THE MORNING LINE -- December 12, 2011 at 8:15 AM EDT
President Obama: 2012 Election 'Going to Be a Good Debate'
President Obama watches as Navy fans celebrate a touchdown in the Midshipmen's 27-21 win over Army at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., on Saturday. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.
As President Obama capped off a week of making his case for re-election with an appearance on Sunday's "60 Minutes," a fresh batch of poll numbers show 54 percent of Americans do not believe he deserves a second term.
The president's overall job approval rating stands at 44 percent, while 46 percent disapprove, according to a new CBS News survey. The biggest drag on his standing is the economy, with only 33 percent favoring the president's handling of the issue.
Mr. Obama was asked by CBS' Steve Kroft to point to accomplishments that support his case for re-election.
"Not only saving this country from a Great Depression, not only saving the auto industry, but putting in place a system in which we're going to start lowering health care costs and you're never going to go bankrupt because you get sick or somebody in your family gets sick. Making sure that we have reformed the financial system, so we never again have taxpayer-funded bailouts and the system is more stable and secure," the president said.
"Ending 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' decimating al Qaeda, including Bin Laden being taken off the field. But when it comes to the economy, we've got a lot more work to do. And we're-- we're gonna keep on at it," Mr. Obama added.
As he did last week in calling on members of Congress to "do the right thing" when it comes to extending the payroll tax cut, the president again sought to portray Republican lawmakers as roadblocks to progress.
"If I can't get Republicans to move, [it's] partly because they've made a political, strategic decision that says, 'Anything Obama's for, we're against, because that's our best chance of winning an election.' But, keep in mind, I'm talking about Republican members of Congress. I'm not talking about Republicans around the country," the president aruged.
And despite his earlier statements about waiting until "everybody is voted off the island" in the GOP presidential race, the president did not shy away from engaging in some 2012 politics.
"It doesn't really matter who the nominee is going to be," the president declared. "The core philosophy that they're expressing is the same. And the contrast in visions between where I want to take the country and what -- where they say they want to take the country is going be stark. And the American people are going to have a good choice and it's going to be a good debate."
The president commented specifically on the two Republican front-runners. He described Newt Gingrich as "somebody who's been around a long time, and is good on TV, is good in debates."
"Mitt Romney has shown himself to be somebody who's good at politics, as well. He's had a lot of practice at it," the president added. "I think that they will be going at it for a while. When the Republican Party has decided who its nominee is going to be, then we'll have plenty of time to worry about it."
While the president may have refrained from launching a tough critique of either Gingrich or Romney, it's abundantly clear, based on the attention Democrats have paid the two GOP contenders, that Mr. Obama's re-election team has made the decision that waiting for a nominee to emerge isn't an option.
You look at the some of the poll numbers in the above section and it appears the president's re-election effort is in tough shape.
Then you look at surveys like the one released over the weekend by NBC News and Marist, which show the president leading both Gingrich and Romney in hypothetical match-ups in the very red state of South Carolina, and you become less sure.
Mr. Obama bested Romney, 45 to 42 percent, in the NBC/Marist poll, and performed a point better against Gingrich, 46 to 42 percent.
In Florida, the president outpaced Romney by 7 percentage points (48 to 41 percent) and Gingrich by 12 points (51 to 39 percent).
In the Republican race for president, Gingrich gets 42 percent of GOP primary voters in South Carolina, compared to 23 percent for Romney. No other contender breaks 10 percent.
Gingrich also leads in Florida, with 44 percent support, followed by Romney at 29 percent.
The numbers reinforce last week's poll results, which revealed Gingrich's surge had extended beyond Iowa, with the former House speaker now looking like the favorite in three of the first four states to vote next year.
Congress still has two big issues to resolve before the end of the year, and as of now, there's no sign Republicans and Democrats are any closer to reaching a deal. But as we've seen all year, any deal is usually struck at the last possible moment.
The two issues -- paying the government's bills and deciding whether to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance -- are representative of the major spending and economic issues over which the 112th Congress have battled throughout 2011.
While there's bipartisan support for extending unemployment benefits and the payroll tax, the main rub is over how to pay for it. Robert Pear of the New York Times explains the details behind the payroll tax extension and unemployment benefit fight:
No agreement between the House and the Senate is in sight. President Obama and Senate Democratic leaders say Congress must not leave town for the holidays unless it extends unemployment benefits and prevents a tax increase for the middle class by extending a payroll tax break that expires Dec. 31.
An employee's share of the payroll tax, now 4.2 percent of wages, is scheduled to rise to 6.2 percent in January, adding $1,000 to the taxes paid by a typical working family with income of $50,000. Keeping the tax rate at its current level for another year would cost the government $120 billion, the budget office says.
To put more money in consumers' pockets and revive the economy, Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats want to lower the payroll tax rate further, to 3.1 percent, through 2012. Setting the rate at that level, rather than 6.2 percent, would cost at least $180 billion, the budget office says.
Leaders from both parties and both chambers of Congress want to extend the payroll tax cut. Many lawmakers also want to extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed, who will begin to lose assistance early next year unless Congress acts. The cost would range from $34 billion to $55 billion or more, depending on specifics of the legislation.
Democrats see an urgent need for extending the benefits. The average duration of unemployment, now 40.9 weeks, is the longest in more than 60 years, the Labor Department says.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on Fox News Sunday that the payroll tax cut would be extended, but that it should include authorization of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a move that would anger environmentalists who helped pressure President Obama to delay a decision on the pipeline. The president said he would veto a payroll extension bill that included a pipeline extension.
On top of this impasse, the federal government could face a partial shutdown if Congress can't agree on a package of spending bills by Friday, when temporary spending authorization for the federal government expires.
Politico's David Rogers reports that negotiators in the House and Senate worked over the weekend to reach agreement on the draft of an omnibus spending bill :
Working through the weekend, House-Senate negotiators substantially narrowed their differences over a $1 trillion-plus year-end spending bill shaped by the August budget accords but also a new brand of Republican earmarks -- single-interest policy riders tailored to get conservative votes.
Pitfalls remain, and the White House was reserving opinion until it has seen the final language. There was growing confidence among Republicans late Sunday that a deal could be filed in the House as early as Monday night. But having moved the talks this far, Senate Democrats will want time first with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to take stock. And given the compressed schedule before Christmas, other issues-- like the payroll tax extension--could yet become part of the political calculus.
Nonetheless, the sweep of the measure -- from Pakistan counterinsurgency aid to Pell Grants for low-income American college students -- is extraordinary.
ON THE TRAIL
All events listed in Eastern Time.
President Obama is in Washington, where his day will include a bilateral meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at 10:15 a.m. The president and al-Maliki will hold a joint press conference at 11:45 a.m.
Newt Gingrich campaigns in New Hampshire, hosting a town hall in Londonderry at 9:20 a.m. and doing a meet-and-greet in Hollis at 10:45 a.m. Gingrich also participates in a Lincoln-Douglas style debate with Jon Huntsman in Manchester at 4 p.m.
Jon Huntsman also speaks at the Peterborough and Jaffrey-Rindge Rotary Meeting in Peterborough, N.H., at 11 a.m.
Rick Santorum campaigns in Iowa, speaking at the Principal Group in Des Moines at 12:30 p.m., visiting Cornell College in Mt. Vernon at 4 p.m. and attending the Linn County Republican Christmas Party in Cedar Rapids at 7:30 p.m.
All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:
For more political coverage, visit our politics page.
Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.