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November 30, 2012

Obama warns Congress he's got a naughty or nice list

Speaking from the floor of a toy factory, President Obama couldn't resist a few Christmas and toy-related jokes as he pressured House Republicans to extend tax cuts for the middle class -- and not the wealthy.

"I've been keeping my own naughty-and-nice list for Washington," Obama said after touring the Rodon Group manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania which makes, among other toys, the K'NEX. "So you should keep your eye on who gets some K'NEX this year. There are going to be some members of Congress who get them, and some who don't."

He didn't spare Vice President Joe Biden either, telling the audience that Biden during his trip to Costco "wanted to buy some of this stuff. But I told him he had too much work to do. I wasn't going to have him building rollercoasters all day long."

Obama extended his Christmas metaphors to pressing Congress to extend the tax breaks for the middle class, saying that if they don't it's "sort of like the lump of coal you get for Christmas. That's a Scrooge Christmas."

Joe Biden is bound for Mexico

The vice president heads to Mexico later today for Saturday's inauguration of Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto.

He'll attend a dinner tonight hosted by outgoing president Felipe Calderón and will meet with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Saturday, ahead of Pena Nieto's inauguration.

The incoming president was at the White House this week, where Obama joked that Biden's presence at the ceremony signals that Mexico is a top country on the U.S. priority list.

Obama to hit the campaign trail to pitch his fiscal cliff fix

President Obama leaves the White House later today for a campaign-style trip to Pennsylvania to take his pitch for a fix to the looming fiscal crisis to the public.

The White House says Obama will "make clear that any deal reached with Congress must ask the wealthiest to pay higher tax rates. The President will be clear that the House needs to follow the Senate's lead and act so that 98 percent of Americans don’t see their taxes go up at the end of the year - and he will call on Congressional Republicans to stop holding the middle class tax cuts hostage simply because they refuse to let tax rates go up for the wealthiest Americans."

The road show has irked some Republicans, but the White House says he's had success before in rallying public opinion to his side. Republicans Thursday panned his latest proposal to avert the fiscal cliff as "completely unrealistic."

HatBut Obama will travel to Pennsylvania's Montgomery County to tour and deliver remarks at construction toy manufacturer, The Rodon Group in Hatfield. He''ll press Congress to extend tax breaks for those making $250,000 or less, arguing that uncertainty over the taxes and the fiscal cliff could dampen consumer confidence. Republicans want to extend the tax breaks across the board.

The White House says Rodon is a manufacturer for K’NEX Brands, a construction toy company whose products include Tinkertoy, K’NEX, Nintendo and Angry Birds building sets. The companies, third-generation family businesses, employ more than 150 people at the Hatfield facility.

"As we move into the holiday season, Democrats and Republicans should come together to renew middle class tax cuts so families have more certainty at this critical time for our economy," the White House says. "If we act quickly, we can prevent a hit to consumer spending which is roughly 70 percent of the U.S. economy. That’s good for middle class families and it’s important for businesses like The Rodon Group."

November 29, 2012

Sen. Sessions: Too much secrecy in fiscal cliff talks

As Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner visited congressional leaders Thursday for private meetings, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., wanted to know more.

“It seems to me the President’s plan is to talk in general, to meet in secret, and then, under threat of panic, to force through some deal that maintains the status quo: more taxes, more spending, more debt," the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee said in a floor speech.

"That’s why the process needs to be taken out of the shadows. With public debate, people would learn facts that are now obscured."

''The Senate is a great institution, and we ought to be engaged. The engagement of the Senate would allow the American people to know what’s happening. They are entitled to that. I believe we can do better. We must do better.

"All of this secrecy allows the President to position himself as being in favor of a ‘balanced’ plan while the only comprehensive proposal he put on paper, his FY 2013 budget, increases taxes to fuel a further increase in spending…Insofar as I can see, a tax-and-spend policy remains [President Obama’s] goal today. The White House isn’t planning to raise taxes to reduce the deficit, but to grow the government. I don’t believe Congress will accept such a deal if that is what is being discussed”



Obama and Romney break bread

From the White House (on today's private lunch between President Obama and his former Republican challenger)

"This afternoon, President Obama and Governor Romney visited for an hour over lunch in the Private Dining Room adjacent to the Oval Office. Governor Romney congratulated the President for the success of his campaign and wished him well over the coming four years. The focus of their discussion was on America's leadership in the world and the importance of maintaining that leadership position in the future. They pledged to stay in touch, particularly if opportunities to work together on shared interests arise in the future. Their lunch menu included white turkey chili and Southwestern grilled chicken salad."

Here's the official WH picture of the two in the Oval Office:


McConnell: 'Capping deductions..a more economically sound way of closing deficits"

Put limits on income tax deductions, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell urged Senate colleagues Thursday in a floor speech--but don't raise income tax rates.

“In the middle of a jobs crisis, that’s the last thing we want to do. Shouldn’t we all agree on that?" he asked.  “The negative effect that raising rates has on labor is so widely acknowledged that the Joint Committee on Taxation actually has models that incorporate the effects of doing it. They also know that higher rates increase the incentive to shelter income from taxation. When rates are higher the people paying them try even harder to keep government from taking what they earn."

McConnell, R-Ky, argued that "raising rates means less labor, less investment, and more incentive for the wealthy to waste money in an attempt to shelter what they’ve earned. We can quibble about the magnitude of these effects, but everyone agrees they exist. The problem is particularly acute for those thinking about taking a second job in a household, which in many cases unfairly targets married women looking to supplement the family income, or someone considering a promotion or starting a new venture.

So he had another idea.

“Instead of raising rates, Republicans have proposed capping deductions through tax reform instead. If the only way to get Democrats to agree to pro-growth tax reform and meaningful entitlement reform is through more revenue, a smarter way to do it is by capping deductions," he said. "Capping deductions, or tax expenditures as some call them, is a far less painful, more economically sound way of closing deficits. And the Congressional Budget Office agrees." 


Boehner to WH: Get serious on fiscal cliff

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Thursday that there's been "no substantive progress" with the Obama administration in negotiations to avert going over the fiscal cliff.

Speaking at a press conference following a meeting with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and a Wednesday night call with President Barack Obama, Boehner said he's unconvinced that Democrats are committed to reeling in spending on federal entitlement programs. 

"The White House has got to get serious," Boehner said. "We have no idea what the White House has been willing to do."

Boehner said he's disappointed at the tone and pace of negotiations and accused the White House of being more interested in campaigning than finding a solution to avoid the fiscal cliff.



A very Biden Christmas

Vice President Joe Biden showed up at the opening of DC's first Costco Thursday morning -- getting in some Christmas shopping and a plug for Congress to pass middle class tax cuts.

He called on Republicans in the House to pass an extension, saying that "consumer confidence is growing, the last thing we need to do is dash that."

He made his remarks as he stood by his shopping car, laden with childrens' books, fire logs, a 32 inch Panasonic TV and a big apple pie. "I'm looking for pie," he told one employee as they steered the cart around the stores.

Biden warned that shoppers like those at Costco would be hard hit by a tax increase as he made his way around the store, availing himself of several Costco food samples. The store was clogged w shoppers who whipped out cells and iPhones to snap the vice president, who rewarded many with hugs and photographs.

He and his cart did a loop of nearly the entire store, including the bakery, frozen foods and books, where he picked up at least a dozen for a Delaware charity started by his wife, Jill.

But Biden turned down the employees who were trying to lure him to the tire department.

"Hey man, I don't need tires," Biden told them. "I don't drive anymore."

House Democrats to pick leaders today

House of Representatives Democrats plan to pick leaders in a closed-door caucus Thursday, and only one new face is expected to emerge.

New York Rep. Joseph Crowley is expected to become vice chairman of the caucus, as Rep. Xavier Becerra of California moves up to become chairman, the fourth-ranking leadership member. Current Chairman John Larson of Connecticut is term-limited and has to step down.

Crowley, 50, is known as a moderate, and becomes an up and coming member to watch. The three top spots are seen as remaining the same--House Demoratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and ?Assistant Minority Leader Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina.

November 28, 2012

Corporate execs say meeting with Obama "constructive"

President Obama met tonight with the corporate chiefs of Coca-Cola, Macy's and Goldman Sachs, looking to rally support for his efforts to avert the fiscal cliff.

The execs who talked to reporters gave Obama generally good marks -- with Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson, saying that Obama and his team "obviously they came into the meeting wanting to communicate that revenue increases are a significant part of a deal but not the only part of the deal."

He told reporters that Obama's team was "trying to communicate that they mean business and were trying to do a deal that is reasonable. I think they would like the voice of business to be helpful in this and probably particularly be willing to say that we recognize revenue increases and tax increases are a part of that. I think there was a bit of an ask on that."

Joe Echeverria, the CEO of Deloitte LLP, said Obama repeated his support for increasing taxes on upper income tax earners, and that the CEOS didn't voice opposition, but were "supportive as part of a bigger solution.

"This by itself isn't the solution, but as part of a broader solution," Echeverria said. "There was a sense that if that's what it takes."

He noted most of the attendees are fairly well off. "Will 5 percent more (in taxes) change my lifestyle?" he said. "No, it won't."


"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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