Archivi tag: U.S.
Critics see budget debate as a failure of leadership
Debt ceiling debate promises more Obama intervention
Fresh off a White House-brokered budget deal, President Barack Obama’s reelection team hopes his intervention can lure back the moderate and independent voters who will be crucial to winning in 2012.
The president’s campaign strategists have latched onto voters’ distaste for partisan bickering, selling his role in the negotiations as evidence of a leadership style that can fix a broken political system and bring the parties together.
“Compromise … cannot be a dirty word,” top Obama adviser David Plouffe told NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” saying he hoped this would be a model for future dealings with the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.
But critics are not convinced. They say Obama’s accommodation of Republicans was forced upon the White House by Democratic losses in 2010, and those very losses underscore a lack of leadership from within the White House that will matter more to voters in 2012.
Voters dumped many Democratic lawmakers in the 2010 midterm elections and sent a message that government was trying to do too much and Obama was too liberal, according to research by Third Way, a nonpartisan Washington think tank.
“Obama, by trying to be the grand conciliator … shows he is heeding that call,” said Third Way’s Ryan McConaghy. “Elections are decided in the middle. … There is a real battle to be won and that is the battle of reasonableness.”
A Gallup poll before Friday’s budget deal found that 58 percent of Americans favored a compromise that averted a shutdown of the government, even if this meant giving ground on issues in the budget they personally felt strongly about.
Voters will get plenty more give and take in the months ahead, as Obama navigates a divided Congress grappling with next year’s budget and raising the country’s debt ceiling, which Republicans say they won’t do without agreement on even more spending cuts.
The government could hit the current $14.3 trillion limit on its borrowing authority by mid-May and will need Congress to approve another increase or risk defaulting and sparking a debt crisis.
CRITICS SEE WEAK LEADER
The White House says Obama will continue to seek common ground with Republicans on those issues. And he will lay out a plan to tackle the deficit over the long term in a speech in Washington on Wednesday.
While the White House portrays Obama as a unifier operating above party politics, critics see the president trying to make a virtue of necessity. The real issue, they argue, is about leadership that is not coming from the Oval Office.
Michael Barone, resident fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, said the White House was trying to make the best of a bad situation by selling Obama’s intervention in last week’s budget showdown as a president mediating between ideologues.
“Voters may feel comfortable with that … but I don’t see this as the main problem,” said Barone. “The strong leadership thing at this point is the problem for him,” he said, arguing that Obama had sat back while Congress thrashed out the deal.
Obama formally declared himself a candidate for reelection on April 4. While the Republican field lacks a clear
front-runner, Obama will still face a challenge in recreating a coalition of moderate and independent voters and the highly energized grass-root activists who swept him into the White House in 2008.
This block frayed in the 2010 midterm elections, when Democrats lost control of the House and saw their weight
reduced in the Senate.
Republicans have been energized by support from the fiscally conservative Tea Party movement as well as social
conservatives, who pushed to exclude taxpayer support for abortion from this year’s budget.
But Obama, taking a traditional Democratic stance, beat off efforts to control birth control funding to the Planned
Parenthood family planning organization.
Plouffe maintained that line on Sunday. He also took a traditional Democratic line when he criticized a Republican
proposal to tame the long-term U.S. deficit, saying it put an unfair burden on old and poor Americans while supporting tax breaks for the country’s wealthy.
Panetta, Hamre and Mabus are possible successors
Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff also set to retire
As Libya adds a third war to President Barack Obama’s growing list of foreign policy challenges, a big question is how soon a long-anticipated shakeup of U.S. defense leadership might unfold.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the military’s top officer, is expected to retire after his term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ends in September — a tight timeline for congressional confirmation that could require the White House to nominate a replacement soon.
But the hardest part will be naming a successor to Robert Gates, who has announced his intention to retire as defense secretary this year.
Gates, a former CIA director with enormous clout in Washington, was brought in by Republican President George W. Bush in 2006 to replace Donald Rumsfeld at the height of the Iraq war. Gates was kept on by Obama, a Democrat, in an unprecedented step, becoming one of his most influential advisers.
“You have to worry about the optics of a leadership change during a time of overseas interventions. There’s always a fear of a loss of continuity,” said Darrell West of the Brookings Institute, a Washington-based think tank.
The credibility Gates has with both Republicans and Democrats will be difficult for Obama to replicate, particularly as Congress second-guesses the administration on its Libya strategy. Gates has been a voice of caution about the limits of the U.S. role in Libya, even as he supports the air campaign.
Other issues loom large: Afghanistan will move into the spotlight in July when the United States begins to pull out its troops, and the U.S. military is forging ahead with plans to completely withdraw from Iraq this year.
Turmoil elsewhere in the Middle East plus the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea also present dangers.
Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations think tank said the next defense secretary will face tremendous budget pressure, with calls for deep defense cuts that Gates has opposed.
Speculation about replacements for Gates has centered on: Leon Panetta, the current CIA director; John Hamre, a former U.S. deputy secretary of defense; and Ray Mabus, the current secretary of the Navy.
But many observers in Washington are unconvinced, with some still looking for a surprise pick like Hillary Clinton, despite her statements that she plans to end her career in government after serving as Obama’s secretary of state.
“I don’t get a sense that there’s a clear pick at this point,” said Representative Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee in the House of Representatives.
Democratic Representative Dutch Ruppersberger, also on the Armed Services Committee, said it was his opinion that everything is “on hold” for the moment because of, among other things, the conflict in Libya.
When he saw Gates in late March, Ruppersberger told him: “I just hope you stay for a while.”
“He didn’t say one thing or the other,” Ruppersberger said.
U.S. officials refused to speculate on timing.
Whoever Obama chooses as defense secretary will have to work closely with Mullen’s successor as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The turnover of both posts could come very close together.
“For a country that’s now involved in three wars, it’s an enormous amount of change at the top of the military and really will present a daunting challenge to the president,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA Middle East expert who has advised the White House in the past.
One way to ensure continuity would be to promote Mullen’s deputy, General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Cartwright was dubbed Obama’s favorite general in Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward’s book “Obama’s Wars.”
Another possibility would be for Obama to pick General David Petraeus, credited with turning around the Iraq war and picked by Obama last year to do the same in Afghanistan.
But some question whether Obama would pick Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, as one of his closest advisers. The general denies any political ambitions but there is persistent speculation he could be a potential Republican presidential candidate some day.
An aide to Prime Minister Naoto Kan says the government’s main aim is to stop radiation leaks from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant that are spooking Japanese, hindering work and frightening tourists.
Plant operator Tokyo Electric Company (TEPCO) has poured concrete into a crack in a concrete pit in reactor no. 2 but this has failed to stop leaks. TEPCO is also using water-absorbent polymers, with plans to top the polymers with more concrete to halt the leaks.
Engineers examine alternatives to pumping in water to cool the reactor, including an improvised air conditioning system, spraying fuel rods with vaporised water or using the plant’s cleaning system.
Radiation levels in the sea nearby stand at 4,000 times the legal limit.
A group of farmers from the Fukushima region came to Tokyo with Geiger counters to show their produce is safe.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan ensured residents in the disaster zone on Saturday that the government would offer support in rebuilding. He entered the 20-km evacuation zone around the wrecked plant and visited “J-village”, a sports facility serving as headquarters for emergency teams tring to cool down reactors.
Kan said on Friday that TEPCO should remain in private hands, even though the company would need financial assistance from the government to deal with the aftermath of the disaster. Earlier, the Manichi newspaper said the government would take control of TEPCO.
Kan also said that he wanted to decide by the end of April on the content of an extra budget for earthquake relief.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the evacuation of residents near the plant will be a “long-term” operation.
A U.N. watchdog on Thursday suggested widening of the exclusion zone around the station after radiation measured at a village 40 km distant exceeded a criterion for evacuation.
Japanese manufacturing activity slumped to a two-year low in March and posted the sharpest monthly fall on record as the quake and tsunami hit supply chains and output.
A total of 11,938 people are confirmed dead by Japan’s National Police Agency, while 15,478 are missing. A total of 168,586 households are without electricity and 220,000 without running water.
More than 164,200 people are living in shelters on high ground above vast plains of mud-covered debris.
Thousands of Japanese and U.S. Soldiers conducted a search for bodies on Saturday using dozens of ships and helicopters to sweep across land still under water along the northeast coast.
Estimated cost of damage to top $300 billion, making it the world’s costliest natural disaster. The 1995 Kobe quake cost $100 billion while Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused $81 billion in damage.
Obama’s comments set the stage for an attempt to blame Republicans should congressional negotiations collapse and the U.S. government run out of cash when a short-term measure expires on April 8.
“We know that a compromise is within reach. And we also know that if these budget negotiations break down, it could shut down the government and jeopardize our economic recovery,” Obama said at a UPS shipping facility in Landover, Maryland.
Obama weighed in at a sensitive time in the negotiations.
The talks could still fall apart, but neither party is eager to cause a government shutdown that could lead to thousands of layoffs when voters are nervous about the shaky economic recovery and rising gas prices brought on by unrest in the Middle East.
Both sides are believed to have tentatively agreed to $33 billion in cuts but are haggling over where the budget knife should fall.
A $33 billion cut would represent a big victory for Republicans, as Obama had initially proposed a budget that would have increased spending by $41 billion but was never enacted.
But newly elected Tea Party conservatives in the House of Representatives want deeper cuts, presenting a challenge to House Speaker John Boehner.
And this is just for the budget for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. A bigger battle may be looming for the 2012 fiscal budget with many lawmakers wanting to tackle big-ticket items like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Boehner said on Friday that a shutdown would undermine Republican goals to cut government spending and that he is not preparing for a shutdown.
“Let’s all be honest, if you shut the government down, it’ll end up costing more than you save because you interrupt contracts. There are a lot of problems with the idea of shutting the government. It is not the goal. The goal is to cut spending,” Boehner told a news conference.
On Friday, several House Republicans said they would resist meeting Democrats in the middle on the size of the cut as they stood on the steps of the Senate. They want to stick to $61 billion in cuts that have already passed the House.
“Anything less than $61 billion is an insult to the problem,” said Republican Representative Paul Broun.
Congressional Democrats who saw Republicans punished by voters after a 1995 shutdown when Democrat Bill Clinton was president are eager to place the blame on Republicans this year.
Until Friday, Obama had largely resisted weighing in on the battle.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama chose to do so because a Labor Department report showed a slight decline in the U.S. jobless rate to 8.8 percent and he felt it important to comment on the possibility of a shutdown that he believes could hinder the fragile recovery.
Carney said Obama agrees on the need to cut spending and the $1.4 trillion deficit but wants to do it in a responsible way that protects spending for education, infrastructure and research and development.
He said the two sides appeared to be only a few billion dollars apart.
Democratic and Republican staffers were expected to work through the weekend to lay the legislative groundwork for the deal.