Knives Getting Sharper in GOP Fight

BY Terence Burlij  December 1, 2011 at 8:29 AM EDT

The Morning Line

The reverberations from Mitt Romney’s recent interview on Fox News are still being felt — and the manner in which they settle could go a long way toward determining the shape of the GOP race in the coming weeks.

For Romney detractors, the key takeaway was the former Massachusetts governor’s push back on questions about his consistency over the years.

On Wednesday, the Democratic National Committee released a two-and-a-half-minute video weaving together the negative reaction the interview received on cable TV:

Jon Huntsman’s campaign is also seeking to capitalize on the interview. It released a two-minute video Thursday contrasting Romney’s recent statements on climate change, abortion, immigration and health care with older clips in which he appears to take the other sides of the issues:

As Romney faces yet another round of attacks on flip-flopping, his campaign is reportedly readying an offensive against his chief Republican rival at the moment, Newt Gingrich.

Romney started off the attacks in Tuesday’s Fox News interview by referring to the former House speaker as a “lifelong politician,” and followed up Wednesday on Sean Hannity’s radio show by saying he took exception with Gingrich’s contention that he has stronger conservative credentials and is the more electable of the two.

The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Peter Wallsten examine Romney’s approach to Gingrich’s surge:

Romney’s strategists are gaming out scenarios. They say they understand the risk that, in a multi-candidate field, any attack they make against Gingrich could boomerang to hurt Romney and help a third candidate.

Taking on Gingrich is “going to be a process,” one adviser said. “It’s not going to be an overnight kind of a thing, unless he steps in it. But he seems less likely than the others to do that.”

Politico’s Reid Epstein also gives a hint of what’s to come from the Romney campaign:

They’ll point out Gingrich’s past policy shifts which can protect them from attacks against Romney’s own inconsistencies. They’ll highlight Gingrich’s conservative apostasies as a hedge against Romney’s own moderate views. And they’ll highlight his stable family while leaving an unspoken impression about Gingrich’s two divorces.

And it appears Romney will be getting help from his fellow GOP contenders, who also need to put a dent in Gingrich’s support to advance their chances in Iowa and beyond.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s campaign released a web video Wednesday that accuses Gingrich of “serial hypocrisy,” blasting his past support of climate change policy, his criticism of the House GOP budget plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and the payments he received from Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage lender he has attacked on the campaign trail.

With less than five weeks until the Iowa caucuses, the stakes are high, and the knives are only getting sharper.

CLOSER TO A DEAL

President Obama pressed the GOP during a rally in Scranton, Pa., on Wednesday to join his Democratic allies in Congress who want to extend the expiring Social Security payroll tax cut, and it seems like Republicans are listening. But as usual, there’s a fight over the details.

Extending the cut, which was enacted in 2010 as part of a deal to also extend the Bush tax cuts (which you could now call the Bush-Obama tax cuts), would save the average family working from a $1,000 tax increase next year.

Senate Republicans unveiled their plan Wednesday for paying for the tax cut, which differs sharply from the Senate Democratic plan of using a surtax on millionaires to make up for the cost.

Jill Jackson of CBS has the details on the differences:

[The Republican] plan would extend the payroll tax holiday for one year and pay for it by preventing the wealthy from receiving unemployment insurance or food stamp assistance and require millionaires to pay full Medicare premiums. It would also freeze federal workers’ pay for three years and reduce the size of the federal workforce by 200,000….

Individuals are normally taxed 6.2 percent to pay for Social Security and Medicare. Congress cut that contribution by 2 percent last January as part of the compromise extending the Bush tax cuts.

The Senate Democrat’s plan would extend the payroll tax for another year and expand it so that individuals would only pay 3.1 percent. That would cost $265 billion, but would be paid-for with a 3.25 percent tax on anyone making over $1 million.

John Stanton at Roll Call reports that on the House side, Republican leaders are urging their colleagues, some of whom are reluctant to support the extension, to support it.

“We’re gonna continue to try and find common ground on this issue,” [House Speaker John] Boehner said. “There’s no debate, though, about whether these extensions ought to be paid for. The president called for them to be paid for. Democrats here have called for them to be paid for.”

Likewise, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) came out strongly in defense of passing the payroll tax cut extension.

According a second Republican, Cantor “laid down the gauntlet,” insisting that “Republicans don’t believe in raising taxes on anyone, especially middle-class families and that everyone should support it.”

President Obama told an audience in New York City Wednesday night that he welcomed the news.

“Over the last couple of days, Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell have both indicated that it probably does make sense not to have taxes go up for middle-class families, particularly since they’ve all taken an oath not to raise taxes,” Mr. Obama said.

Now both sides will have to find a way to merge the different plans if the cut is to be extended before it expires at the end of December. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said late Wednesday that the Republican plan can’t pass the Senate and that Democrats “look forward to working with (Republicans) to negotiate a consensus solution.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday that people who create jobs shouldn’t have to pay for the extension.

“Democrats just don’t seem interested in doing anything that will lead to real economic growth. They’re stuck on stimulus. They’re stuck on government. They’re stuck on economic policies that have already failed. So we’re not arguing against extending this payroll tax cut. We just think we shouldn’t be punishing job creators to pay for it,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

A vote on the extension could come this week in the Senate.

THE GIFT OF GIVING

After 11 months filled with fierce partisan battles over the federal budget and raising the debt ceiling, a group of 58 senators — 37 Democrats and 21 Republicans — are hoping to bring a little bipartisan cheer to the halls of the U.S. Capitol this December by participating in a Secret Santa gift exchange.

First-term Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., came up with the idea and enlisted the help of freshman Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb,. to recruit participants.

“I don’t have any great expectations that we will suddenly fix Medicare and Social Security and the budget,” Franken told Thomas Ferraro of Reuters. “But I think it could be used to ease tensions up here.”

While the median wealth of a U.S. senator is more than $2 million, according to a Center for Responsive Politics report released last year, the price limit for the exchange was set at a modest $10.

Senators appear to be keeping their expectations in check, given the price range. “I hope to get something other than a lump of coal,” Johanns told Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times. “I haven’t raised my expectations too high.”

The gift swap is set to occur in mid-December.

ON THE TRAIL

All events listed in Eastern Time.

  • President Obama delivers remarks at a World AIDS Day event in Washington at 10:05 a.m. and attends the National Christmas Tree Lighting with the first family at 5 p.m.

  • Herman Cain sits for an hour-long interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader in the afternoon, then gives a speech at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro at 8:30 p.m.

  • Newt Gingrich campaigns in Iowa, speaking to employees at Nationwide Insurance in Des Moines at 11 a.m. He delivers remarks in West Des Moines at 3:45 p.m. and addresses a Polk County GOP dinner at 8:30 p.m.

  • Ron Paul speaks to members of the Portsmouth Rotary in Greenland, N.H., at 11:45 a.m. and hosts a town hall in Laconia at 7 p.m.

  • Michele Bachmann holds a press availability in North Fort Lauderdale, Fla., at 5:30 p.m.

  • Jon Huntsman speaks at a house party in Bedford, N.H., at 6 p.m. and attends the Hollis GOP holiday social at 7:45 p.m.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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