President Obama

The Dids and Didn’ts of Congress

Congress is currently in the midst of one of its longest summer breaks in U.S. history. Before leaving, Congress managed to make several big accomplishments, but a number of other key spending issues were left unresolved. 

Congress is currently in the midst of one of its longest summer breaks in U.S. history. Before leaving, Congress managed to make several big accomplishments, but a number of other key spending issues were left unresolved. 

Due to earlier than usual presidential nominating conventions, federal lawmakers are in the middle of a seven-week recess – one of the longest summer breaks in the legislative branch’s history. With Congress out of town for another month, here is a look at some of the things it did and didn’t accomplish, and what to expect when it returns in September.

Congress Did:

Get Out of the Gates Early

The House typically kicks off the appropriations process, but that was held up by a GOP intraparty dispute over top-line spending levels. So the Senate took the wheel and got off to the fastest start in the modern budget era when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its first spending bill in mid-April. The full Senate made more history when it passed the first appropriations bill on May 12, the earliest official start to the appropriations process in the chamber’s history.

Find Success in Committee

Each chamber moved all 12 (24 total) annual spending measures out of committee for the second straight year and onto the full Senate and House floors for consideration. Things were looking good early on, however, much of their committee success is attributed to unofficial agreements to hold off on controversial policy riders until the spending bills reach the floor. Unsurprisingly, just eight of the 24 bills approved by appropriations committees have made it past a floor vote to date.

Address the Opioid Epidemic

Both the House and Senate, with overwhelming bipartisan support, cleared the final version of legislation aimed at combating opioid prescription and heroin abuse, which President Barack Obama quickly signed into law. In addition to a few policy provisions, the bill creates a number of new grant programs to be administered by the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services. However, it may take some time for this new money to find its way to local health departments and law enforcement agencies. Funding for the bill’s grant programs is dependent on appropriators designating money for them. Although some spending bills include money to address opioid addiction as a whole, only the House measure to fund the Justice Department includes specific money for those programs.

Reauthorize the FAA

After months of negotiation and just two days before expiration, both chambers eventually came together on a package to reauthorize Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs at current funding levels through September 2017. This measure is the result of both chambers abandoning their original, more wide-ranging and controversial FAA bills in favor of a short-term continuation. In addition to continuing current FAA programs, the bill contains a variety of policy measures that aim to increase airport security while easing security lines and further regulating drone use. 

Congress Didn’t:

Return to ‘Regular Order’

With Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, party leadership vowed to restore “regular order” to the appropriations process and expected to spend this summer touting their successes to constituents. Unfortunately, there were too many partisan and intraparty hurdles to clear in fiscal year 2017 and “regular order” was nowhere to be seen.

One of the biggest obstacles from the start was the refusal of certain House Republicans to embrace the bipartisan budget agreement reached last December that set the top-line spending level at $1.07 trillion for FY 17 defense and domestic discretionary programs. Conservatives voted against the compromise measure in December, but the agreement passed because former Speaker John Boehner relied on Democratic votes to win passage. Conservatives still oppose the plan and spent recent months pressing the Republican Caucus to present a plan that reduces mandatory spending by at least $30 billion.

Without a budget agreement in place, House appropriators were procedurally allowed to move forward in May and began marking up spending bills at the $1.07 trillion level. Unfortunately, that turned out to be just the first obstacle. Repeated attempts by members of both parties to attach controversial policy riders to spending packages after they cleared committee proved to be the demise of the fiscal year 2017 appropriations process. Lawmakers spent days and weeks engaged in contentious debate over spending levels and policy issues, all while the White House issued veto threats on multiple measures should they eventually pass.

With time running out before the new fiscal year begins on October 1, “regular order” is now a fond memory. When lawmakers return in September, they’re expected to abandon the normal appropriations process and seek a continuing resolution to avoid another government shutdown.

Address the Zika Virus

Months ago, the Obama administration requested $1.9 billion from Congress in emergency funding to combat the Zika virus domestically. Congress did not promptly comply. After weeks of partisan bickering and disagreement, negotiations finally fell apart in June and Congress left town without approving any funding for the mosquito-borne virus. Now, both Democrats and Republicans have spent most of the summer blaming each other for the failure and remain no closer to an agreement.

In the meantime, the Obama administration has since shifted $589 million, most of which came from Ebola resources within the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of State/USAID, for Zika-related prevention and treatment.

Pass Gun Control Legislation

Following the Orlando massacre, House and Senate Democrats persistently demanded action to address the recent spate of gun violence. Their frustration culminated in an extraordinary sit-in on the House floor, refusing to yield until House Speaker Paul Ryan promised floor votes on a myriad of gun control measures.

Keeping in line with the theme of the 114th Congress, there was ultimately no legislative action taken. However, it may not be the end as some Democrats have promised to keep introducing gun-related amendments to future legislation until a version is passed.

Fill Supreme Court Vacancy

Republican leadership decided not to hold confirmation hearings on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the American people should  “appoint” a nominee by voting for a new president this fall. If Democrat Hillary Clinton wins the White House, McConnell may be tempted to allow confirmation of Garland to proceed in a lame-duck session.

What to Expect:

A Continuing Resolution

Congress is slowly coming to terms with the reality that the fiscal 2017 appropriations process is a goner and a continuing resolution (CR) will be needed to avoid a government shutdown on October 1. This will be lawmakers’ number one priority when they return in September, but there are a few things that could get in the way of a timely agreement.

A CR is a stopgap funding measure meant to fund the government temporarily in the absence of appropriated funding levels. Thus, the primary battle will likely take place over how long the CR will last. For the last two years, lawmakers have agreed on CRs extending to December 11, giving them enough time to put together a final omnibus appropriations package. That may not be an option this year as conservatives would rather push a CR push spending decision into March 2017 to bypass the lame-duck session and avoid a trillion-dollar omnibus.

Further, intraparty disputes over the top-line spending limit and partisan scuffles over Zika and gun control are also expected to complicate the CR discussions come September.

Criminal Justice Overhaul

Last month, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced he will take up legislation to overhaul the criminal justice system this September. The Speaker has identified a number of bills being marked up by the Judiciary Committee as part of the package that will see the floor next month. These individual measures will come together in a package to change everything from sentencing requirements to federal criminal procedures.  

Zika Funding

Despite their failure before recess, recent Zika cases in the United States will surely highlight congressional inaction and may force some kind of political agreement. House and Senate Republicans agreed on a $1.1 billion conference report, but Senate Democrats ultimately blocked the measure citing controversial “poison-pill” amendments. Among them are provisions that would ease EPA regulations and prevent Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico from receiving any Zika money.

Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at michaels@cfmpdx.com

Clinton Joins in Zika Finger-Pointing

After a newborn child died from a Zika-related illness in Texas, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton joined the chorus of critics bashing Congress for not yet providing money to fight the disease.  

After a newborn child died from a Zika-related illness in Texas, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton joined the chorus of critics bashing Congress for not yet providing money to fight the disease.  

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton joined the Zika blame game as she condemned Congress for failing to provide funding to combat the deadly disease after a Texas infant died from Zika-related complications.

In Februrary, President Obama requested $1.9 billion in emergency funding to respond to the spread of the Zika virus abroad and prepare for its feared arrival in the United States. Despite multiple proposals from both chambers in the following months, Congress left town in July without an agreement on Zika funding. 

Negotiations came to a screeching halt when Senate Democrats blocked a last-ditch, $1.1 billion package to fight the virus. Democrats were on board with the funding level, but pulled their support when provisions were added in conference to relax EPA regulations, protect the flying of the Confederate flag and prevent Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico from receiving money to fight the virus.

With Congress in the middle of its seven-week summer recess, a newborn baby in Texas with Zika-related birth defects has died. The news comes alongside four new Zika cases reported in Florida.

While both parties have spent the past few weeks blaming one another for inaction, Democrats have taken a new approach. Several top Democrats, including President Obama, have urged Republican leadership to cut the recess short and return to Washington to pass a bipartisan measure at the funding level requested by the administration.

After the news in Texas broke, Clinton joined the blame game. In a speech in Florida, Clinton urged Republicans to come back to Washington and “pass the bipartisan funding package the Senate passed.” Clinton was referring to the original $1.1 billion compromise package reached by Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Patty Murray (D-WA), absent the controversial policy riders that emerged in the conference report.

Republicans have yet to budge and repeatedly point to the proposals Democrats rejected. In a recent op-ed, House Speaker Paul Ryan writes, “[Democrats] blocked our plan not once, but twice – a blatant ploy in an election year.” The Speaker added, “Because of their actions, this funding is in limbo. It shouldn’t be.”

Although the recent Zika cases may not cause Congress to trim its recess, Zika funding will certainly remain a hot topic when members return.

In the meantime, the Obama administration has shifted $589 million, most of which came from Ebola resources within the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of State/USAID, to be used for Zika-related prevention and treatment.   

Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at michaels@cfmpdx.com

 

Congress Launches Nation into New Era for Public Education

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is part of a bipartisan coalition behind the new education proposal. Murray, a former preschool teacher, says the bill will help close the achievement gap between the highest performers and traditionally marginalized students. 

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is part of a bipartisan coalition behind the new education proposal. Murray, a former preschool teacher, says the bill will help close the achievement gap between the highest performers and traditionally marginalized students. 

Congress swiftly propelled America’s K-12 education system into a new era Wednesday, laying the groundwork to put the highly criticized No Child Left Behind Act to rest. 

In its place stands a bill that would hand over control of student and teacher assessments to the states, a historic move that would loosen the federal government’s grip on the public education system. Behind the plan is a coalition of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle – including Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

The bill easily passed the House last week before mustering an 85-12 approval vote in the Senate Wednesday. President Obama is expected to sign the measure – known as the Every Student Succeeds Act – into law on Thursday.

By name, it sounds like a rehash of No Child Left Behind. But the proposal represents a fundamental shift in how teachers, students and schools are evaluated and the funding they receive in turn.  

No Child Left Behind was ushered in 14 years ago with similar enthusiasm from Congress. Since then, it has devolved into a symbol of America’s stunted growth in education reform. Critics argue the act puts too much emphasis on standardized test performance at the cost of building crucial skills and fostering a deeper understanding of course material.

The new law would sever the tie between student test results and federal funding – a system that has long left the lowest performing (and usually poorest) schools with fewer resources to fix their problems. Parents, teachers and other critics of No Child Left Behind considered that response an unfair punishment for schools facing the most daunting struggles.

Under the new system, the federal government would be barred from directing states on how to assess school and teacher performance. Instead, that job would fall to the states, which would also be required to take action to buoy their lowest performing schools.

If you think of states as the perfect testing grounds for developing federal law, this shift presents an endlessly fascinating opportunity for experimentation.  

The new law does preserve some aspects of No Child Left Behind, though, like annual standardized testing requirements in reading and math for grades three through eight. However, it also urges states to cut down the time spent on testing overall.

In maintaining that provision, Murray said she and her cosponsors are protecting critical “guardrails” designed to fix ailing schools. Meanwhile, she is confident the changes will help narrow the gap between the highest achievers and traditionally marginalized groups – children living in poverty, racial minorities, special education students and English-language learners.   

"It takes away the high-stakes testing, which makes sure we know how our kids are doing, but allows us to creatively think and smartly think of better ways to make sure our kids are achieving what we want them to," Murray told Seattle media Wednesday.

On an international level, the U.S. ranks nowhere near the top in math and science testing scores. The picture is improving, but few Americans rate the country’s public education system as above average or among the best in the world.  

No Child Left Behind has been slated for renewal for the last eight years. Efforts to renew or reform the law stalled, though, as the country debated the federal government’s role in education. 

Opponents Line Up for Pacific Trade Pact

Negotiators wrapped up a framework for the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, but the trade deal may face substantial opposition in Congress in an election year from a loose coalition of labor, environmentalists and disgruntled industry. (Communication Workers Union)

Negotiators wrapped up a framework for the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, but the trade deal may face substantial opposition in Congress in an election year from a loose coalition of labor, environmentalists and disgruntled industry. (Communication Workers Union)


Negotiators have agreed on the framework of a 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, which if approved could give President Obama a second major international achievement following the Iranian nuclear deal.

Obama touted the trade pact as a policy tool to strengthen U.S. influence in the high-growth Asia Pacific region, as well as a way to box in the rising economic ambitions of China. The TPP was a central element in Obama's pivot to the Pacific strategy, which has continually been interrupted by turmoil in the Middle East, Russian moves against Ukraine and the rise of ISIS.

Even though a GOP-led Congress gave Obama so-called fast track authority to negotiate the TPP and limit Congress to an up or down vote, the treaty's prospects appear uncertain. While there is a lot for various groups to like in the trade treaty, strong objections persist from labor, environmental and industry groups. Because the vote on TPP won't occur until next spring, opponents will have ample time to make their case.

The Washington Post provided a sampler of discontent. U.S. automakers, it reported, complain the TPP doesn't prevent currency manipulation by Japan that suppresses its car prices in the American market. Drug manufacturers wanted intellectual property protection for their biologic medicines to last for 12 years, but TPP only extends protection for eight years.

Environmentalists worry about investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions, which they say could "empower big polluters to challenge climate and environmental safeguards in private trade courts." On the flip side of that coin, tobacco companies are upset they are apparently excluded from the TPP settlement provisions, a similar form of which they used successfully to block anti-smoking rules in Australia.

The most fervent opposition to the trade deal comes from organized labor, which says prior trade deals have cost American jobs. Labor officials, who opposed fast-track negotiating authority, complain that TPP negotiators made "problematic concessions" to gain approval of the treaty.

The previous high-profile vote on fast track authority may or may not prove a reliable guide to how the up-or-down vote on the treaty will look. The shakeup in House GOP leadership, which could produce a rocky road in the next six weeks on major policy issues, could have undetermined impacts on the political alignment for the trade deal. Fast track authority prevents the Senate from filibustering the trade deal, which could force senators running for re-election against formidable opposition to pause on how they vote.

Glass-half-full observers say a potential defeat of the treaty in Congress could actually strengthen Obama's hand at the negotiating table, winning concessions he failed to get in the just concluded negotiations.

The lineup of issues this year in Congress, amid a still swirling presidential primary in both political parties, probably means the TPP won't attract much media attention. That's a plus for treaty detractors who can work in the shadows.

That could obscure a principled debate on key TPP provisions, such as ISDS. A separate Washington Post analysis offers useful background about prior investment treaties with settlement provisions similar to the one in the TPP. It notes, for example, that ISDS procedures allow corporations to sue governments in international courts, but governments aren't allowed to sue corporations, which some criticize as "one-way rights"  and a threat to the legal and regulatory sovereignty of nations.

Corporations have prevailed in some filings, though none have been upheld against the United States, but that political defense may not be enough to fend off arguments from Democrats such as Senator Elizabeth Warren. Labor officials say this will lead to increased "nationality shopping," with pressure on countries to weaken regulations to hold onto or recruit job-producing industry.

Another factor in the ISDS debate will be the sheer number of international investment treaties (3,200 at last count) with varying standards and rules that tend to favor corporations. 

Tags:    Trans-Pacific Partnership, fast track authority, ISDS, trade deal opposition, President Obama, second international achievement, nationality shopping, free trade, CFM Federal Affairs

 

Nuclear Fallout and a Looming Shutdown Threat

House Speaker John Boehner returned to DC from summer recess to discover yet another rank-and-file revolt that could have repercussions on later voters and his political survival as Speaker.

House Speaker John Boehner returned to DC from summer recess to discover yet another rank-and-file revolt that could have repercussions on later voters and his political survival as Speaker.

The Iran nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration looks like a done deal, which makes it all the more puzzling why House Republicans are arguing over how to vote to oppose it.

Politico.com reports that House GOP leaders returned from summer recess to discover a rank-and-file revolt. Every House Republican opposes the Iran nuclear deal, but some resist voting on a simple resolution of disapproval. That has forced the House leadership to come up with a plan, which will be shared with caucus members today, to quiet the discontent.

The agitation in the House has led political observers to wonder whether Speaker John Boehner can survive or whether he can steer some course on a debt ceiling vote later this fall to avoid a federal government shutdown.

Congress left town in August anticipating a high-octane advertising and lobbying campaign could sway Senate Democrats from supporting the Iran nuclear deal. However, a coordinated campaign led by the White House kept up pressure to support the deal, calling it the only deal Congress would see.

By the time Congress returned, more than 40 senators, including all four senators from Oregon and Washington, had come up publicly in support of the deal, ensuring that a presidential veto of a resolution of disapproval could not be overridden.

The specter of a clear path for the deal prompted House Republicans to call for other ways to express opposition. One idea was a resolution declaring Obama administration officials failed to send all parts of the deal, including side deals, to Congress. Another idea is to frame the House vote as a resolution of approval, which would force Obama allies to vote for the deal, not just against a resolution disapproving it.

Senate Republicans shrugged their shoulders at House proposals and appear on track to put forward a resolution of disapproval, which all Senate Republicans and a few Democrats are expected to support. If there is nothing comparable in the House, then no legislation may ever reach Obama's desk for him to veto. Congress only has until September 17 to act.

With the Iran deal more or less sewed up, the maneuvering in the House now seems more like a dress rehearsal for the looming debt ceiling vote last this fall. Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have dismissed any effort to force a government shutdown, but conservative activists may not give up. Boehner has little choice but to find ways to placate his restive conservative wing.

"Foreign Affairs" published an online article examining what might happen after the 15-year period covered by the Iran nuclear deal comes to an end. At a minimum, there will be new leadership in Iran, plus the effects of rapidly changing demographics that could make the post-pact period a very different ballgame.

Obama’s Best Week and Finest Hour

President Obama gave the eulogy for state Senator Clementa Pinckney, in perhaps the most stirring speech of his career. 

President Obama gave the eulogy for state Senator Clementa Pinckney, in perhaps the most stirring speech of his career. 

When I think about having a good week, it often involves time to write something worth reading, a good glass of wine and an Oregon Duck football victory.

That pales in comparison to the week President Obama just had. He won approval for fast-track trade pact negotiating authority, saw the Supreme Court validate a key provision of the Affordable Care Act, witnessed history in a court ruling on same-sex marriage and gave a stirring eulogy for one of the Charleston Nine murder victims.

For all I know, Obama may have had time to fit in a game of golf.

While I wish a good week for everyone (or most everyone), I’m glad to see Obama got his. He has put up with six pretty miserable years of congressional non-cooperation, stupid political claims and bad timing. He deserved a break.

It was a week that solidified the Obama legacy, which everyone had assumed was headed toward the dumpster. His eulogy, spoken in a cadence familiar to anyone who has attended African-American church services, was perhaps the most stirring speech of his presidency. It would be hard to imagine another president – even Bill Clinton – who could have given such a soaring and introspective speech with perfect pitch and timing.

Obama went far beyond flags and guns to talk about race realities in our country, the kind of everyday racism we know exists, but try to ignore – the return phone calls from job interviews to Johnny, but not Jamal. He traced today’s subtler forms of discrimination to years gone by when hangings and church burnings were the tools of oppression.

But this wasn’t a polemical piece of rhetoric. Obama touched a different nerve. He talked about grace. He even sang about grace. He said grace is unearned. He said grace was a gift from God.

Obama called grace the unanticipated response to an act of murder intended to spark a race war. The murders, as horrific as they were, sparked something else – a national awareness that hate and hateful symbols lead to violence, while forgiveness, even in the throes of grief, is the path to healing.

That Obama’s eloquent eulogy capped a week that included two Supreme Court decisions to retain a health care plan designed to extend coverage to more Americans and to recognize the equality of marriage made his remarks even more forceful. The eulogy may have transformed Obamacare from a political sling to a presidential signature.

In praising Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Obama talked of the slow march of justice and of the importance of seizing moments like the murders to push forward. And Obama warned against returning to comfortable silence when the headlines fade and other distractions claim our attention.

The Pinckney eulogy was in many respects represented the kind of  leadership that Obama’s supporters had expected sooner, and that his political opponents had feared. Obama towered above a despicable act and draped coffin to deliver a message all Americans needed to hear and heed. It was perhaps President Obama’s finest hour.

A Lame Duck Congressional Cromnibus

A lame duck Congress is reduced to passing a tax bill that expires almost as soon as it passes and a spending bill that seeks to single out the Department of Homeland Security.

A lame duck Congress is reduced to passing a tax bill that expires almost as soon as it passes and a spending bill that seeks to single out the Department of Homeland Security.

The lame duck Congress appears on the verge of passing a tax bill that would expire January 1, 2015 and considering something called a "cromnibus," a plan to keep the federal government's doors open while placating conservative Republicans.

The tax bill, which would extend 50 expiring tax benefits, was once a promising measure. But the omission of an earned income tax credit, the threat of a presidential veto and the looming GOP congressional majority in the next Congress left negotiators little wiggle room. They chose the lowest common denominator – extending the tax provisions through 2014, but ending January 1, 2015.

That means tax credits, such as the one that benefit electric motorcycle manufacturers like Brammo in Ashland, Oregon, won't be unplugged, at least for now.

The cromnibus has a similar political lineage.

Just last month, House and Senate Appropriations staff were well on their way to negotiating framework for a 2015 omnibus spending bill. Thanks to a bipartisan deal crafted last December by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), domestic and national security spending levels were set for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. The deal gave Congress a funding road map for fiscal 2015 and allowed House and Senate Appropriations panels to write nearly all of their fiscal 2015 bills with comparable top-line spending levels, leaving less to negotiate.

Unfortunately, optimism for an omnibus measure faded after President Obama issued an executive order on immigration to protect five million undocumented immigrants from deportation. Many Republicans insist the executive actions are an abuse of constitutional power and are turning to the appropriations process to block Obama's efforts. 

To appease these members of the GOP, House Appropriation Chair Harold Rogers (R-KY) is crafting a "cromnibus" package. This measure would fund all of government operations and spending through the end of fiscal 2015, except for Homeland Security. A separate three-month continuing resolution would be provided for the agency, buying time for the GOP to determine how to block the executive orders in the new Congress.

Still, a group of vocal conservatives is pushing House GOP leaders to attach a policy rider to the cromnibus that explicitly prevents funding for executive actions on immigration. Such a move would be dead on arrival in the Senate. For now, the clock is ticking as appropriators race to finalize a plan that will pass both chambers by December 11 and prevent a government shutdown. 

Ultimately, the outcome of the lame duck session will give the best indication of how well the new Republican majority will work with President Obama. If Republicans prefer to play hardball with a possible government shutdown on December 11, the stage will be set for a tumultuous two years of governing.

Members of Congress returned to DC with a hefty to-do list that includes the National Defense Authorization Act, which has a strong history of bipartisan support and is on track to pass again this year.

Political Nanotargeting

Many people think of politics as a lot of hot air. It turns out politics may be more like rocket science.

Since the 2004 George W. Bush presidential campaign, Republican and Democratic political strategists have been using nanotargeting to reach and activate their political bases. To target ads, operatives pore over voting histories, housing values, recreational preferences, automobile ownership, TV viewership as well as favorite restaurants, drinks and websites.

Who knew that your zest for Arby's or the number of bedrooms in your home could drop hints about your political leanings?

In a recent piece in The New York Times, Thomas Edsall, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, probes this intensifying segmentation — and polarization — of the American electorate. Here are some tips Edsall offers in spotting stereotypical Republicans and Democrats:

  • Someone who reads The Washington Post or watches the Comedy Channel is more likely to be a Democrat. People who reads The Wall Street Journal or watches Country Music Television or the Golf Channel are probably Republicans.

  • Among the top 10 favorite TV shows of Republicans are "The Office," "The Big Bang Theory," "Desperate Housewives" and "The Biggest Loser."  Democrats prefer "Late Show with David Letterman," "PBS NewsHour," "House of Payne" and "60 Minutes."

  • McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's appeal to the political middle. You can spot the Republicans eating at Macaroni Grill, Outback Steakhouse, Arby's and Chick-fil-A, while the Democrats chow down at Popeye's, Dunkin' Donuts and Chuck E. Cheese.

  • The Democratic drinks of choice are cognac or Budweiser. Republicans favor light beers, Guinness and scotch.

  • Don't look for GOP presidential ads on "30 Rock" or Democratic ads on professional football games this fall.

Clearly these are generalized views of American political sympathies. But they are the basis for making critical, make-or-break advertising choices. As Edsall notes, "Incremental shifts among key constituencies — Hispanics, single white working class women and private-sector unionized employees — can be decisive."

Two Nerds, One Big Idea

Republican Paul Ryan (left) and Democrat Ron Wyden ignited a political firestorm in Democratic circles by jointly proposing a Medicare reform plan with private-sector involvement.Compromise and election-year messaging are often lightning bolts streaking in opposite directions. Congressional Republicans, intent on uprooting President Obama from the White House, have felt the tension. And so has Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who teamed with House Budget Chair Paul Ryan on an improbable proposal to reform Medicare.

Congressional Republicans buckled to election pressures as they agreed to a compromise last week to extend a payroll tax cut, continue jobless benefits and block a Medicare fee cut to doctors.

But Wyden has no reason to buckle. A Democrat, he was re-elected comfortably in 2010 and remains one of Oregon's most popular political figures, in part because he is willing to work across the political aisle. Seeking bipartisan solutions on controversial issues is viewed today as the act of a political maverick in much the same way as Senators Wayne Morse and Mark Hatfield opposing the Vietnam War.

The Potomac Watch column in the Wall Street Journal ran a piece describing what it called the Democratic establishment's "War on Wyden” for his Medicare collaboration with Ryan. It noted New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called Wyden a "useful idiot" to Mitt Romney's presidential election bid. House Democrats, according to WSJ, "hissed the plan would end Medicare as we know it." And a former Senate staffer complained Wyden undercut a key argument for Democrats regaining control of Congress.

Red Carpet in the Corn Belt

The diplomatic red carpet rarely extends as far as Muscatine, Iowa, an industrious town of 23,000 on the banks of the Mississippi. But it did this week for Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who paid a return visit to the town where in 1985 as a provincial official he led a trade mission to learn more about American farming practices.

Xi appears to be the heir apparent as leader of China, which is why he was given star treatment in Washington, D.C. with visits with President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

But in Muscatine, the visit was described by the mayor as a reunion of old friends.

Xi stayed two nights in the small Iowa town a quarter century ago, sleeping on the floor of a local boy's bedroom festooned with Star Trek figurines. Eleanor Dvorchak, Xi's host and breakfast companion in 1985, now lives in Florida. She flew back to Muscatine for Xi's return trip, bringing with her a copy of "Obama on the Couch" with an inscription she had written in Chinese.

Other Muscatine residents recalled the 1985 visit exuded an exotic quality because China was just emerging from its international shell. Then, as now, most Muscatine residents were white. Just a handful of Asian Americans live there. The visit this week had a different complexion as U.S.-Chinese relations have grown and at times clashed.

Half-time with Chrysler

A 120-second ad aired at half-time of Sunday's Super Bowl featuring Clint Eastwood talking about Detroit's comeback sparked a sharp debate among political partisans. Was it a covert pro-Obama re-election ad? Was it part of the payback for massive bailouts that kept Chrysler afloat? It depends on who you talk to, and plenty of people were talking.

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said the ad had zero political content.

Eastwood, who described himself as leaning more toward libertarian fiscal views and has been quoted by the Los Angeles Times as opposed to the auto bailout, said the ad was about job creation. 

GOP high priest Karl Rove told Fox News the ad offended him and smacked of Chicago-style politics. 

Obama campaign staffers in Michigan called it "another great Chrysler ad," while the President's political advisor David Axelrod extolled it as a "powerful spot."

And then there are all the tweets and Facebook mentions arguing one side or the other. Thousands of them, which continued on into this week.

Most of the commentary seemed to bypass the policy choice behind all the brouhaha. Commentators and tweeters apparently left that for actual politicians to duke out. Obama touts the bailouts, which actually started under President George W. Bush, as the savior of the U.S. auto industry. Or as one wag summed up Obama's re-election pitch, "Osama bin laden is dead, but GM is alive." Republican presidential hopefuls pan the bailout, calling it an unfortunate intrusion by government into the free market.

Starbucks CEO Urges Contribution Boycott

Until U.S. political leaders put aside partisanship and provide leadership, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said business leaders should stop making political contributions. Photo by University of Denver.From his Seattle office, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has seen enough and is leading what amounts to a boycott of political contributions until Congress and President Obama work out a plan that restores faith in the American economy.

"Right now, our economy is frozen in a cycle of fear and uncertainty," Schultz wrote this week to other corporate leaders. "Companies are afraid to hire. Consumers are afraid to spend. Banks are afraid to lend."

"Our national elected officials from both parties have failed to lead," he says. "They have chosen to put partisan and ideological purity over the wellbeing of the people. They have undermined the full faith and credit of the United States. They have stirred up fears about our economic prospects without doing anything to truly address those fears."

Schultz said the way to get the attention of politicians is to cut off campaign contributions. "We invite leaders of businesses — indeed all concerned Americans — to join us in this pledge."

Debt Debate Winners and Losers

Some consider Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as the most influential player in the debt ceiling showdown. Photo by Talk Radio News Service.The debt-limit deal that emerged from many late-night, backroom discussions produced political winners and losers. Here’s our take on who won and who lost.

Winners

The Tea Party: The upstart Tea Party can claim victory for pressuring the House Republican caucus to retain its no-taxes position. It also pushed for a balanced budget constitutional amendment, which made its way into a revised budget proposal by Speaker John Boehner after his initial plan failed to attract enough Republican votes to pass in the House. The final deal contained no new tax revenues and forces Congress to vote up or down on a balanced budget amendment before the end of the year.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: Some view McConnell as the most influential senator in the debt ceiling debate by stressing the importance of avoiding a national default and a compromise that could pass both the House and Senate, which are under split political control. Unlike Boehner, McConnell was mostly able to hold together his caucus of Senate Re;publicans, strengthening his position at the final bargaining table.

Happy Days in Salem

The picture of Governor John Kitzhaber praising legislators for a productive session last week stood in stark contrast to President Obama admonishing Congress to cancel its holiday recess plans and embattled governors in other states. It even was a stark contrast to the last time Kitzhaber was governor and famously pronounced Oregon was ungovernable.

Oregon faced a daunting budget deficit and a politically dicey split House with 30 Democrats and 30 Republicans. Yet the 2011 Oregon legislative session proceeded without much bickering and with some notable results. Public unions weren't pilloried and wealthy Oregonians and businesses weren't bashed en route to balancing the state's budget for the next two years. The Republican and Democratic House co-speakers toured the state together and proclaimed after adjournment they were fast friends.

Sharply different images have emerged from other states. Members of Wisconsin's Senate skipped the state to avoid voting for a bill stripping public employees of their collective bargaining rights. Minnesota's state government HAS shut down because of a budget impasse. Democratic California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a budget approved by a Democratically controlled legislature.

Looming large is the showdown on Capitol Hill over extending the federal debt ceiling before August 2, when Treasury officials warn the United States could begin defaulting on its debts. It has all the elements of a partisan food fight, with Republicans refusing to accept a compromise that closes tax loopholes and Democrats unwilling to budge on deeper spending cuts with more revenue.

Cautionary Coat-tails in 2012 Presidential Race

Based on the present and projected GOP presidential lineup of potential nominees, it is hard to imagine President Obama losing California, Washington and Oregon in his 2012 bid for re-election. It is the Left Coast, after all.

But winning isn't everything in presidential politics. A candidate may not have coat-tails, but his or her campaign does. Those coat-tails can make a huge difference in so-called down ballot races for Congressional seats and statewide offices.

The most notable recent example occurred in 2008 when Republican presidential hopeful John McCain pulled the plug on his Oregon campaign. That pullout left a late, gaping hole in Senator Gordon Smith's campaign and arguably played a role in his eventual defeat by Jeff Merkley.

That helps explain why David Axelrod, Obama's top political adviser, showed up in Seattle to reassure Democratic officials and operatives the President wouldn't take the Pacific Northwest for granted.

Some show of force by the Democratic presidential candidate can translate into tangible help for fellow Democrats facing tough races. In Oregon, Congressmen Kurt Schrader and David Wu, assuming he survives a primary challenge, could be in fights for their political lives.