Monday, January 28, 2008

So You Don’t Actually Have To Watch

(and after all of this I probably won’t-I kinda want to see In Treatment)

Here’s what tonight’s speech will be about according to Politico

President Bush goes before Congress tonight, urging quick action on an economic stimulus package and new Iraq war funding but also demanding a second round of cuts from the home state spending projects so favored by lawmakers.

The president is threatening to veto any appropriations bill that doesn’t reduce so-called earmarks by 50 percent from 2008 levels, already cut by Democrats from prior Republican Congresses. The new benchmark is less severe than House Republican demands for a moratorium this year on any such projects, but Bush’s stand still contrasts sharply with his history of long tolerating pork-barrel spending which exploded under Republican rule.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn’t dismiss the demands for further reductions from earmarks but suggested the administration and Republicans were not being consistent in their position. “If the president wants to do away with earmarks, then we should do away with presidential earmarks as well,” she said this morning. “There is great ambiguity in the Republican Party. They want to beat a loud drum but when it comes down to it, they want their earmarks.”

White House aides caution that Bush will temper his own legislative ambitions this evening but the speech will be laced with examples of where the president can act administratively to boost his goals.

The president’s legacy education initiative, No Child Left Behind, is up for review this year and remains a legislative priority, for example, but Bush will also announce new education initiatives, such as one targeted to high school dropouts, that can be implemented by his order alone. In the same manner, his crackdown on earmarks will be accompanied by an executive order this week telling agencies to ignore future projects unless the funding is spelled out in specific legislation, not simply tucked into an accompanying bill report.

The core Bush agenda will be evident in the president’s remarks, described as about evenly devoted to foreign and domestic policy. The administration has a pending request for $108 billion more for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the larger war against terror. And faced with a Feb. 1 deadline, Bush will also demand a quick end to debate on legislation authorizing warrantless eavesdropping to fight terrorism.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s trip to Colombia last week will be the backdrop for Bush to press again for ratification of a trade agreement reached with the U.S. ally in 2006. Mideast peace efforts and the crisis in Darfur will be topics, and Mr. Bush will renew his call for not only more money to fight AIDS but also malaria in poor developing nations.

At home, Bush wants to make his signature tax cuts permanent—something left out of the $150 billion stimulus package agreed to last week by House leaders. But the White House is making a conscious effort not to over reach, given that, more than most, this State of the Union address has its changing dynamics.

This is because it is the last of the Bush presidency but also because the nation faces such historic uncertainty: wars overseas, falling financial markets, and no clear champion yet in either political party to take the helm when Bush leaves.

The president is expected to speak fervently of his trust in Americans, even as he asks voters to trust him with more surveillance authority - now being debated in the Senate - and billions more for the war in Iraq. But the downturn in the economy has shaken what’s been a pillar to his power, and Bush knows he will have to share the stage more this year even as he tries to hold onto a piece for himself.

Nothing illustrates this better than the new $150 billion economic stimulus package, a major subject tonight but one not even in early drafts of the speech a month ago.

The president will single out Pelosi and House Republican Leader John Boehner for their work in shaping the bill which comes before the full House Tuesday. And the re-emergence of Boehner as a legislative dealmaker could be hugely important if Congress were to go on and tackle a mega-bargain this year: pairing the president’s legacy education issue - No Child Left Behind - with expanded health insurance for working class children, a top Pelosi priority.

At the same time, it is difficult to overstate the impact of Treasury Secy. Henry Paulson in the stimulus talks. Republicans call him an “energizer bunny”; Democrats are relieved to have someone who listens. “I was going to call you but I was working my way up,” Paulson told Pelosi, when she telephoned him early on. “He’s not there to fight us, he’s there to work it out,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.).

Looking ahead, the former investment banker and Goldman Sachs CEO is increasingly optimistic he can break through in the Senate this year and complete mortgage reform legislation, including tighter supervision of government sponsored entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two entrenched Washington interests.

“I don’t want to sound naïve but I think there’s a real chance for action,” the secretary said in a brief interview Sunday. “There’s no excuse and we’ll be embarrassing ourselves if we don’t do it.”

Even before Christmas, Boehner warned that continued stalemate in Congress could hurt Republicans as well as the Democratic majority in November’s elections. And this seemed to motivate his activist role in the stimulus deal in which he was given unusual license from the White House to drive the bargaining with Pelosi.

The speaker has often been a political risk-taker, willing to jump ahead of her caucus as she did during talks last year on child health care. But it was striking for Boehner, who must protect his right flank, to also step forward and brought back memories of his deal making days on pensions and No Child Left Behind as chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

Mr. Paulson is more of a political newcomer, but anyone so successful in bond markets and college football is scarcely a stranger to competition. “When you’re down in the dirt opening a hole for a running back, it teaches you teamwork and determination,” he says of his days as an offensive tackle. And Paulson has a close alliance with House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

“He is a rare example of a guy who came from totally outside the political process who understands how it works, how deals have to be organized,” said Frank, who has vowed to protect the secretary’s back if the mortgage reforms they both want are not enacted by the Senate.

Bowing to bipartisan pressure, especially from states like California, Paulson agreed in the stimulus package to allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to purchase or guarantee loans of as much as 125% of an area’s median home price. That translates into hundreds of thousands of dollars on top of the current $417,000 limit for such GSE’s, but Frank says this high-end relief will dry up at the end of this year unless tougher regulations are put in place as well.

“I said to Hank, here is the deal I will make for you,” Frank said. “I think we should raise the GSE limit but I will give you my commitment that it will be for 12 months and if the whole bill hasn’t been dealt with within those 12 months, it becomes a pumpkin.”

And don’t worry if you, presumably disagree with anything and everything that GweeB says, because once again it is “unlikely to yield action
For a lame duck unfathomably unpopular president with an opposition Congress the State of the Union really is, well like Macbeth
The 2008 State of the Union ≈ is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

And GweeB is a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And [will soon be] heard no more

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