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The Morning Line: For President Obama, Now Comes the Hard Part

President Obama

President Obama at the White House this week. Photo by Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

If you think the greatest challenge currently facing President Obama is getting the $858 billion tax cut deal through Congress, think again.

The Senate appears to be on track to take a test vote on the package as soon as Monday.

House Democrats are still demanding changes be made to the framework of the deal President Obama cut with Republicans, but the president told NPR’s Steve Inskeep that he’s confident it will pass and largely in its current form.

President Obama, in what may be seen as the first of many State of the Union road tests, also talked to Inskeep about the much tougher challenges ahead for both his presidency and the country — namely, reining in runaway deficits and reforming the tax code.

On spending, here is President Obama on NPR:

“I promise, I’m going to get criticism from Democrats and Republicans throughout the year in terms of the choices that I am going to be forcing Congress to take a square look at. Because, look, the fact of the matter is that for a decade, now, we have had the tendency to think that we can keep on having all the services we want and we keep them — can keep cutting taxes as much as we want and that somehow things are going to magically balance out.”

“The American people understand that’s not the case, and so we’re going to have to be responsible about thinking: What are the programs we don’t need, that don’t contribute to growth, don’t contribute to competitiveness, don’t make sure our kids are — aren’t contributing to making sure that our kids are learning and able to compete in this 21st century economy, and which things are vital investments that we have to make?”

“And that conversation is going to be one that can’t just happen in Washington; it’s going to happen all across the country. And I’m looking forward to leading that conversation.”

The New York Times’ Jackie Calmes takes a look at the Obama administration’s efforts to launch a major reform of the tax code.

President Obama also spoke to NPR about this Thursday afternoon:

“I think we’re going to have to have a conversation over the next year. And if you think about the last time we reformed our tax system back in 1986 — it didn’t happen right away, by the way. It required a lot of conversations among a lot of different parties. But people of good will came together and realized that if we eliminate what happens to the tax code every decade or so, loopholes get built in, special interest provisions get built in, the nominal rates end up high. But the actual tax rates that well-connected folks or people who have good accountants pay end up being a lot lower. Ordinary people end up getting squeezed.”

“So typically, the idea is, simplifying the system, hopefully lowering rates, broadening the base — that’s something that I think most economists think would help us propel economic growth. But it’s a very complicated conversation.”

For those counting at home, the total number of politically difficult conversations that President Obama is eager to conduct with the American people next year is two.


“Do you want me to say triangulate?” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said to laughter in the briefing room Thursday when reporters pressed him on whether President Obama’s position on the tax cut deal is a signal that he plans to move to the political center.

It turns out Gibbs may have to say that word a few more times Friday as former president Bill Clinton plans to meet with President Obama in the Oval Office at 3 p.m. EST.

President Obama has been reaching out for some post-shellacking advice and lessons learned from Clinton’s response to the 1994 midterm elections, which may prove instructive for the current Oval Office occupant.

John Harris and Ben Smith of Politico explore the word liberals love to loathe and ponder if President Obama’s current political situation may demand some triangulation.

Here is the Harris/Smith nut graph:

“The argument goes to the heart of whether and how Obama can preserve the spirit of his presidential campaign and defend a progressive agenda even in the wake of a Republican surge. Was the signature promise of an Obama presidency his ability to unite a demographically and ideologically diverse country? Or was it to overturn the Bush years and implement bold Democratic policies? For the past two years, he and his team insisted they wanted both. The GOP victory last month and the lame-duck session that is underway now suggest how starkly the two goals are in tension — and how Obama’s own re-election may be in doubt without a political makeover that will almost surely include some fancy footwork that will remind many people of triangulation.”

Would be fun to be a fly on the wall in the Oval Office to hear presidents 42 and 44 hash through the theory.


Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin plans to travel to Haiti this weekend as part of a humanitarian effort led by evangelical Rev. Franklin Graham.

Graham’s aid organization, Samaritan’s Purse, has provided treatment to more than 4,000 cholera victims, according to the group’s website. The outbreak has killed more than 2,000 people in Haiti, which is still recovering from a devastating earthquake earlier this year and is now grappling with political unrest over a disputed presidential election.

Palin and Graham are expected to visit cholera clinics and other relief sites.

The stop in Haiti was the second foreign trip of Palin’s to surface Thursday. Palin will also reportedly visit Israel and England next year.

Palin’s limited foreign travel became an issue during the 2008 campaign; these trips could be a sign she is seeking to raise her political profile outside the United States ahead of a potential 2012 bid. Last year Palin traveled to Hong Kong to deliver a speech on U.S.-China relations.

By traveling to Haiti with Graham, she’ll also be able to establish stronger ties to evangelicals, a key voting bloc in Republican nominating contests, especially the early caucus state of Iowa.

On the domestic front Friday, Palin endorsed Wisconsin GOP Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan, dubbed “The Roadmap for America’s Future.” Ryan’s proposal would replace the new health care law, reform the tax code and reduce future entitlement benefits.

“The Roadmap offers a reliable path to long-term solvency for our entitlement programs, and it does so by encouraging personal responsibility and independence,” Palin writes in the Wall Street Journal.

Palin also criticized the report issued by the president’s fiscal commission, which she said settled “for big-government status quo.”

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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