By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake
President Obama will lay out his long-term vision for reducing the country’s debt this afternoon in a speech, with massive implications for the coming debt ceiling fight in Congress as well as the 2012 presidential race.
Details about what exactly Obama will say have been relatively scarce. He is expected to embrace — in broad terms — the proposal put forward by the debt commission late last year and offer support for the work being done by a bipartisan group/gang of six senators to take the commission’s recommendations and turn them into legislation.
Obama’s speech will come eight days after Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan unveiled the House Republican budget proposal for the 2012 fiscal year — a document that has further stoked the partisan divide between the two parties about how best to tackle the country’s massive $14.3 trillion debt.
The White House hopes to refocus the debate with Obama’s address today, setting the terms for next month’s congressional debate over whether or not to increase the amount of money the country can borrow, as well as seizing back the initiative on addressing the debt crisis from Republicans.
Our viewer’s guide for the speech — a.k.a. what to watch for — is after the jump.
* Details, details, details: The biggest unknown going into the speech is how specific — if at all — the president will be about his plans to reduce the deficit. The devil is, quite literally, in the details in these sorts of major proposals — as evidenced by how Ryan’s entire budget was reduced to his proposal to end Medicare as we know it. Obama’s tendency is to avoid talking in too much detail, and early indications suggest he will not outline in a whole lot of detail what he wants to see in the 2012 budget. Expect Republicans to pounce if the speech doesn’t lay out — line by line — how Obama would accomplish debt reduction.
* Tax talk: One thing that everyone watching the speech will be waiting for is whether Obama embraces — whether directly or indirectly — the idea of raising taxes on some portion of the population in order to help close the budget gap. Republicans are already staking out ground in opposition to tax increases; “If the President begins the discussion by saying we must increase taxes on the American people — as his budget does — my response will be clear: tax increases are unacceptable and are a non-starter,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in a statement released Tuesday evening. Knowing that, if Obama does take on the tax issue — perhaps by calling for an end to the Bush tax cuts for those making over $250,000 — it is rightly read as a sign that he is willing to take the political fight to the GOP. And if it happens, expect tax talk to dominate the post-speech analysis.
* Tone matters: This is, effectively, the first major address by Obama since he announced his plan to seek a second term in 2012.
Since the 2010 midterm election, Obama and his political team have cast him as the compromiser-in-chief — cutting deals on taxes during the lame duck session late last year and on 2011 budget cuts last week.
That image of Obama as the adult in the room, the one person trying to navigate choppy political waters for the good of the country, is clearly the one that the White House believes will win him not only legislative victories but a second term. And so that’s almost certainly the tone he will strike today.
One potential complicating factor: Obama is facing increasing criticism from the ideological left for the budget compromise of last week and, if he strikes a conciliatory tone today, it’s likely to stoke liberals’ disdain.
* The economy pivot: For the last few weeks, the national debate has focused on how much should be cut from the 2011 budget and how the national debt can be significantly pared back.
That’s tough ground for any Democrat, as the public tends to natively trust Republicans more on issues like debt and spending. The key for Obama then is to better connect deficit reduction with his broader plans for jobs and the economy, which remain the critical issues for voters heading into the 2012 election.
“Right now, the narrative has been about the mechanics of spending, which voters do believe needs to be reined in,” said one senior Democratic pollster. “But deficit reduction is not an ends in itself, but a vehicle for improving the economy, and I hope the president can get back to the jobs/economy mantra.”
Huck pokes his nose out again: Every so-often, we hear that Mike Huckabee is getting more serious about running for president. Many are skeptical, and he clearly wants to be part of the dialogue.
A new Los Angeles Times story provides more of the same. The Times says Huckabee “recently stepped up his outreach to conservative activists and donors” — which confirms other reporting on the topic — and that it appears the former Arkansas governor is “increasingly exploring the possibility” of running.
Until Huckabee starts making big-name hires, though, few in the chattering classes are going to take him seriously. Even though Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney have opened exploratory committees, Huckabee’s camp still says no decision will come before summer.
In the meantime, with other candidates beginning to make their moves, it will be harder for Huckabee to continue to be part of the conversation.
Jordan a ‘no’ on budget compromise; Rand Paul may filibuster: Two key fiscally conservative Republicans are balking at the budget compromise reached last week.
Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who we noted last week could move dozens of votes on the budget bill, announced Tuesday that he will vote ‘no.’ And meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has expressed opposition, is threatening to filibuster the bill.
Jordan said voters in November sent a message that they want bigger cuts. “Americans want us to reach higher, act bolder, and remember the job we were sent here to do,” Jordan told ABC News.
Paul said on Sean Hannity’s radio show that “we haven’t really made a final decision on” a filibuster, which would force the bill to get 60 votes in the Senate.
The compromise is expected to pass, but if Jordan and Paul can get their conservative colleagues to make a statement about the deal, it would definitely cause a stir in GOP circles.
Pawlenty’s false start: Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty (R) said Tuesday that he is running for president. But he didn’t mean it.
Asked by CNN’s Piers Morgan whether he would be OK with being a vice presidential nominee in 2012, Pawlenty responded by saying, ”I’m running for president.”
Immediately, reports circulated that he had officially declared his candidacy. Pawlenty’s campaign fought back, though, saying the remarks were being taken out of context.
So is he running for president? Well, not yet — technically. He appears to have gotten tripped up by the question and was careless with his words.
Still, nobody is going to be surprised when he does officially announce his candidacy. And that was true even before his interview with Morgan.
Redistricting update: The Louisiana state legislature is down to one potential congressional map , with the deadline to pass it at 7 p.m. today.
A state Senate committee on Tuesday passed an amended version of the bill passed in the state House last week. But reports indicate that the changes might not suit the House, and those close to the process are skeptical that it will be the final product.
Five members of Congress and Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) have called for the state legislature to put off congressional redistricting until next year, but the state Senate pushed forward anyways.
Meanwhile, Iowa is having a much easier time with its proposal. The plan (detailed here) would draw GOP Reps. Steve King and Tom Latham into one district and force Rep. Dave Loebsack (D) to run in a district where he doesn’t live, but includes much of the territory he currently represents. The plan passed in a state Senate subcommittee Tuesday, and the state legislature could give the final OK by Thursday.
- More bad press for the likely GOP ticket in the Kentucky governor’s race: Republican lieutenant governor candidate and Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer is the only statewide official to decline to participate in voluntary furloughs.
- The liberal women’s group Emily’s List will announce today that it has added four Republicans to its 2012 target list: Reps. Bob Dold (Ill.), Frank Guinta (N.H.), Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Steve Stivers (Ohio).
- Trevor Kincaid, a spokesman for Sen. Michael Bennet’s (D-Colo.) successful 2010 reelection campaign, has joined Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-Mo.) office. Kincaid previously worked for Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and former congressman Nick Lampson (D-Texas).
- McCaskill raised more than $1 million in the first quarter and has $1.8 million on hand for her 2012 reelection race. Meanwhile, on the GOP side, former congressional candidate Ed Martin raised $162,000.
- “States make mistakes,” says Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) of the health care bill that Mitt Romney (R) signed as governor of Massachusetts.
- Montana state Sen. Larry Jent (D) has joined the state’s open governor’s race. Still no word from Attorney General Steve Bullock, who would be favored for the Democratic nomination.
- “Romney’s jobs record to be scrutinized” — Rob Krasny, Reuters
- “Romney to Trump: Obama doesn’t need a birth certificate” — Daniel Freedman, Forbes
- “The Iowa caucus kingmaker” — Joshua Green, The Atlantic