Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Obama defends tax compromise with GOP

Democrats in Congress split apart Tuesday over an agreement between the White House and Republicans to extend expiring income tax cuts for the wealthy despite a push by President Obama to deflect criticism from within his own party.

But while they balked and in some cases blasted the plan, which would extend Bush-era tax cuts for all income levels, a wide swath of Democrats left open the possibility of supporting the deal to avoid tax increases for millions of middle-class Americans.

A day after announcing the "framework" of an agreement with Republican lawmakers, the White House sought to convince wavering Democrats that failing to keep the 2001 and 2003 cuts in place would have a devastating effect on unemployment in 2011. Currently, 9.8% of American workers are unemployed.

"I'm not here to play games with the American people or the health of our economy," Obama said during a news conference. "My job is to do whatever I can to get this economy moving."

On Capitol Hill, Vice President Biden spoke at a closed-door meeting of Senate Democrats to make the administration's case. Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, a conservative Democrat, said Biden characterized the proposal as a "bad situation, but a good deal."

The agreement, announced Monday, would extend for two years income tax cuts that will otherwise expire at the end of the month. The deal would also continue extended unemployment benefits for 13 months. Without an extension, 7 million workers would have lost benefits in the coming year. Further, the deal cuts Social Security taxes by 2 percentage points and reduces the estate tax.

Reaction to the meeting with Biden varied. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Democrats "bargained too soon" and said he didn't think he could support the bill.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, a more conservative independent from Connecticut, called the measure an "economic recovery program" and predicted that half of Senate Democrats would support it.

"I think the president did largely what the situation required," said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., the Senate Budget Committee chairman. "If we keep our eye on the main issue, which is securing the economy ... the president did about what he had to do."

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., called the agreement "almost morally corrupt," but like many of her Democratic colleagues, she stopped short of saying she would vote against it. "If I wind up voting for this package, I will not do it silently," she said.

Democrats, including Obama, long asserted they would extend the tax cuts only on taxable income below $250,000 for a family. Republicans argued high earners should not pay more tax on income above the $250,000 threshold and threatened to filibuster the Democrats' plan.

"I'm as opposed to the high-end tax cuts today as I've been for years," Obama said during his press conference. "And when they expire in two years, I will fight to end them, just as I suspect the Republican Party may fight to end the middle-class tax cuts that I've championed and that they've opposed."
But some of the strongest pushback from Democrats on Tuesday came not on the income tax provisions, but rather on proposed changes to the estate tax. The deal would let couples pass $10 million onto heirs tax-free. Inheritance beyond that would be taxed at 35%.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said a number of senators raised concerns about that proposal during the meeting. Reid suggested Democrats would try to make some changes to the agreement.
It is unclear how much Republicans — who made big gains in the November election — are willing to negotiate. "The agreement has been reached," said Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, when asked about the party's willingness to make changes.

House Democrats were also indignant. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sent a message on Twitter that Republican provisions would "add tens of billions to deficit."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., summed up the frustration expressed by many in his party about the decision ahead: put up with the tax cuts for high-income families or risk a continued stalemate that would jeopardize the tax cuts for everyone.

"At a time when the deficit is at unacceptable levels, giving tax cuts to high-income Americans is not appropriate," he said. "On the other hand, raising taxes on middle-income Americans is not appropriate either."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Obama, the Great Placator, needs to throw some elbows

Watching President Obama walk back to the White House with a busted lip from a recent basketball game, I was hoping he would step toward the TV cameras and show off his scar. Taste the blood in his mouth, tell us that he'll just have to take it out on the Republicans or something.

Instead, Obama trudged on by, nursing his wounds, looking like a kid who had just been sucker-punched in a schoolyard brawl.

And then came this account in The Post on Monday:

"A White House official with knowledge of the incident, and eager to make the president look as tough as possible, said that [Reynaldo Decerega, director of programs for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and owner of the flying elbow,] required a hospital visit after the collision and received some stitches himself."

I don't mean to pile on with more criticism of Obama as a wimp, but a White House spin doctor to make him look tough after a pickup basketball game? Man up, Obama. Let us see you with blood on your teeth and fire in your eyes. Or does being the first black president mean you can never show yourself to be a man in full?

Now he wants a pay freeze for federal employees, announced just in time for Christmas - and only two months after proposing to give them a modest raise.

Did the Republican leadership pop him in the mouth, too?

Obama's decision will be a devastating blow to the Washington area's economy, not to mention a betrayal of some of his most loyal supporters and the nation's most dedicated public servants. After throwing nearly a trillion dollars to rescue banks and big business, he turns around and picks the pocket of everyday working people.

Has there ever been a president who treated his sworn enemies so much better than his proven friends?

What a milquetoast.

How does the president respond to the unauthorized release of hundreds of thousands of classified documents? White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday that Obama "was, as an understatement, not pleased" with WikiLeaks.

It's been two years since Obama's election, and that's how he always looks in the face of bad news. Never angry, never disgusted or fed up. During the oil spill in Gulf of Mexico, he actually issued a news release that cited the emotions - "anger and frustration" - that he intended to convey during an upcoming speech.

And he still came across as merely not pleased.

Neither am I, obviously. In fact, I think Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looked a lot more presidential than Obama in her response to the leaks.

By most accounts, Obama acts like a black man behind closed doors. He talks trash while shooting hoops, talks Chicago South Side tough with his aides and conveys a range of emotions, including anger.

Once in public, though, he demurs - as if upholding some unspoken bargain with white America to never look like an angry black man in exchange for continued off-the-charts "likability" ratings and a shot at reelection in 2012.

It's bad enough that there are so few black men in public life who can be thought of as feared and respected - except for athletes such as, say, LeBron James. No black "Hammer" in the House, as Tom DeLay was called. No black arm-twisting Dick Cheney or in-your-face Rahm Emanuel lurking in the West Wing. Not even a black James Carville just to show up and harass the opposition.

But for a black president to apparently choose to be the Great Placator is downright embarrassing. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times calls Obama "a 46-year-old virgin"; The Post's Kathleen Parker says he acts like the nation's "first female president."

You know it's bad when a white woman tag team can play the dozens with a black man and score unanswered points left and right.

On Monday, Obama's manhood took three more hits in the headlines: From The Post's E.J. Dionne, "Does Obama have it in him to respond to critics?" From The Post's Marc Thiessen, "Obama administration is weak in the face of WikiLeaks." And from Robert Kuttner in the Huffington Post, "Backbone, Please."

Much of this criticism against Obama has to do with his resolve, not his race. But I see the president as a black man first. It's a pride thing. Obama's victory wasn't just about his progressive platform. It was a historic, racial barrier-busting victory that was supposed to make it just a little easier for black boys to imagine being president.

But Obama is proving himself to be a most peculiar commander in chief. Maybe another black boy will someday grow up to become president, but if he turns out to be like Obama, it'll be hard to call him a black man.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Key Golf Managing Rio Secco Golf Club

When the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge participants recently arrived at Rio Secco Golf Club, they were greeted by something rarely, if ever seen, in the world of professional golf tours: A golf course groomed to the highest levels of conditioning that was not maintained by the club's own golf course maintenance staff.

Yes, one of Las Vegas' highest profile courses, home to the Butch Harmon School of Golf and host of the nationally televised Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge for three years, outsources its course maintenance.

Key Golf, based in Las Vegas, Nev., took over the maintenance at Rio Secco 10 months ago, and has put it in pristine condition in time for this annual gathering of some of the world's top tour professionals. The PGA Tour players this year were Justin Johnson, Bubba Watson and Boo Weekley, while the Champions Tour was represented by Bernhard Langer, Kenny Perry and Nick Price and LPGA Tour by Natalie Gulbis, Cristie Kerr and Suzann Pettersen.

The Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge national telecast is scheduled to air the week of December 6 on The Golf Channel.

"On behalf of the Wendy's 3- Tour Challenge, Harrah's Entertainment, the players, Butch Harmon, (who worked so tirelessly in bringing this elite field of PGA stars together), Key Golf, the staff, and myself, a very special thanks to all," said Eric Dutt, vice president of Harrah's Golf. "It was a fun week, but let's not lose sight of the fact that the "kids" who find homes through the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption are the big winners, and that's what this event is all about."

Dutt was particularly appreciative of Key Golf's contributions in preparing the course for a world class event. "Key did a tremendous job of putting our course in professional tournament condition," said Dutt. "We weren't surprised. They have done a tremendous job since we contracted with them to handle our entire course maintenance program, not only at Rio Secco, but also at Cascata and Las Vegas National. We are very pleased with the partnership."