As millions of Americans face smaller paychecks if the government fails to act to avoid the fiscal cliff, President Obama has raised the ire of some conservative critics by quietly handing over pay hikes — estimated to cost more than $1 billion a year — to Congress, high-ranking federal officials, judges and Vice President Joe Biden.
“It’s a bad idea because Americans everywhere are hurting due to the fragile economy and the fiscal cliff,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “If the government is asking people to take a hit, surely senior government officials should take the hit, too.”
Neither O’Connell nor University of New Hampshire political science professor Andy Smith think Obama will suffer for approving the pay boost.
While the president’s executive order calls for a relatively small percentage pay increase, 0.5 percent, congressional Republicans say a preliminary estimate by the Congressional Budget Office puts the overall cost at about $11 billion over 10 years. The pay increase goes into effect in March.
Federal workers not on the list also may feel left out, O’Connell said. “There is a pay freeze on lower-end federal workers and I’m sure they’re not going to be too thrilled,” he said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi appears to command more votes in the "fiscal cliff" negotiations than the speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner of Ohio.
That's because the San Francisco Democrat leads a unified caucus whose votes will be needed to pass any deal to avert more than $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts come Jan. 1.
Boehner's Republicans, by contrast, are rebellious and fractured, having abandoned their leader.
That Pelosi should control the majority from the minority is a huge embarrassment to Republicans and a powerful lever for Obama.
"She has her caucus more in lockstep with the White House than Boehner does with himself," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. "In the House, there's no way around it. Unless fiscal conservatives say, 'All right, I see the greater strategy here,' there is no way to do this without votes from Pelosi's caucus."
"A lot of fiscal conservatives feel that they don't want to compromise principle, and for them, raising tax rates violates their principle," O'Connell said. "Personally, I think that game theory may be a lost art among fiscal conservatives. They don't recognize that Boehner was trying to move the ball down the field by lobbing Plan B to the Senate so he could minimize what Obama's political victory would be.
President Obama will strive to retain the political upper hand in negotiations over deficit reduction when he returns to Washington Thursday morning.
Obama had been in Hawaii with his family since Saturday but is scheduled to arrive back at the White House just before noon as the nation approaches the year-end fiscal cliff.
Results like that put a spring in Democrats’ collective step. But Republican strategists argue that public opinion can be volatile. They also suggest that Obama has his own imperatives for coming to a deal.
“Absolutely, he has the upper hand,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell admitted. “But the White House wants to get its agenda through before 2014. Now there is some concern that, if they go over the cliff, that complicates everything else: gun control, immigration, regulations. They want to make sure this deal goes through.”
Edward M. Kennedy Jr.’s emergence in the Bay State’s latest looming special U.S. Senate election would be a tectonic game changer, forcing leading local Democrats to think twice about jumping in and bringing a tidal wave of national money, influence and headlines to both sides of the race — again.
With the late senator’s son mulling a run, according to his brother Patrick J. Kennedy, Democrats are already gaming their options for the expected race to replace U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry if he is confirmed as secretary of state. Nationally, it’s a chance for the party to bring the late Liberal Lion’s name back to the Senate. For Republicans, that name is a red flag that could fire up the right opponent’s campaign.
Kennedy would have access to “the brightest political minds and strategists” and an avalanche of campaign cash, Ferson said. But a top Republican strategist notes that cuts two ways.
“National Democrats are longing to bring Camelot back,” said GOP operative Ford O’Connell. “Republicans have a chance to narrow Democrats’ lead in the Senate.”
While U.S. Sen. Scott Brown — about to surrender his seat to U.S. Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren — is seen as an automatic GOP nominee if he wants it, Democrats could jeopardize their own chances with a prolonged primary fight. Other top Democrats seen as possible candidates include Obama strategist David Simas, and U.S. Reps. Edward J. Markey, Stephen Lynch and Michael E. Capuano.
“Time is not on their side,” O’Connell said. “I think you may see some internal pressure because they realize a primary bloodbath benefits Scott Brown, especially considering Ted Kennedy Jr. is inexperienced.”
After nearly a week of laying low since the Dec. 14 elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., the National Rifle Association holds a press conference Friday – a rare event for the largest and wealthiest of American gun-rights organizations.
No one expects the NRA to give ground on any gun-control measures under discussion, such as a new federal ban on certain assault weapons or on high-capacity ammunition magazines. But in billing the 10:45 a.m. Eastern time news conference as “major” and saying that the organization is “prepared to offer meaningful contributions” to help prevent another Newtown, the NRA has raised the stakes for its role in the public debate.
“The NRA is between a rock and a hard place because kids were involved,” says Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist. “The one thing the NRA must do is at least look like it’s a willing partner in this conversation.”
It's almost as if many in the mainstream press wish we could switch temporarily to a monarchy. That way we could coronate Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and assure her role as our next leader and be done with it.
But before we measure the drapes and size the crown, there is the not-insignificant matter of Benghazi to consider. The Secretary of State has acknowledged she is responsible for the safety of the diplomats in her employ and has "accept[ed]"—whatever that means—the findings of an independent panel that looked into the attacks that left four Americans dead, including high-ranking diplomat Christopher Stephens.
If Hillary wants to be president—and all indications are she does—it's fair to wonder why she can't find time in her schedule to appear before Congress and set this to rest. Would it expose fissures between her and the president? Were there larger failures that would hurt her 2016 prospects? Did Rice know more than the administration claims when she went on the Sunday talks?
Whatever … four Americans lay dead because of these failures, and most of the media seems entirely comfortable with this being swept under the rug. Unless Republicans want to see Gingrich finally get a prediction right, they need to keep the heat on.
U.S. Democrats must avoid appearing too heavy-handed in what will likely be a push for more gun control when Congress reconvenes in January after Friday' s grizzly school shooting spree, experts said.
On Monday, White House Spokesman Jay Carney reiterated President Barack Obama' s statements that in the coming weeks he would engage "lawmakers, law enforcement, mental health experts, educators and others in an effort to try to prevent these kinds of terrible tragedies from happening in the future," but added that Obama has not yet espoused an official agenda.
But for any serious discussion on gun control to be successful, anything seen as a naked power grab on guns is likely to fail, said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.
Moreover, those advocating greater gun control will have to tackle every issue associated with what happened on Friday in Newtown, Connecticut, from mental health issues to questions on what some see as a U.S. culture of violence, O'Connell said.
But the two lawmakers rank high on a recent National Journal list of the most liberal senators, based on last year' s voting records. O'Connell said for any gun legislation to pass it would have to involve more moderate voices, such as West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin.
Embattled U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s decision to withdraw her name from consideration for secretary of state was in the best interest of the Obama administration.
Right now, the president has public opinion on his side, and for President Obama to push for her confirmation, he would have to expend a lot of political capital that is best used elsewhere.
The American public may not be following the terrorist attack that unfolded in Benghazi all that closely, but it is important to keep in mind that we have four dead Americans and no answers.
Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa Jr. says Michigan’s passage of a right-to-work law on Tuesday “basically betray[s] democracy.” Actually, it portrays democracy — and reasonably accurately.
For decades, Hoffa, his father, who also led the Teamsters, and almost all leaders of major unions have unabashedly and unashamedly aligned themselves with the Democratic Party. They provided foot soldiers for campaigns and money when necessary to pave the way for Democrats to win public office.
Those officeholders, in turn, rewarded them with union-friendly laws, expanded social services, high salaries and generous benefits for union members in the public and private sectors, as well as fostered a climate that enhanced — rather than challenged — the power of the leaders themselves.
A perfect storm had to come together to topple union power in what can be considered the birthplace of the big-time American labor movement. And it did. Unions overreached this fall and had a ballot initiative to enshrine union rights in the state constitution. It fell 57-42.
That was the signal Rick Snyder, the state’s Republican governor, and the Legislature needed that Michigan residents had tired of blind government support for unions and would consider alternatives.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) might be leaving the upper chamber, but the conservative favorite is likely to remain a force to be reckoned with in the 2014 cycle.
DeMint has not publicly discussed how active he plans to remain in Senate primaries, one of his major focuses during his last few years in Congress.
If he decides to focus more on policy and not get involved in the actual contests, that could leave a void on the right and let the National Republican Senatorial Committee become more involved in recruiting and aiding primary candidates.
DeMint also pressured the NRSC and its outgoing chairman, Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), not to endorse any candidates in 2012. While the organization was involved in some candidate recruitment, it did not get publicly involved in any primaries.
The NRSC faces a tricky situation. The ever-expanding influence of outside groups and rowdy grass roots quick to react against any perceived meddling has both weakened their ability to influence primaries and heightened the risk that any efforts for a candidate will backfire.
“There are some very big opportunities in 2014. The question is whether or not the NRSC delivers in the primaries, whether or not they step in,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, who has been involved in a number of Senate races (and contributes to The Hill’s Pundits Blog). “You saw the grief that Cornyn got in 2010 — there was always grumbling if they entered too much, or not enough. They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Right now we have six relatively toss-up races and they have to clean the slate if they want to be back in power or come close to it.”