Candidates will try to avoid mistakes, win swing voters

Published: Tuesday, October 02, 2012 @ 6:45 PM
Updated: Wednesday, October 03, 2012 @ 7:24 AM

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We will have coverage of the debate in Thursday’s newspaper. On Friday, we’ll examine the accuracy of what the candidates said. On Sunday, we’ll have a roundtable discussion with local voters about the debate.

We all remember those moments: President George H.W. Bush glancing at his watch in 1992; Vice President Richard Nixon’s sweaty face and loose shirt collar in 1960, Vice President Al Gore’s long sighs in 2000 and Texas Gov. Rick Perry in November 2011 trying in vain to remember what cabinet department he wanted to eliminate.

Those are just a few of the debate blunders etched in the public’s memory that both President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will try to avoid tonight in the first of three presidential debates that could decide one of the most contentious elections in American history.

“It only takes one mistake or one extraordinary comment before some important people re-evaluate the race,’’ said Nathan L. Gonzales, deputy editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington. “A majority of Americans don’t have to change their minds based on the debates. We’re talking a few swing voters in a few swing states.’’

Both candidates enter tonight’s debate with competing objectives. Obama will try to poke holes in Romney’s plans to overhaul Medicare and the tax code, while Romney has an opportunity to persuade undecided voters that he has a plan to ignite the nation’s sluggish economy.

“No matter how the campaign downplays it, it is a very important night for Mitt Romney and his campaign,’’ said Curt Steiner, a Republican consultant in Columbus. “There is a potential for a brand new ballgame at this stage and while the Romney campaign is down by a touchdown, there is still plenty of time left.’’

Dan Birdsong, a lecturer of political science at the University of Dayton, said that Obama’s “challenge is not to remind people, but solidify with people that what he’s been trying to do is the right course and that things are turning around, albeit slowly.’’

Unlike the Democratic and Republican conventions this year — which failed to generate massive TV audiences — the presidential debates tend to attract millions of viewers.

More than 63 million people watched the second debate in 2008 between Obama and Republican presidential nominee John McCain while 62.5 million watched the first debate in 2004 between President George W. Bush and Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

Yet even with huge audiences and the networks endlessly replaying in the following days any mistakes committed by the candidates, some are convinced that presidential debates are simply not that decisive in deciding the outcome of an election.

They point to Nixon’s dreadful appearance in the first of four debates with Democrat John F. Kennedy in 1960. Three physicians at the time told reporters Nixon looked as if he had suffered a coronary. Yet polls showed the race tight before the debates and Kennedy eventually prevailed by less than 120,000 votes in one of the closest elections in history.

In the 1980 debate in Cleveland, Republican Ronald Reagan’s dismissal of President Jimmy Carter – “There you go again’’ – was regarded as a moment of high drama. But even before that debate, polls showed that Reagan had crawled into a lead which he never relinquished.

In an interview last week in Ohio, Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, said that “in the final analysis when we get past the impact of some extraordinarily inaccurate attack ads on (Obama’s) part and when we get a chance to actually talk about the real issues in the debates, then people will make an informed decision.”

Romney said he hopes to get the audience to focus on Obama’s record, saying that “these have been very difficult years for the people of this country and I think I can make peoples’ lives a good deal better. People understand that the president’s policies have not worked.’’

By contrast, Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, said that “we’ve heard Governor Romney has prepared some zingers. We will leave that to David Letterman. We don’t think that’s what the American people want.’’

Instead, LaBolt said that Obama’s “goal is to lay out the economic choice between building the economy from the inside out and not from the top down.’’ He said that viewers will be “looking for specifics from Governor Romney and he should explain how he will be paying for a $5 trillion tax cut for the wealthiest without raising taxes on the middle class.’’

But even as Romney and Obama say they will focus on issues, Birdsong of Dayton said that viewers “learn from the debates and it’s not just necessarily issue-based learning … What people learn in the course of debate is candidate characteristics or in some sense, character.’’

Joe Hallett of the Columbus Dispatch contributed to this story.

Portman, Brown back hard line on North Korea

Published: Monday, November 20, 2017 @ 3:33 PM
Updated: Monday, November 20, 2017 @ 3:33 PM


            Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens as President Donald Trump speaks to the media during a cabinet meeting at the White House on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C. President Trump officially designated North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Sipa USA/TNS)
            Kevin Dietsch
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens as President Donald Trump speaks to the media during a cabinet meeting at the White House on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C. President Trump officially designated North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Sipa USA/TNS)(Kevin Dietsch)

Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown hailed President Donald Trump’s decision Monday to designate North Korea a state of sponsor of terrorism, a move they both advocated last month.

In a statement after Trump’s announcement, Portman, R-Ohio, said “this designation will serve as an important tool to exert peaceful pressure on the North Korean regime.”

“North Korea was removed from the list nearly a decade ago with promises from the regime to limit their nuclear program,” Portman said. “That clearly hasn’t happened and they have continued their destabilizing actions in the region.”

Brown, D-Ohio, said the “decision is the direct result of bipartisan efforts this summer to require further sanctions on North Korea. We have recently offered another tough, new sanctions package that makes it clear we are serious about ramping up pressure on North Korea, to force its leaders to end its nuclear weapons program and halt its continuing human rights abuses.”

RELATED: Defense experts divided on how to handle North Korea

In addition, Portman and Brown, like Trump, cited the death this summer of Otto Warmbier, the Cincinnati-area student who died this summer in Cincinnati shortly after his release from a North Korean prison.

Speaking to reporters before a cabinet meeting at the White House, Trump said “as we take this action today, our thoughts turn to Otto Warmbier, a wonderful young man, and the countless others so brutally affected by the North Korean oppression.”

“This designation will impose further sanctions and penalties on North Korea and related persons, and supports our maximum pressure campaign to isolate the murderous regime,” Trump said.

RELATED: Boehner criticizes Trump over North Korea policy

“The North Korean regime must be lawful,” Trump said. “It must end its unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile development, and cease all support for international terrorism — which it is not doing.”

In a letter last month to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Portman, Brown and 12 other senators wrote that since former President George W. Bush in 2008 dropped North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, the Pyongyang regime has continued to develop its nuclear weapons program along with the missiles to deliver a nuclear warhead.

Hatch to Sherrod Brown: ‘Don’t spew this stuff at me’

Published: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 10:26 AM

Sen. Hatch Shouting Down Sen. Sherrod Brown on Tax Bill. Video courtesy of CNN

Sen. Sherrod Brown and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch are garnering attention today for a yelling match they had last night a hearing over the tax reform bill working its way through the Senate.

Hatch, a Utah Republican, took umbrage at comments by Brown saying the tax bill will help the rich at the expense of the poor.

“This tax cut is really not for the middle class,” Brown said. “It’s for the rich.”

Calling it “a nice political play,” Hatch told Brown “I’ve been here working my whole stinking career for people who don’t have a chance, and I really resent anybody saying that I’m just doing this for the rich.”

Brown, an Ohio Democrat, meanwhile, shot back that the public believes that the bill primarily benefits the wealthy. “I get sick and tired of the richest people in the country getting richer and richer,” he said over shouts calling for regular order. “We do a tax cut for the rich and the middle class loses.”

Hatch said that he came from the lower-middle class. “We didn’t have anything,” he said. “So don’t spew this stuff at me. I get a little tired of that crap.”

“I like you personally very much but I’m telling you, this bullcrap you throw out really gets old after awhile,” he said.

The fight came during the final day of the Senate Finance Committee debate over the tax overhaul bill. The committee later approved the bill on a party line vote 14-12.

Tax reform dominates as Congress takes a Thanksgiving break

Published: Sunday, November 19, 2017 @ 10:23 PM

Congressional Republicans left Capitol Hill late last week excited about the prospects for sweeping legislation which would deliver tax cuts and tax reform, as with approval of a House tax bill, the focus has shifted to the Senate, and whether GOP leaders can muster the needed votes to approve a slightly different GOP tax measure after Thanksgiving.

“This bill gives Americans more take home pay by cutting taxes and preserving deductions for home mortgage interest and charitable contributions,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) – while he’s on board, only a handful of GOP Senators are expected to determine the fate of this legislation.

Here’s where things stand on Capitol Hill:

1. Remember, there is more to do than tax reform. Yes, Republicans want to get tax reform done by the end of the year. But there are other measures which will need attention as well after the Thanksgiving break. For example, the Children’s Health Insurance program needs to be reauthorized, and has been in limbo since October 1. A temporary federal budget runs out on December 8, and there still hasn’t been a deal announced on how much Congress will decide to spend on the discretionary budget, which is what funds pretty much everything outside of mandatory spending items like Social Security and Medicare. There had been talk earlier this year of a possible government shutdown showdown, but that seems unlikely right now, because it would really get in the way of GOP efforts on tax reform. House Speaker Paul Ryan still wants all that spending work – a giant omnibus funding bill – done by the end of the year.

2. A rush of spending seems likely. In order to get a deal on the discretionary budget for 2018, it’s expected there will be a sizeable increase in defense spending in any final spending deal for next year – President Trump had asked for $54 billion in extra military funding, but there’s no sign of any budget cuts to immediately offset the cost of that. Not only is that extra money likely to be approved, but a third hurricane disaster relief bill seems likely to be voted on by Congress in December as well. The latest White House request was for $44 billion, much less than what Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico have asked for in terms of hurricane aid. That would make total aid close to $100 billion just this year. In the latest disaster aid plan, the White House for the first time is seeking offsetting budget cuts to pay for some of that extra spending. The plan unveiled last Friday has $14 billion in cuts now, and another $44 billion in cuts later – later, as in between 2025 and 2027, after President Trump is gone from the Oval Office.

3. Some Senators to watch on tax reform. When lawmakers return to legislative sessions the week of November 27, the main political game on Capitol Hill will be figuring out where everyone stands on the GOP tax reform bill in the Senate. This is a similar scenario to what went on with Republicans on health care reform, and many of the same players are involved. On the bubble right now would be Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Also, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has said he wants major changes on how small businesses and pass through businesses are dealt with. Don’t count the bill out yet, but there is a lot of work to do. And one thing is for sure – someone will be watching them very closely.

4. Some items you probably won’t see in 2017. One item that won’t be acted on this year is an infrastructure bill. President Donald Trump has talked about his grand $1 trillion infrastructure program since the 2016 campaign, but at this point, there is still no detailed plan, and there is no bill in the Congress. On immigration, there’s still lots of talk about wheeling and dealing on DACA and border security, but I’m not sure there’s the political will to do that. Don’t look for funding for the border wall, but instead for something that sounds like border security, but isn’t the wall. With tax reform dominating the agenda, don’t look for anything on DACA until 2018.

5. One issue that has disappeared – the deficit. It used to be that Republicans were all about reigning in spending, and cutting the size of government. Now that they have had control of the House, Senate and White House, they are poised to, to, to, do nothing in 2017 on that front. The budget doesn’t balance for at least ten years (if not more), there were no major spending cuts enacted by the Congress, there was no appetite for savings in mandatory spending programs, either. The cuts included in the President’s budget have pretty much been ignored by lawmakers, and it took the White House three disaster aid bills before any offsetting budget cuts were proposed. Meanwhile, the yearly federal deficit is trending back up, and with the disaster relief bills, and an increase in the federal budget caps, there will be more red ink in 2018. Only a few Republicans have stuck with their familiar call for budget discipline.

House Republicans voted for tax reform, but asked for changes in the bill as well

Published: Saturday, November 18, 2017 @ 9:07 AM

As the House voted along party lines on Thursday to approve a sweeping package of GOP tax reforms, one peculiar part of the floor debate came when a number of Republicans – who voted for the bill – took to the floor to request changes in the their party’s plan, as some highlighted unintended consequences, while others objected to the basics of the measure.

Known in parliamentary parlance as a “colloquy,” the scripted exchanges between lawmakers are often done to clarify the legislative intent of a bill, or in this case, to urge action in a specific way in House-Senate negotiations.

And for some Republicans in this week’s tax reform debate, it was clear they wanted some provisions altered.

Some requests were specific, like Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), who made the case for historic preservation tax credits, which were eradicated by the House GOP tax reform bill.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLSCynnwYUc&w=640&h=390]

“Without the credit, projects that transform communities in all 50 states, from
West Virginia to Texas, to Wisconsin, simply will not happen,” McKinley said on the House floor, as he asked for Brady’s word that he would help reverse the decision.

That didn’t happen.

“I commit to working with him and continuing to work with him on this issue because I know the importance of it,” Brady responded, making sure not to guarantee anything in some of these floor exchanges.

For Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), a staunch advocate of the GOP bill, he asked the Chairman of the House Ways and Means to do more in terms of tax help for the people of Puerto Rico, whose island was devastated by Hurricane Maria.

“I look forward to working with you on ideas to best serve the people of this island,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), who thanked fellow GOP lawmakers for their concerns, but made no promises.

For Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), the issue was with a new excise tax from Republicans that would be levied on the endowments of private colleges and universities.

Barr said that would harm Berea College in his district, a ‘work college’ that uses its endowment money to pay the tuition of all students. It was noted in press stories back home.

“I was pleased to learn that the Senate version of the bill exempts schools with fewer than 500 tuition-paying students from the excise tax,” Barr said, urging Brady to accept that position in any House-Senate negotiation.

Brady said he would try.

“Mr. Speaker, we will work together for a mutually accepted solution to make sure we exempt work colleges to use their endowments to provide tuition-free education,” the panel chairman responded.

For Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the problem he brought to the House floor was under the heading of unintended consequences, as the GOP tax bill would subject native settlement trusts in Alaska to a higher rate of taxation.

“This would make it more difficult for Alaska Native Settlement Trusts to provide long-term benefits to Alaska Natives,” Young said on the House floor, asking Brady to include provisions of a bill to remedy that and more.

Unlike some of the other requests, Brady acknowledged that the GOP tax bill would “unintentionally” change the tax rate for the Alaskan settlements, agreeing to focus on this in conference as we finalize individual rate structures between the House and the Senate.”

Others weren’t so lucky to get a guarantee of action, as they pressed for changes in maybe the most controversial part of the GOP plan, which limits a deduction for state and local taxes.

“I am concerned about its impact on some of my constituents in Maryland who pay high state and local income taxes,” said Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), the only Republican member of the House from that state, which would be one of the biggest losers on the SALT issue.

That subject also drew two California Republicans to make the same appeal to Brady later in the debate; Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA) and Rep. Steve Knight (R-CA) echoed the concerns of Harris – all of them got a murky assurance of help.

“I am happy to commit to working with both of them to ensure we reach a positive outcome for their constituents and families as we reconcile our differences with the Senate,” Brady said, making no promises.

Other Republicans brought up education, and a provision in the GOP tax reform bill that would hinder colleges and universities from providing tax free tuition waivers and reimbursements, a matter that has drawn more and more attention in recent days.

Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) – whose district includes Dayton University – and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) – whose district includes the University of Illinois – both appealed to Brady to make a change.

“I believe that an unintended consequence of this bill would hinder middle class Americans pursuing a higher education degree in an attempt to better their lives,” Turner said.




“I am worried it is going to have an impact on the custodians and the assistants in the Registrar’s Office who are just working at these institutions to be able to send their son or daughter to college,” said Davis.

There was no guarantee that the provision would be changed.

“I have a keen interest in this issue,” Brady told Turner and Davis. “I will work with you toward a positive solution on tuition assistance in conference with the Senate.”

Democrats noted the exchanges on both days of the House tax reform debate, arguing that it showed off the haphazard nature of how the bill was put together.

“I also was intrigued by the colloquy where Members came to ask the leadership
if they will work with them to take out egregious elements of this tax proposal,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI).

“We get this sort of, “Yes, I will work with the gentleman,” answer,” Kildee added, raising his voice on the floor.

“Why did you put it in in the first place?” Kildee yelled. “Why are you cutting historic tax credits in the first place? Why did you put it in in the first place? You just wrote the bill. You just wrote it,” he said.

GOP lawmakers said this past week that anyone can find a reason to vote against a big bill like this tax reform plan – we’ll see in coming weeks whether these publicly voiced concerns become an issue for the final version of tax reform in the Congress.