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Posted at 8:47 AM ET, 02/14/2011

The Morning Plum

By Greg Sargent

* Battle lines drawn in budget fight: As expected, Obama's budget proposal responds to the GOP demand for downsized government with a series of steep cuts of his own to core liberal priorities such as low-income heating assistance and community development block grants.

But his budget also calls for targeted investments in education and energy and medical research, another sign that Obama's moves towards fiscal discipline are partly about carving out political space to increase government spending in other areas. And it avoides adopting the recommendations of his fiscal commission, such as rolling back programs maintaining the safety net for the elderly.

* Obama advisers reframe debate over government for budget fight: As I've noted before, Obama is trying to move the argument beyond one over big versus small government, which the GOP prefers, and on to an argument over what it's wise to cut and where it's wise to boost investment, a.k.a. government spending. A senior administration official previews the emerging line:

"The debate in Washington is not whether to cut or to spend. We both agree we should cut. The question is how we cut and what we cut."

In essence, the White House is trying to reframe the debate as the GOP's "cut and grow" versus Obama's "cut and invest."

* Will Congressional Dems stick with Obama in budget fight? One key dynamic to watch, as E.J. Dionne notes, is whether skittish Dems worried about reelection will move away from Obama and instead seek salvation by chasing Republicans and the Tea Party in the direction of ever steeper cuts.

* Indeed, Rep. Steny Hoyer, the number two Dem in the House, is now acknowledging that some Democrats will embrace the GOP's cuts.

* Will liberals protest Obama's budget cuts? Jonathan Cohn says Obama's cuts are unfortunate but notes the larger context: Republican cuts are far worse; and Obama's cuts may position Obama well for the coming battle over the future of a whole range of crucial government programs.

* Dems continue to raise specter of Newt-style government shutdown: John Boehner said over the weekend that the GOP's "goal" is not to shut down the government, leading Harry Reid to demand that Boehner take a shutdown completely off the table, another sign that Dems see advantage in associating today's GOP with the disastrous Newt Gingrich showdown with Bill Clinton.

* Details on Obama's handling of Egypt start dribbling out: Watch for more of this: The New York Times's first stab at assembling an account of what happened behind the scenes depicts Obama torn between idealistic and pragmatic instincts as he navigated a foreign policy team divided between cautious establishment voices and younger campaign aides challenging old assumptions.

* House GOP leader vouches for Obama's handling of Egypt: There's been a striking split between GOP officials and conservative commentators on Obama's handling of Egypt, and John Boehner reveals it yet again: "I think they've handled what is a very difficult situation about as well as it could be handled."

* Gut-check time for Obama administration on gay marriage: The repeal of don't ask don't tell has embodened gay rights advocates to demand that Obama come out firmly against the Defense of Marriage Act, and the question now is whether his Justice Department will finally do the right thing and stop defending it in two looming cases in Connecticut and New York.

* Could Roberts and Alito uphold the individual mandate? It seems implausible, to put it mildly, but Robert Barnes makes the case for why they're both in play.

Key point: The wild card is whether the justices find themselves unable to resist the political push against the mandate.

* Mega Boehner leadership fail on birthers? Jonathan Capehart on how Boehner's insistence that it's not his "job" to correct the birther delusions of many GOP base voters constitutes a #leadershipfail.

Not that there's anything Boehner could say to change their minds in the first place, since all this is really driven by a larger pathological inability to acknowledge Obama's legitimacy as president.

* And the takedown of the day: Faiz Shakir on the odd but unshakable faith the major networks continue to harbor in the foreign policy expertise of "renowned Egyptologist John McCain."

What else is happening?

By Greg Sargent  | February 14, 2011; 8:47 AM ET
Categories:  Foreign policy and national security, Health reform, House Dems, House GOPers, Morning Plum, Political media, Supreme Court, budget  
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Next: Boehner shows off the other kind of post-birtherism


Good thing the recession is over and all Americans care about is the deficit. As Ims quoted Krugman: "In a better world, politicians would talk to voters as if they were adults." That is what I so loved about Candidate Obama. Why he lost his faith in the American People baffles me.


Posted by: wbgonne | February 14, 2011 8:56 AM | Report abuse

In the aftermath of CPAC, silence. Nothing to see here folks, you can move along, Republican politics are still just John Boehner in the lower House...and a bunch of TV, radio and internet based entertainers. The big winner at CPAC: Democrats.

Posted by: shrink2 | February 14, 2011 9:05 AM | Report abuse

In the real world "targeted investments in education and "avoides adopting the recommendations of his fiscal commission" means INCREASED SPENDING.

Posted by: clawrence12 | February 14, 2011 9:07 AM | Report abuse

Increased spending on education would be exactly the right move.

It was the excellence of and access to education that lay at the foundation of America's vanished greatness.

Not free enterprise.

Posted by: caothien9 | February 14, 2011 9:11 AM | Report abuse

cao (brought forward):

""Ignoring the relativist goad (how desperate)...""


""If you want to debate this...""

Nope. I have no interest in debating the specifics of Israel. I am more interested in your more general sense of how the US should interact with the world. Specifically, I want to confirm that, as your posts suggest, you think the US should use it's power, economic and/or military, to influence and direct the behavior of other nations. Is that correct? And, if so, does that also mean that you are in favor of the US maintaining its economic/military power in order to be in a position to do just that?

""...and can arm the Palestinians in their own defense.""

So you have no objections in principle to the US supplying arms to other people/nations, is that correct?

BTW...are there any other nations which set an example in this respect, re interaction with the world, that the US should follow?

Posted by: ScottC3 | February 14, 2011 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Any talk on the administration's housing plan? The Post had a fairly detailed story this weekend about how Obama wants to get the government out of the mortgage business. Seemed like a fairly positive step .. but the plan was silent on the mortgage interest deduction. As much as I personally benefit from that, it needs to go. Also, picking up on the what seems to be a theme, the plan was criticized from the left.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | February 14, 2011 9:16 AM | Report abuse


Wanted to catch you while you were here.
Thanks ever so much for that photography link. Excellent information and it's bookmarked on my browser at home.


Posted by: rukidding7 | February 14, 2011 9:30 AM | Report abuse


Imo, the administration won't touch F&F, that was a feint, just political cover. Why? The market is waaaay to fragile with the toxic asset (worthless securitized mortgages) number hovering around $1.5 trillion held/backed by F&F and this year's foreclosure rate set to eclipse last years million. The market could not handle a sharp rise in interest rates, the end of the 30 year mortgage and the loss of the deduction, it would simply things will go on as they are. Over a million more houses are going to be 'owned by the bank' this year and you know what that does to prices in the neighborhood - the comp system of valuing real estate is showing the trouble and so are property tax receipts.

Posted by: shrink2 | February 14, 2011 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Scott, you're pulling the conversation in the direction of increasing generality. This is never a good sign nora promising development. Please keep things specific.

Posted by: caothien9 | February 14, 2011 9:38 AM | Report abuse

"Mega Boehner"

What kind of blog do you think this is?

Posted by: mikefromArlington | February 14, 2011 9:39 AM | Report abuse

The commerce clause is one of the two bases for ADA as stated by Congress. ADA not only directs employers of 15 or more to not discriminate against employment applicants by reason of disability, it mandates that employers spend money making physical accommodations for customers and employees alike.

It mandates that some smaller businesses make accommodations, too. The gas station around the block has self service and full service pumps? It must provide full service at the self service pump for the disabled.

There are stiff fines for ADA noncompliance, but some tax bennies for compliance.

These mandates often force *action* and *spending* by a solo small biz owner that s/he would never have dreamed of before 1991.

I do not see "activity" vs. "inactivity" as a distinction that is compelling in commerce clause law. I think the point to be addressed is whether or not the aggregate argument - the argument that the sum of the decisions not to engage affects commerce - will continue to define the boundary as it has with "W. v. F". and "Raich" .
I remain amazed that there is apparently no severability clause in PPACA.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | February 14, 2011 9:41 AM | Report abuse

re the entire "Big Government" meme...

Excuse me for pointing out reality here..but...we are a nation of over 300 million citizens..of course our Government is going to be large...duh...

So why can't we stop with all the talking points and have some genuine discussion...

Shouldn't we be most interested in "efficient" government? Would someone be happy with a small innefficient Gov't?
Is size the ONLY determinant?

How about discussing reordering our priorities? Again if we're as broke as the R's suggest..then WTF are we doing with all those troops in Korea? Again think Samsung, Hyndai etc...they can pay for their own defense. And the absurd spectacle of spending Billions in Israel, much of it for THEIR defense...and then turning around and doing the balancing act by spending billions in Egypt...largely going to their military. It's long past time to call them both out...we are morons are going to have to make peace or simply wipe each other out as idiot war mongers...we can't afford to support BOTH sides of a military face off!
Stop foreign aid to BOTH nations. As an American taxpayer I'm really tired of..send us millions or we'll go to war with each other. Might have been appropriate in the 70's but for heaven's sake it's now 2011 more than 30 years later. When does the blackmail stop?

We are going to spend waaaay north of three trillion dollars on the Iraq war so a Texas family can decide who is toughest...Poppy or Junior. I'm real happy to contribute to the cost of that family egomaniacal struggle.

The oligarchs are making a mess of this country! Perhaps it is time to take to the streets and let them know it! And not as poor stooges like the Tea party which was played like a fiddle by those same oligarchs.

Posted by: rukidding7 | February 14, 2011 9:41 AM | Report abuse

ruk -- glad you found the link useful. Here's another one if you're into post-processing for some very unique images that result from the merging of photos that are over or under exposed.

It's budget day, so i'm out for the rest of the day.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | February 14, 2011 9:48 AM | Report abuse


"the mortgage interest deduction. As much as I personally benefit from that, it needs to go."

I don't disagree with your point. But like you I benefit from it as well...and doubly so since it also exists for our 2nd home at our income level. And so while I agree with you in principle I'm not going to be happy to watch it go until there are some other major changes in the tax code.
Rick Scott "clips coupons" for his 10 million annual salary and pays 15% of his "reported" income. I work..sometimes even on a Sunday like yesterday...waaahhhh...and I pay would jump without those two deductions.
I pay 7.65% (-2% temporary for this year)
in FICA while Scott pays O%!!!!

When Ricky the scumbag Scott pays a LARGER % of his income than me then we can talk about eliminating my mortgage interest deduction.

And now for a reality someone who has a real estate license and works with Brokers and gets solicited regularly by the LARGEST professional PAC in our state the FAR and indeed nationally as well with the NAR...eliminating the mortgage interest deduction is DOA.

I'm not an economist and so I can't quantify what eliminating that tax break would do to home sales...and perhaps just as significantly on the sale of 2nd (unnecessary) homes...but I can tell you the FAR and NAR believe it to be the end of the world as they know it. Nevah goin to happen...unless it was part of a truly COMPREHENSIVE and I do mean COMPREHENSIVE adjustment to all of our tax polices.

Posted by: rukidding7 | February 14, 2011 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Hah, Mike, you got me. ;)

Posted by: sargegreg | February 14, 2011 9:57 AM | Report abuse

@Mark in Aus

"I remain amazed that there is apparently no severability clause in PPACA."

And as a layperson may I add my amazement.
Care to speculate as to why this happened.

Of course it could be simple...or in this case complex ignorance. Nobody picked up on it when writing the bill.

Considering how thoroughly scrubbed this bill had to be in such a heated debate I have to believe the omission was intentional.

Perhaps O and the Dems were setting a trap for the R's? Don't know if they were thinking strategically politically when the bill was written, but maybe they wanted this bill to be an "all or nothing" kind of deal.

Maybe somebody(like the insurance company lobbyists who helped write the bill) figured out that the financial underpinnings of this bill fall apart without the mandate?

Posted by: rukidding7 | February 14, 2011 10:04 AM | Report abuse

In the interest of bipartisanship since I linked Krugman's assessment of the Republican budget cuts on the previous thread, here's his initial reaction to Obama's.

""There was an old Washingtoon, probably from the mid-1980s, in which Democrats meet to plan their new centrist strategy — which consists of tax cuts for the rich, reduced spending on the needy, and big defense budgets. “But how is this different from the Republicans?” asks one member of the group. “Compassion,” replies the leader. “We care about the victims of our policies.”

That’s pretty much my initial reaction to what we know so far about the Obama budget. It’s much less awful than the Republican proposal, but it moves in the same direction: listening to the administration, you’d think that discretionary spending, not health care, is at the heart of our long-run deficit problems — and you’d also think that the job of rescuing the economy was done, with unemployment still at 9 percent.

It could be worse — the GOP proposal is — but it’s hardly something to cheer about.""

Posted by: lmsinca | February 14, 2011 10:05 AM | Report abuse


"It’s much less awful than the Republican"

Doesn't that pretty much sum up why we vote for the Dems? Seriously, the Dems have done NOTHING for me except they are truly less awful than R's.

How about Afghanistan? Same as McCain so far.

How about tax cuts for the wealthy?
You betcha!

How about a single payer solution..Medicare for least an OPTION to buy in? NOPE.

Financial Reg Reform..really?
Perhaps I leave that to better informed folks like you and 12Bar lmsinca.

I would join wbgonne in the move to the green party if I didn't believe it to hurt Obama's chances. I'm not going to get Nadered again...but really what am I voting for...I like Obama personally...he HAS restored some of America's credibility abroad and removed some of the stigma of having the "cowboy bring it on" President.
But in short lmsinca the only REAL reason I vote Democratic? You said it...

"It’s much less awful than the Republican...."

Posted by: rukidding7 | February 14, 2011 10:16 AM | Report abuse

All, more good stuff from Adam Serwer on the GOP's embrace of "post birtherism":

Posted by: Greg Sargent | February 14, 2011 10:29 AM | Report abuse


""Scott, you're pulling the conversation in the direction of increasing generality. ""

Well, in a sense, yes. I am trying to see what, if any, general principles guide your opinions on these things. In the absence of such principles, it is hard to have a logical discussion about specifics. If your reason for preferring policy A to policy B is grounded in nothing more than that you like A and not B, then a discussion about the merits of A vs B is pointless.

So do you think, in principle, the US should wield its power to influence or direct the behavior of other nations in particular ways?

Posted by: ScottC3 | February 14, 2011 10:29 AM | Report abuse


At this point I'm still leaning toward voting for Obama but working for more progressive candidates in congressional and local races. One thing I will not do anytime in the near future is contribute to the DSCC or DCCC. I've learned that lesson anyway. If I'm still here I'll probably start another act blue page for the plumline as long as Greg doesn't seem to object. You won't find any bluedogs or conservadems on those contribution pages.

Posted by: lmsinca | February 14, 2011 10:40 AM | Report abuse

[Greg: "Obama's handling of Egypt start dribbling out"]

WaPo reports today that the White House is looking at Indonesia, the Philippines, and several other countries where popular movements toppled governments.

That’s all well and good, but a more instructive case may be what happened in Algeria in 1991.

There, in the wake of massive demonstrations, the government launched a policy of liberalization, culminating in the country’s first-ever multi-party elections. Unsurprisingly, the Islamists won the initial round of voting, and the army, knowing what was coming, canceled them, leading to a bloody civil war. And Algeria is a more developed country than Egypt, with more urbanization and industry and lower birthrates, so the idea that Egypt has any real chance of emerging from this with a stable and viable democratic system seems fanciful.

This may also be why we aren’t hearing breathless enthusiasm about the latest protest marches in Algeria. The Post story on Saturday’s protests in Algiers quoted one Ali Rachedi, former head of the Front of Socialist Forces party: “This demonstration is a success because it’s been 10 years that people haven’t been able to march in Algiers, and there’s a sort of psychological barrier.” Of course, he wouldn’t have been able to march over the past ten years regardless — if it wasn’t the army stopping him, it would have been the (nipped-in-the-bud) Islamic regime. Of course, as I’ve repeatedly asserted, the only route to genuine liberty in the Middle East is through Islamist takeover — the inevitable failure of regimes based on Islam is the only way Muslims will finally come to accept that Islam is a dead end. In that sense, the army takeover in Algeria was a more profound setback for democracy than it seems, because by now, after nearly 20 years of rule by Islamists, Algeria might truly have been ready for something different. As it is, the expected lifting of the state of emergency there isn’t any more likely to lead to a stable democracy there than is Mubarak’s departure in Egypt.

*slouching toward sharia*

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | February 14, 2011 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Thank Goodness that with corporate profits at an all time high and income disparity at record levels, that a Democratic president is in full agreement with the Republicans that the only solution to the debt is to get the working classes to pay the tabs for the rich to keep getting richer. After all, a major recession is exactly the right time to inflict suffering on the masses. Only when the average wage of American workers is comparable to those of third world countries will the elites truly feel they've got their fair share of the pie.

Posted by: Bullsmith1 | February 14, 2011 10:48 AM | Report abuse


Thanks for all you do...and I shall definitely follow any "act blue" pages and do my best to help.


Dude...did nobody tell you the truth hurts?
Alas I agree with your post and it saddens me greatly to do so...and your conclusion..while viewed as hyperbolic from our righty friends is undeniably trending that direction...

"Only when the average wage of American workers is comparable to those of third world countries will the elites truly feel they've got their fair share of the pie."

Posted by: rukidding7 | February 14, 2011 11:06 AM | Report abuse

F&F are separate from the interest deduction. Relatively modest changes would greatly reduce the cost of this program, which has become a subsidy for upper middle class to upper class.

Eliminate second homes. The point is to encourage home ownership, not a shack at the lake. Convert to a credit of 25% of interest paid up to a ceiling. Say, a maximum of 150% of an average home times typical APR on a 30 year.

The cost is much reduced and the goal of encouraging home ownership is maintained. There's no need for additional support of $500K+ homes. And yes, I do live in an area where those are common.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | February 14, 2011 11:24 AM | Report abuse

All, Obama's invocation of Dwight Eisenhower in his budget speech today was no accident:

Posted by: Greg Sargent | February 14, 2011 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Here's a great article illustrating why it will be so hard to "Bend the Cost Curve" in the current system.

To summarize, Big Pharm companies give patients coupons for their name brand drugs. This induces patients to choose these brand drugs instead of the generics that are cheaper. Insurance companies then see costs sky rocket as the generics are discarded in favor of the brand names. There is no end to the ingenuity of the for-profit medical industry to make money. Though in this case it may be fraud.

Posted by: ashotinthedark | February 14, 2011 11:28 AM | Report abuse

@cao: "Increased spending on education would be exactly the right move."

Something that you and I can agree 100%.

Or, in our current educational climate, something that you and I can agree 198% on.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | February 14, 2011 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Coupon shopping should be serious business to? more people in this economy, new thing is collective buying check for the website "Printapons"

Posted by: heidimkrick | February 15, 2011 12:23 AM | Report abuse

Refinancing replaces your current mortgage with a new loan that has a more favorable interest rate and terms that you can afford to manage. The new loan is secured on the same property as your current loan. I refinanced and saving $451 every month! search online for "123 Mortgage Refinance" they got me a 3.11% rate

Posted by: lauracerny | February 15, 2011 2:28 AM | Report abuse

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