"My goal is not to chase a balanced budget just for the sake of balance," Mr. Obama said. "My goal is, how do we grow the economy, put people back to work."
He added: "We're not going to balance the budget in 10 years, because if you look at what Paul Ryan does to balance the budget, it means that you have to voucherize Medicare, you have to slash deeply into programs like Medicaid, you've essentially got to either tax middle-class families a lot higher than you currently are, or you can't lower rates the way he's promised."
Obama's comments mirror what left-leaning economists like Paul Krugman have been arguing for a while: that while Washington will need to tackle its debt problem at some point down the line, doing so right now is not only unnecessary but could actually damage the economy. With the private sector still weak, the argument goes, reducing government spending could cause a contraction that could potentially send the economy back into recession.
Nevertheless, Democratic politicians have until recently been somewhat wary of dismissing a balanced budget out of hand – because polls show the public strongly approves of the idea, at least in the abstract (when presented with actual choices for cuts to reach a balanced budget, not surprisingly, the picture changes).
But now, Democrats are being forced to try to argue the other side of the argument – since the budget proposal from Representative Ryan (R) of Wisconsin achieves balance in 10 years, while the Democratic version put out Wednesday by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington does not. Obama is expected to release a proposal of his own next month, and given the president's comments, it seems unlikely that he will be offering a path to a balanced budget, either.
Republicans clearly think the politics favor their position. In a news conference Tuesday, Ryan essentially dared Obama to balance the budget, saying: "This is an invitation. Show us how to balance the budget. If you don't like the way we are proposing to balance our budget, how do you propose to balance the budget?" Or as Republican strategist John Feehery put it this week in The Hill: "House Republicans have seen the polling data and they know that balancing the budget in 10 years is by far their best political message."
Indeed, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from December found that 58 percent of Americans agreed that the deficit "needs to be solved now," compared with 37 percent who said it is something the United States needs "to continue to address" and just 4 percent who said it could be "addressed in the future." Likewise, polls in recent years asking about the prospect of a balanced-budget amendment have found support among roughly three-quarters of Americans.
One interesting question is what, exactly, is driving this fervor for balancing the budget, given that there's little evidence the deficit is currently affecting average Americans' lives in any sort of measurable way. Typically, the biggest economic downside to running high deficits is the impact on interest rates. But interest rates in the US are historically low, and while they may rise in the future, data suggest that's not necessarily going to be the case.
Instead, it seems that the public's horror of deficits is mostly a product of political rhetoric – rhetoric that Americans have been listening to for decades, from both Republicans and Democrats. During the Reagan years, it was Democrats who railed against spiraling deficits. During the 1990s, then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich made it a rallying cry for Republicans, pushing President Clinton to make balanced budgets one of his signature achievements. During President George W. Bush's tenure, Democrats – as well as some conservatives – renewed their focus on the debt and deficits.
In short, politicians on both sides of the aisle have spent years convincing voters that balancing the budget is both the moral and fiscally wise thing to do. There have been repeated warnings about borrowing on the backs of our grandchildren and calls to "live within our means," as well as misleading comparisons between the federal budget and household budgets – despite the fact that government borrowing can actually be an essential tool for a healthy economy.
As The New York Times's Annie Lowrey wrote Tuesday: "As sensible as a balanced budget might sound – much like a balanced checkbook for a family – countries are generally able to run modest deficits for years on end while still keeping debt stable as a share of economic output. One year’s deficit is effectively paid off by later economic growth, especially if a government is investing in public goods like roads and schools."
Obama may have plenty of economic data points to back up his argument that a balanced budget, for its own sake, isn't necessarily desirable right now. But whether he can convince the public of this – after years of politicians arguing the reverse – remains to be seen.
“This was not a decision that went up to the White House,” he said.
Now he’s gone back to Secret Service officials and asked whether they might rethink their decision. Obama said that, in particular, he’d like to make sure tour groups that perhaps raised money to visit D.C. via such things as bake sales don’t end up standing outside the White House gates in a disappointed scrum.
“Can we make sure that kids potentially can ... still come to tour?” Obama asked rhetorically.
Hmm. Is the administration feeling the heat from criticism that it’s overblown the impact of sequester cuts? After all, lots of critics hit the White House tour closures as a bit over the top.
Well, we’ve got a few points to make that we think might help explain this matter. To start with, we’ll answer Obama’s question: Yes, you can make sure deserving school groups still get in. You’re the president. It’s your house.
It’s true that the sequester is a blunt instrument and the Secret Service probably does have to cut agent activities somewhere. But we’re pretty sure they’ll move their numbers around if the Big Boss asks.
Second, Obama should not have been surprised by the tour closures. It’s possible that he didn’t know about them in advance, as he implied to Mr. Stephanopoulos – missed connections, sloth, and ineptitude explain many generic Washington snafus. But the president should have been informed about something some so symbolic. If he wasn’t, we’ll bet that yelling was involved when he found out.
And finally, Obama would not be talking about this as he is unless he and his officials knew it was a mistake. In the face of the sequester, his approval ratings are sliding. For instance, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll has his approval rating at only 50 percent, down from 55 percent in mid-January.
In the same survey, only 44 percent of respondents said they approve of the way the president is handling the economy. Obama spent a lot of time prior to the sequester warning the public about fiscal pain to come; most voters have yet to feel it, and that seems to be taking a toll on the president’s numbers.
One thing is certain: Donald Trump won’t be sponsoring any tour revival. On Monday, he offered to pay to reopen the White House to visitors, but on Tuesday, administration adviser Dan Pfeiffer said, no thanks.
“The Donald Trump option is not an option; what we have to do is deal with the sequester,” Mr. Pfeiffer said Tuesday on CNN.
Is President Obama’s approval rating slipping downwards amid the back and forth of "sequester" politics? That’s the conclusion of a just-released McClatchy-Marist poll. The survey finds that just 45 percent of voters are happy with Mr. Obama’s job performance, down from 50 percent in November and December. A plurality of 48 percent of respondents disapproves of the president’s actions, according to the McClatchy-Marist numbers.
Not all new polls are in agreement here. Tuesday’s Rasmussen tracking survey shows Obama’s approval rating above water at 52 percent, up one percentage point from last week.
But the medium-term trend for the president’s numbers is generally downward. The RealClearPolitics rolling average of Obama’s approval polls peaked at 53.8 percent on Christmas Day. Since then it’s steadily fallen to 48.8 percent, with 45.3 percent of respondents disapproving of the presidential performance.
What’s going on here? One thing pushing this sliding trend may be the quick end of the electoral honeymoon. The president’s reelection image machine has stopped churning, and the partisan glow his voters felt at his second-term victory is starting to fade.
Paradoxically, Obama may also be paying a price for attempting to appear as strong as possible in the recent series of D.C. fiscal crises.
“This may be the downside of him coming out of the box stronger in the second term,” Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, told his McClatchy partners. “People are now looking for him to lead us out of this stalemate, provide more leadership. People see him as a strong figure and in the driver’s seat. During the election, it was him versus Romney. Now it’s him versus people’s expectations for the country.”
Then there’s the sequester itself. Gallup notes that its daily tracking poll showed the president’s approval rating dropping when the cuts took effect March 1. Since then, Obama’s Gallup numbers have bounced around day to day, but at the moment the firm has his approval rating at 49 percent, down from 53 percent in late February.
Obama’s “approval rating will likely remain in a precarious state until he and Congress can reach accord on federal spending and the budget deficit,” wrote Gallup’s Jeffrey Jones earlier this month.
Congress does not seem to be in a similar position. So far the sequester has had little effect on what Americans think about their legislature.
But in part that’s because it would be hard for opinion about Congress to sink any lower. In a March 11 Gallup survey, only 13 percent of respondents approved of Congress’s job performance. That’s just a few points higher than the all-time low of 10 percent hit last year.
“These low ratings could improve if Congress does something the public respects, but leave little room for a further drop if Americans continue to perceive Congress’ activities negatively,” writes Gallup editor in chief Frank Newport.
Who are Rand Paul’s real allies? That’s a question D.C. political types have been chewing over since the GOP senator from Kentucky's filibuster about his objections to the Obama administration’s drone policies last week.
In particular, Senator Paul wanted clarification about whether the White House thinks it has the power to target with a drone a US citizen within the territorial US who is not engaged in combat. (“No”, said Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter responding to Paul’s public query.) That’s a question about civil liberties that hits the sweet spot where the progressive left wing and the libertarian right meet.
The US ideological spectrum isn’t always a line. Sometimes it’s a circle. Thus Paul was hailed by one of the Tea Party’s favorite new lawmakers, conservative Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and liberal talk show host Rachel Maddow alike.
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Yet only one Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, stood to help Paul during his hours of talking. All his other helpmeets were GOP, including many who support an expansive definition of executive authority when it comes to national security. What explains that?
In a word, partisanship, according to Georgetown University assistant professor of political science Hans Noel.
The proximate issue on the floor was the Obama administration’s nomination of counterterror adviser John Brennan to be director of the CIA.
“Liberals, especially those elected to office, have little to gain from blocking the president’s choice. Conservatives, even those who might have tolerated a drone program run by a conservative, have much to gain,” wrote Mr. Noel on the Mischiefs of Faction political science blog.
That does not mean that “partisanship” and “ideology” are synonyms, however. The antiwar left has been quiet since President Obama was elected but it still exists. The most common GOP criticism of Mr. Obama’s antiterror policies is that he is too soft, not too aggressive.
“It is convenient to think about ideology as a single liberal-to-conservative dimension.... But we would do better to understand the true variety within ideology more than we do. The drone program is just the sort of case that illuminates that variety,” writes Noel.
That said, is it possible that Paul could change the GOP’s mind on this issue? In other words, might the partisanship he sparked alter the very nature of Republican ideology?
Well, maybe. Over at The New York Times opinion page the conservative-leaning Ross Douthat has been arguing that the Paul filibuster presents an opportunity to widen the Republican conversation on national security.
That may be what Paul was really after last week.
“Anyone who listened (and listened, and listened) to his remarks, and put them in the context of his recent speeches and votes and bridge-building, recognized that he was after something bigger: a reorientation of conservative foreign policy thinking away from hair-trigger hawkishness and absolute deference to executive power,” Douthat writes.
It’s possible that Paul has at least broadened the spectrum of permissible GOP national-security opinions. As the conservative Jennifer Rubin writes at her conservative Right Turn Washington Post blog, traditional GOP hawks such as Sen. John McCain have tried to dismiss Paul as someone who does not defend US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan and a generally interventionist American foreign policy. But that may misread the opinions of US society at large.
“Paul’s ideological opponents on the right only made him appear bigger and more attractive by their cluelessness as to the war weariness and privacy and civil libertarian concerns to which some have rallied,” writes Rubin.
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Should the Obama administration allow Donald Trump to pay for the resumption of White House tours? That’s an issue today because the popular walk-throughs have been canceled due to the "sequester," and the mogul/TV star has indeed offered to keep the doors open at the nation’s executive mansion.
“It sounds reasonable to me ... why not? It’s not a lot of money,” Mr. Trump said Monday morning on his regular Monday appearance on “Fox & Friends.”
The Secret Service ordered the suspension of the tours to save on agent overtime, according to White House officials. It’s true that the money at issue isn’t that much in the context of the federal budget or a billionaire’s balance sheet: only about $72,000 a week, at most.
This has led to lots of Republicans charging that the White House is playing a variation of the old Washington Monument game by denying school kids their preplanned White House visits. Previously an administration, facing budget cuts, announces with great fanfare that the Washington Monument will be closed until further notice. The White House can’t do that this time because the monument is already shut because of earthquake damage. So they’ve moved on to another popular D.C. symbol, the White House, for the same political effect, in the GOP view.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R) of Texas offered an amendment on the floor the other day to ban President Obama’s golf games in the name of restarting the tours. Rush Limbaugh complained that the White House closed the tours, then spent lots of Secret Service money for a caravan that drove the president half a mile to an outreach dinner with GOP lawmakers.
“They wanted people sad and let down, and they wanted people blaming the Republicans for it. And it’s backfiring, not working,” Mr. Limbaugh said on his show.
The “we’ll pay for it” meme started late last week. First Fox host Eric Bolling said he’d pay for a week of tours. Then fellow talking head Sean Hannity said he’d do the same. Newt Gingrich on Twitter suggested Trump could keep the doors open for school kids indefinitely.
Some news reports suggested over the weekend that Trump had agreed – if nemesis Bill Maher chipped in, too. But during Monday’s Fox appearance, Trump said he’d heard about Newt’s suggestion only when the Friends asked him.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal frankly, but it makes us look awfully bad and awfully pathetic,” Trump said.
White House officials have said that in general, they’re not sure they could accept “White House Tours Sponsored by Trump National Golf Club."
“I don’t know if it’s technically possible,” deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest said late last week.
The sequester, Mr. Earnest pointed out, mandates across-the-board cuts that administrators have little flexibility in carrying out. With a political jab, he noted that many of the people calling for private tour funding also called the overall imposition of the sequester cuts a victory for Republicans.
Others note it’s possible that the offer to pay for the tours could backfire.
For one thing, if tours, why not education funds for poor kids? Lots of things are being cut, fairly or not. Democrats might start asking if the GOP’s offers reflect a socioeconomic bias.
And even if (though?) the White House has been overly dramatic about the impact of the sequester, real hardship will eventually occur at federal installations across the country. In the National Journal, national correspondent Jill Lawrence notes that local media across the country are beginning to report on the effects of the cuts on local airports, food banks, parks, and schools.
While the administration has been maladroit, “the barely suppressed GOP glee at the White House fumbles, and the cavalier acceptance of the sequester by some Republicans, is also bound to backfire,” Ms. Lawrence writes.
The 2016 presidential race may be a long way off – but, as NBC's First Read notes, there was a striking amount of maneuvering among potential candidates this past week. While Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky probably "won" the week with his now-famous filibuster, he wasn't the only one who may have helped himself in the run-up to the 2016 campaign.
Here's a look at some of the possible contenders jockeying for position, and how they may have scrambled the race:
The junior senator from Kentucky set the rest of the field on notice that he is a force to be reckoned with by staging an old-fashioned talking filibuster, protesting the Obama administration's drone policy. Critics called it a political "stunt," but as stunts go, this one clearly worked. On a snow day when little else was going on, the unexpected spectacle of a legislator embracing physical discomfort to make a point drew unabashed praise from partisans on both the right and the left, and it put Senator Paul squarely in the media spotlight.
He earned a piece in Thursday's Politico saying that he was now in "the top tier of Republican power players" – and Paul himself "confidently" acknowledged that he was seriously considering a White House run.
Still, we're not sure this really changes things as much as it might seem. We've been saying all along that we think Paul will be a player to watch in 2016, since he has the potential to take his father's campaign apparatus and elevate it to another level. But we still aren't willing to remove the "dark horse" label from Paul – since so many of his views are outside the Republican mainstream, and some may prove deal breakers for GOP primary voters.
The former Florida governor inserted himself into the 2016 conversation in a big way in a series of interviews promoting a new book on immigration, in which for the first time he openly expressed interest in a possible presidential run. While not yet declaring himself a candidate, Mr. Bush's comments were direct enough to set donors and operatives on notice that they might want to wait before aligning themselves with anyone else (like, say, the junior senator from Florida).
But Bush also got into a bit of trouble on the issue of immigration, by appearing to change his position on a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. He'd previously expressed support for creating such a path – which is a key plank in the bipartisan legislation being hashed out on the Hill – but in his new book, he explicitly opposes it.
It remains unclear whether his positioning on immigration will simply wind up offending both sides or whether, despite charges of inconsistency, it will give him cover on an issue that remains tricky for Republicans (particularly if the legislation currently being crafted fails to pass).
While the most overt maneuvering may be happening on the Republican side, Mrs. Clinton has the ability to make news even when she does nothing. This week, we got a reminder of how formidable a candidate she would be. A new Quinnipiac poll found that Clinton would handily defeat New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R), and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan (R) in head-to-head matchups (the latter two by double digits).
Maybe even more interesting, she'd beat Senator Rubio by an eye-popping 36 percentage points among Hispanics – a demographic that Republicans know they need to do better with, which is a big reason Rubio, whose parents are Cuban immigrants, has been considered a top-tier candidate.
As for the rest ...
Rubio didn't exactly have a bad week (at least, not compared to his "water break" during his State of the Union response). Yet as the closest thing the GOP has to a "front-runner," he took some hits from his potential rivals. The biggest headache for Rubio was undoubtedly the presidential talk coming from his fellow Floridian, Bush – who could steal donors and supporters and, according to some, potentially even force Rubio to put his own ambitions on hold for another cycle or two (though we're not so sure about that).
Also not great for Rubio was the above-mentioned poll showing that he would lose Hispanics (as well as the vote overall) to Clinton. And while Rubio was quick to jump on the Paul bandwagon, joining his filibuster with a short speech quoting rappers Wiz Khalifa and Jay-Z – well, let's just say at this point, we think he's in danger of overdoing the pop-culture references.
Representative Ryan had lunch with President Obama at the White House, reminding everyone of the crucial role he will play in any deficit-reduction deal that emerges between the White House and congressional Republicans. His profile will rise further later this month when he is set to release a new GOP budget proposal.
Governor Christie had a bigger week last week, with the very public "diss" he received from CPAC (which we'd argue was a net plus for him). Still, in that poll with Clinton, it's worth noting that he performed the best of all the Republicans tested. And he continued to bolster his outsider, blunt-talking credentials this week by scolding Washington over the sequester: "Seems to me it should be pretty easy to fix," he said. "Get everybody in a room and ... don't let them leave until you fix it."
Finally, Vice President Joe Biden didn't get as much attention as some of the other possible contenders, but then again, he was pretty much everywhere this week. Speaking about the administration's commitment to Israel before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Walking across the bridge in Selma, Ala., to commemorate the famous 1965 civil rights march. Quietly stopping by a dinner for hunters in his home state of Delaware. (On the other hand, this week also brought a Roger Ailes interview in which the Fox News chief called Mr. Biden "dumb as an ashtray.")
We agree with most pundits that it's hard to envision Biden and Clinton running against each other. But if she opts out, he appears to be getting ready.
Did Rand Paul in his filibuster this week mischaracterize administration policy on drone strikes, willfully or otherwise? That’s a question raising lots of expert discussion in Washington and the national-security blogosphere at the moment.
The talkathon by the GOP's junior senator from Kentucky won him lots of attention and kudos from libertarians and leftists alike. As we noted Thursday, it could well have boosted his 2016 presidential hopes and made him a rising national political star.
But some experts complain Senator Paul was sounding a clarion warning about a danger that doesn’t exist.
Long story short, Paul’s main point was that he wanted clarification about the administration’s policy regarding use of armed drones against US citizens within the United States. He said that Attorney General Eric Holder had, in essence, said that the administration had no plans to do that but could foresee extraordinary circumstances where it might be necessary.
“I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court,” Paul said at the filibuster’s start. “That Americans could be killed in a cafe in San Francisco or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in Bowling Green, Ky., is an abomination.”
The cafe reference was what drove some critics wild. The Washington Post editorialized that this was a “paranoid fantasy." Mr. Holder and others had made clear that the exceptional circumstances they were discussing involved a 9/11-like scenario. Given a warlike situation on domestic soil, the US could respond with all the weapons it could muster, in the White House view.
“From that answer, Mr. Paul and allies such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) somehow concocted the absurd notion that Americans 'sitting quietly in cafes' could be blasted by Hellfire missiles. No, they couldn’t be, as Mr. Holder made clear in a letter to Mr. Paul on Thursday,” the Post editorialized.
Worse, by distorting the dangers inherent in drone warfare, Paul missed an opportunity to confront other actual dangers about the nation’s expanding use of unmanned aircraft to target terror suspects, according to other critics.
For instance, what about the administration’s demonstrated willingness to target American citizens overseas with drones? That’s the general issue raised by the targeted killing of radical cleric and US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011, as well as the death of his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, in another drone attack two weeks later. (The US has indicated the teenager was an inadvertent target caught next to more-important Al Qaeda-linked figures.)
The administration apparently has a broad definition of the dangers that terror suspects must pose to be targeted in drone warfare. How is the target list developed? How imminent must suspected terror actions be to warrant a drone response?
“Debate ought to focus on what’s actually at stake, not some implausible parade of horribles involving non-threatening people at coffeehouses or Vietnam-era peace activists. In opting for the later approach, Senators Cruz and Paul needlessly cheapen a worthy and exceedingly important debate,” write legal experts Wells Bennett and Alan Rozenshtein at the Lawfare national-security blog.
Paul’s defenders note that this debate is already occurring – and that what the Kentucky libertarian has done is kick it up a notch, bringing it far more national attention than it has been getting.
Prior to Holder’s Thursday letter, administration policy in this area had been vague, writes The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf. By refusing to settle for imprecise statements, Paul has in fact accomplished something, in Mr. Friedersdorf’s view.
“His success means that it will be harder for any future president to argue that he or she can kill Americans not engaged in combat,” Friedersdorf writes.
This argument is not about the possible behavior of the Obama administration per se, but about limiting all future presidents, according to Paul’s defenders. It may be a “paranoid fantasy” to think that a chief executive might attack an American sitting at a cafe. But at one time, it might also have been a paranoid fantasy to think a president would use the FBI as a tool against personal enemies or to cover up Watergate break-ins done in his name, as did Richard Nixon.
Similarly, Friedersdorf points to the Bush administration’s defense of enhanced interrogation techniques that many label “torture."
“Now I’ll take every specific executive-branch statement of what the law doesn’t permit that I can get,” he concludes.
Is Rand Paul now a rising national political star? It sure seems that’s possible following his 13-hour filibuster on the Senate floor.
With his words, the GOP senator from Kentucky blocked a planned vote on the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director. But Senator Paul’s real aim was to force a broader US discussion about the possible domestic use of armed drones. That’s a serious subject that draws interest from both sides of the aisle.
Paul’s still the longest of potential long shots in the nascent race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. His non-interventionist foreign-policy views are outside his party’s mainstream, and many Democrats consider his libertarian principles uncaring. But from Wednesday through the early hours of Thursday, he presented the (rare) picture of a politician willing to become physically uncomfortable in defense of core beliefs.
“By the time the 2016 Republican presidential race rolls around, the Paul filibuster will be a distant memory – even to the grassroots of the party," Washington Post political analysts Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan write on The Fix blog. "But, the motivation behind the filibuster – a combination of genuine conviction and a sense for the dramatic – will still burn strongly in Paul. It’s why we continue to believe no one should underestimate Paul’s ability to have a major impact on the 2016 race.”
Some Republicans saw Paul’s performance as a morale boost for the party. He remained largely on point for hours and talked fluently about what he judges to be the constitutional grounds for a belief that no US president can target an American citizen on US soil without due process.
Attorney General Eric Holder sent Paul a letter earlier this week, saying that under certain hypothetical circumstances a president might indeed have that power. Paul on the Senate floor expressed surprise at this administration position.
“The answer should be so easy. I cannot imagine that [President Obama] will not expressly come forward and say, no, I will not kill Americans on American soil. I can’t understand the president’s unwillingness to say he’s not going to kill noncombatants,” Paul said.
As Paul continued to poke at the administration, some other Republican senators saw an opportunity to get licks in and rushed to support him.
“A lot of things that don’t usually happen in the United States Senate happened tonight, and wherever you stand on the merits, it was pretty cool to watch,” writes Daniel Foster on the conservative National Review’s The Corner blog.
But the fact is that not all Republicans agree with Paul on the substance. Even some of the senators who supported him on Wednesday night may fall into the nonsupport camp. The issue at stake involves questions of executive authority that would have been apropos for opponents of the Bush administration’s efforts against terror suspects, as well.
In some ways, Paul has hit on an issue that unites the libertarian wing of his party with Democratic liberals. It’s a sweet spot where the two ends of the political spectrum bend around in a circle and meet each other.
“Yesterday was quite a spectacle and brought legitimate questions about the scope of executive power to the fore – and the floor – in a way Americans haven’t seen in quite a while,” writes Steve Benen on the blog of liberal MSNBC host Rachel Maddow.
Some political observers of both partisan persuasions were also excited about Paul’s performance of a real, live, talking filibuster. In today’s Senate world, “filibuster” usually just means a threat to talk and talk, as allowed under chamber rules. Both sides accept the threat as reality and look to see if the majority has 60 votes for cloture on whatever issue is at hand.
Thus the liberal Ezra Klein at The Washington Post’s Wonkblog cheered Paul’s action as the highest purpose of a filibuster: a passionate minority slowing down the Senate to make its case to colleagues and the US at large.
“If more filibusters went like this, there’d be no reason to demand [filibuster] reform. And if there is reform, it needs to hold open the possibility for filibusters like this,” he writes.
But Paul’s long-day-into-night might not actually be a usual case, a few scholars note. The underlying issue, Mr. Brennan’s CIA nomination, is not an open question. Paul acknowledged that the administration has 60 votes for Brennan to assume the post. Plus, significant elements of the majority party are sympathetic to the arguments Paul was making. One Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, joined the talkathon.
“The majority seemed unfazed by giving up the day to Paul’s filibuster, perhaps because the rest of Washington was [shut down] for a pseudo-snow storm.... In short, [Wednesday’s] episode might not be a great test case for observing the potential consequences of reform,” writes George Washington University political scientist Sarah Binder.
Donald Trump will speak at next week’s Conservative Political Action Conference. Organizers on Tuesday announced that they’d invited the mogul/reality-show host to reprise his 2011 CPAC appearance and that he’d accepted.
“Donald Trump is an American patriot and success story with a massive following among small government conservatives,” said American Conservative Union chairman Al Cardenas in a statement. “I look forward to welcoming him back to the CPAC stage.”
Hmm. Is this really, you know, a good idea?
We can understand why The Donald himself would want to do it. It’s true that his 2011 speech produced loads of publicity. Of course, that’s back when he was toying with the idea of running for president himself, or at least pretending to think about a run for the Oval Office. Any attention this drew to “Celebrity Apprentice” or the various Trump golf projects around the world was purely incidental, we’re sure.
And as a card-carrying member of the mainstream media (non-elite division), we’re overjoyed to link “Trump” and “politics” in sentences once again. He produces controversy as easily as most humans exhale carbon dioxide. Who can forget his proposal to slap a 25 percent tariff on all Chinese goods? Certainly not US retail chains, which would have seen the prices of all their Chinese-made goods go up by the same amount. And remember when he kept challenging President Obama for his long-form birth certificate? And then Mr. Obama broke into the “Celebrity Apprentice” time slot to announce that the United States had killed Osama bin Laden? That’s in the dictionary now as a usage example for “kismet.”
“CPAC is like an all-star game for conservatives,” sniffed Mr. Cardenas to The Washington Post as an explanation for the move.
Now Mr. Trump? This has driven lots of Republicans in general and conservatives in particular over the edge. Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin – who’s feuded with Trump in the past – tweeted: “Womanizing, property-rights trampling, blowhard Donald Trump. Yep, there’s a face that’ll ‘modernize’ the conservative movement!”
And conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin wrote that conservatives of all stripes have “launched an assault on CPAC” over Trump, Governor Christie, and Governor McDonnell – and what those choices say to the rest of America about where the right wing of US politics currently stands.
“An older generation, tone deaf and out of step with popular sensibilities, needs to hang it up. Had CPAC been in the hands of young, brainy conservatives, it would be the ‘cool’ club and not a punch line,” Ms. Rubin writes in a post titled “10 lessons from CPAC’s debacle.”
Meanwhile, liberals are making fun of the Trump appearance, though the outrage on the right makes it harder for them to portray the pick as emblematic of the Republican Party. Maybe it’s a rare moment of Washington bipartisanship!
We’d like to add one thing in closing: Many of the critics here may have forgotten that when Trump went to CPAC in 2011, he was booed.
It’s true. During his speech, he noted the obvious point that Ron Paul would not win the GOP nomination and was not going to be president of the United States.
The CPAC crowd can skew libertarian, and the many Paul supporters in attendance didn’t like that. Hence the raspberries.
“I like Ron Paul. I think he is a good guy, but honestly, he just has zero chance of getting elected,” Trump concluded back then.
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Should President Obama give up golf for the duration of the "sequester"? That’s what some irritated conservative GOP lawmakers believe. They’re not mad at presidential sports per se as much as annoyed at what they consider to be Mr. Obama’s grandstanding on spending cuts mandated by sequestration. In particular, they’re peeved that the administration, with blaring trumpets, has announced that public tours of the White House have been cancelled pending further notice.
So on Tuesday, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R) of Texas offered an amendment to the omnibus spending bill that the House is currently considering. None of the money authorized by this continuing resolution “may be used to transport the President to or from a golf course until public tours of the White House resume,” read Representative Gohmert’s amendment.
In a Tuesday floor speech, Gohmert said he hoped this prodding would make the White House rethink tour cancellations. The Texas lawmaker noted that spring break is coming up and tourists of all political persuasions have already made plans for tours of D.C.
“They’ll get their tour of the White House, and all it will cost is one or two golf trips less,” said Gohmert.
Nope. This isn’t happening. House Republican leaders ruled the amendment not relevant to the spending bill, and blocked it from getting a vote on the chamber floor.
But we think Gohmert’s effort was nevertheless indicative. For one thing, it shows that the conservative wing of the GOP remains unhappy with their leadership’s approach to the sequester standoff.
They want more confrontation with the White House, not less. In particular, they want to use the continuing resolution as a club to try to force through even deeper spending reductions, such as cutting money for implementation of some aspects of the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare."
Influential conservative pundit Erick Erickson makes this point Wednesday at RedState. He bemoaned the demise of Gohmert’s amendment and urged GOP conservatives to vote against allowing the continuing resolution to proceed, in the name of trying to force deeper cuts.
“Conservative groups must set a new standard,” Mr. Erickson writes, but he holds out little hope they’ll actually block the bill.
For another thing, the golf-versus-building-tour dust-up shows how the White House has shifted from making big claims about the sequester’s alleged dire effects to implementing small, yet pointed reductions.
“Inside week one of the sequester, we went from workplace deaths and forest fires and airport chaos to ... no more White House self-guided tours? The Obama administration has gone from very big to very small in sequester messaging, brushed back by the fact some early claims turned out to be less than truthful, and that, well, big things aren’t happening yet,” Mr. Klein writes.
The fact is White House tours are popular with voters. Both Republican and Democratic House members are more than happy to procure tour tickets for traveling constituents. But because of security concerns and sheer popularity, this has to be done well in advance – so tourists with spring break tour times are not going to be happy. They’ll have to hit the Smithsonian instead.
Do the tours really have to be cut? That’s another question entirely. Given their visibility, it’s quite possible that the administration is just engaging in a variant of the time-honored Washington Monument budget ploy.
That’s named after an apocryphal story of a Parks Service chief offering to close the Washington Monument as a contribution to budget austerity. The point is to highlight the effect of reductions by doing away with the most visible and well-liked government services.
But the Obama administration can’t close the Washington Monument this time around. It’s already shut to visitors due to repairs needed to fix the effects of the 2011 D.C.-area earthquake.