxes.

"What I would encourage is that we not take the attitude or the approach that unless we do everything, we don't do anything," Sen. Jerry Moran (R) of Kansas, one of the bill's sponsors, told reporters at a press conference.

The goal of the Startup Act is not to resuscitate the economy in one fell swoop. But rather to water the green shoots of future economic growth, sponsors say.

"You can't cut and tax your way alone out of this challenge around the debt if you don't have the third leg of the stool, which is growing the economy," Sen. Mark Warner (D) of Virginia, an other sponsor, told reporters.

The legislation provides a window into how Congress can sometimes take the grand issues that are vexing it – from immigration to tax reform – and attenuate them into a more palatable and passable form.

The Startup 2.0 Act builds on the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, which also eased regulations on a number of small businesses. That legislation rocketed through the House of Representatives but faced spirited opposition from a handful of Democratic senators who said it weakened investor protections. However, the bill's momentum – and President Obama's endorsement of the measure – prevailed. Mr. Obama signed it into law in April.

The JOBS Act "was hotly debated on the [Senate] floor, but with presidential leadership and with active sponsorship of the leadership of the House and Senate, we were able to move forward some genuinely good ideas about capital access," said Sen. Chris Coons (D) of Delaware, one of the Startup Act's sponsors. 

He argued that the Startup Act could follow a similar path, despite some concern about the immigration reforms. "Even in the midst of a hotly contested presidential election we can find some consensus that moves pieces of immigration reform forward," he said. "Obviously not all of [immigration reform] but important pieces so that we don't miss another year or two or three in the global competition for talent."

Senator Warner said the bill had "a pretty good shot" in an interview with CNN, while Senator Moran said "80 percent" of Congress would be in favor of the bill's immigration provisions.

The bill will also likely benefit from political cover from both parties' presidential candidates. Some of its provisions stem from recommendations made by President Obama's jobs council, while likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney has found its principles "appealing," according to Moran.

Of course, the Startup Act, even if it passes, would hardly herald the end of hyperpartisanship on Capitol Hill. But it is a potential reminder that, when the conditions are right, members of both parties are far from giving up on good.

"There are plenty of things for Republicans and Democrats to debate about, that's why we have elections," said Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, a rising GOP star and co-sponsor of the legislation. "On the things we agree on, we should do 'em."

Startup Act in brief

According to a press release from Warner's office, the Startup Act would:

  • Creates a new visa so US-educated foreign students who graduate with a master’s or PhD in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, can receive a green card and stay in this country. It also creates an Entrepreneur’s Visa for legal immigrants so they can remain in the United States, launch businesses, and create jobs, and eliminates the per-country caps for employment-based immigrant visas.
  • Makes permanent the exemption of capital gains taxes on the sale of startup stock held for at least five years, so investors can provide financial stability at a critical juncture of firm growth. It also would create a targeted research-and-development tax credit for startups less than five years old and with less than $5 million in annual receipts. This R&D credit is designed to allow startups to offset employee taxes, freeing up resources to help young companies expand and create jobs.
  • Uses existing federal R&D funding to better support university initiatives designed to bring cutting-edge R&D to the marketplace more quickly, where it can propel economic growth.
  • Requires government agencies to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of proposed “major rules” with an economic impact of $100 million or more. This new requirement will help determine the potential impact of proposed regulations on the formation and growth of new businesses.
  • Directs the US Department of Commerce to assess state and local policies that aid in the development of new businesses. 

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In this April 13 file photo, Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker speaks in Newark. Booker, an Obama ally, is the latest politician in damage-control mode in a presidential race already noteworthy for the informal spokespeople who veer wildly off message. His criticism of “nauseating” ads like the Obama campaign attack on Mitt Romney's business record illustrates the difficulty of controlling the message. (Mel Evans/AP/File)

Cory Booker comments: How badly have they hurt President Obama? (+video)

By Staff writer / 05.22.12

How badly has Cory Booker hurt President Obama’s reelection effort? His comments on “Meet the Press” over the weekend directly contradicted Democratic Party talking points, after all. The mayor of Newark, N.J., said that Obama ads attacking Bain Capital, Mitt Romney’s firm, were “nauseating.” Worse, he then compared the Bain attacks to GOP efforts to link Mr. Obama with controversial pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Yes, he’s been furiously backpedaling since. But he was so far off-message with his original comments that he couldn’t even see the Democratic Party message from where he was standing. With campaign surrogates like that, who needs election opponents?

Republicans have been gleeful about this gift, the more so since a few other Democrats, including ex-Rep. Harold Ford of Tennessee and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, have echoed Mayor Booker’s defense of Bain and other private-equity firms.

“Those surrogates in speaking truth about private equity, about the free market, are a pretty brilliant piece of advertisement there that was put together,” said former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show Monday.

Well, presidential campaigns are giant, slow-moving weather systems, and in the end, Booker’s comments will be just a slight drop in air pressure over a few square miles, or a wind that ruffles a grove of trees. In other words, its effect on Obama’s vote will probably be undetectable. That’s true for other flaplets as well, such as the Etch A Sketch “reset for the general election” comment from a Romney adviser.

That said, an effect can be real even if it is undetectable. And at the moment, Booker appears to have damaged the Obama campaign’s efforts to define Mr. Romney in the early weeks of the general-election race. Plus, he’s done so at a time when polls show the gap between the two contenders narrowing.

In defending private-equity firms, Booker has made it harder for the Obama team to assert that Romney’s Bain record is fair game. Worse, he’s also made it easier for Romney to frame the Bain attacks as an attack on free enterprise, instead of Bain’s specific record.

Obama on Monday insisted that he’s not going after venture capitalism in general, but Romney’s stewardship of Bain. Romney has made his business experience the centerpiece of his electoral argument to the American people, said Obama, and it’s fair to look at that experience in detail.

“When you’re president, as opposed to the head of a private-equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits. Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot,” Obama said in Chicago at a NATO press conference.

But Romney is responding as if Obama is putting capitalism itself in the dock, and he’s using Booker’s comments to help make his case.

“President Obama confirmed today that he will continue his attacks on the free enterprise system, which Mayor Booker and other leading Democrats have spoken out against,” said Romney in a statement Monday.

At issue here is the Obama campaign’s effort to define Romney before Romney has a chance to define himself. Reelection races are generally about the incumbent’s performance, and given the weak economy, Obama would be better off if his opponent’s record can somehow be dragged into the electoral conversation.

Right now, Obama and Romney are tied on probably the preeminent question of the election: who is better to handle the economy. That’s the finding of one new major poll, anyway. The Washington Post/ABC News survey finds voters split, 47 percent to 47 percent, over which of the November contenders can best handle economic issues.

Overall, Obama maintains a narrow 49 to 46 percent edge, according to the Post/ABC poll.

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Norway Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, center, poses with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, left, and President Barack Obama on his arrival at the NATO summit in Chicago, Sunday, May 20. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Postcard from NATO summit: What are all these people doing in Chicago?

By Staff writer / 05.21.12

The young woman at the H&M counter held back the bag of merchandise. “Can I ask you a question?” she said. “What is NATO?”

I had stopped in at the H&M on State Street after earlier discovering that my hotel had a swimming pool. I figured the Swedish budget emporium would have a swimsuit that wouldn’t break the bank (mission accomplished: basic trunks, $12.95). The sales clerk had her eye on my press credential, and the lanyard emblazoned with “NATO 2012 CHICAGO” that held it around my neck.

“It’s the military alliance that unites the US and European countries. They agree to defend each other from outside threats, and once in awhile the leaders meet,” was my paltry and unsatisfactory answer to her question.

She wanted to know more. “You said military?” she continued, still clutching my bag. “So why are they in Chicago?”  

It's a fair question. This is only the third time since NATO was formed in 1949 that the US has hosted a summit, and it is the first time ever for one to be held in an American city other than Washington.

Outside on State Street, the Chicago police were three or four to a corner, just in case a rogue anti-NATO protest flared up. Large swaths of the young clerk’s city were cordoned off, urban ghost towns set aside for President Obama and his guests. I could see what it was that had filled her with questions, why perhaps she had seized on the word “military.”

Besides that, the local press and TV seemed to be focused on the dangers and inconveniences the summit poses for the city – the anticipated, possibly violent demonstrations, the closed major thoroughfares – and less on the whats and whys of the big gathering.

So why Chicago? I told her I could imagine that the mayor, the president’s good friend, might have suggested it, and that Mr. Obama probably wanted to show off his hometown to this big group of foreigners. In fact he’d said as much as he greeted the NATO leaders.

To my surprise, there was one more question. Still smiling, still curious, she wanted to know what was so important that all these leaders would come to Chicago to discuss it. “Will they actually decide something?” she wondered.

Another good question. “Well, they’re going to talk a lot about Afghanistan, because the other NATO countries have soldiers fighting the war there, like we do,” I said.  

I was conscious of the line of customers ready to cash out. I sensed I was holding things up, but I also felt as if my answer was not yet good enough. “All the NATO countries have decided to have their soldiers out of Afghanistan within a couple of years, including us,” I said. “But Obama doesn’t want us to be left over there on our own, so he’s going to try to convince the others to stick around with us. So we’ll see.”

At that she handed over my bag. “OK, thanks for explaining that,” she said. “I didn’t know what all this was about,” she said, indicating “out there” with her eyes.

Then her next customer was at the counter, and I stepped outside.

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