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Boston Globe -- Coakley, Brown in bitter debate

The last week of the Massachusetts Senate race promises to be a hoot – national Democrats are surging for the struggling frontrunner Martha Coakley. The first gambit from the Obama DNC: demand that Republican Scott Brown accept or reject a hypothetical endorsement from Fox News contributor Sarah Palin.

In Monday’s debate, Brown battered Coakley for her opposition to the death penalty, the Afghan war, and military trials for terrorists. He also bashed her for tax policy.

Coakley hammered at Brown for being somewhat unclear in his support for abortion rights and for wanting to return to “Bush-Cheney policies.”

Writers Matt Viser and Andrea Estes have the details:

“‘You can run against Bush-Cheney, but I’m Scott Brown,’’ Brown responded. ‘I live in Wrentham. I drive a truck.’’

He went on to assert that Coakley’s fiscal policies - her support for a health care overhaul, for rolling back the tax cuts signed by Bush, and for a cap-and-trade system to stem climate change - would raise taxes and cost jobs.”


New York Times -- President Signals Flexibility on Health Plan Tax

The president hardly needs to signal any more flexibility on health care. He already looks like he’s been taking advanced yoga classes.

With union members beefing over the White House support for a Senate plan that would put a quarter of their members – including many government employees – under a tax on high-value health insurance policies, the president has an easy way out.

The Senate dislikes the House plan for a “millionaires’ tax” and the House dislikes health insurance taxes. The answer will likely be to raise the bar on health insurance taxes to exclude all but a few union policies and simultaneously raise the bar on the millionaires tax.

Writers Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Steven Greenhouse explain why Obama wants to keep a health insurance tax he once deplored:

“Until now, Mr. Obama has taken a relatively hands-off approach to the specifics of the health care bill, instead leaving them to Congress. But last week, in a meeting with House leaders, he made clear his support for the excise tax, which many economists regard as an important way to bring down health care costs.”


USA Today -- Analysts question savings, revenue in health care bill

Writer John Fritze looks at recent reports from the Department of Health and Human Services and other outfits that cast great skepticism on the idea that half of the first $1 trillion in new health-care costs under the Obama plan can be paid for by cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.

The DHHS report, which slipped out last month, argues that many of the cuts are unrealistic, and if they were actually put into place it would hurt access to care. Other analysts say that Congress simply lacks the political will to deliver on the cuts, preferring to raise taxes and expand the deficit.

Defenders say that many of the cuts will actually happen, and defend their rosy forecast on the grounds that the bill holds even greater hidden savings in other areas.

“•A proposed insurance program for senior care would collect $72 billion over 10 years even though government reports have raised questions about its long-term sustainability. Current, active workers would pay into the program for five years before becoming eligible for nursing home or in-home care subsidies.

The Congressional Budget Office says the program will lower deficits initially because millions will be paying premiums and few will be eligible for benefits, but that will change over time. An HHS report predicts the program would attract less-healthy people, leading to a ‘very serious risk’ of it being unsustainable.”


Wall Street Journal -- Banks Brace for Bailout Fee

The team at the White House is putting the finishing touches on its budget proposal (when Peter Orszag can find a minute) in advance of the State of the Union address (which will be scheduled after a health-care victory is assured).

Since the pivot is supposed to be toward fiscal responsibility with a flick at a populist outrage, new taxes on bankers and brokers to recoup bailout losses (and more) would fit the bill just right.

But as writers Deborah Solomon and Damian Paletta explain, economists worry that the fees might squeeze access to capital and regular human beings fear that the costs will be passed on to them.

“Even though the proposal is still under discussion, it is expected to be included in the White House's budget, due next month, if only conceptually. It's expected to cost large banks billions of dollars and could also affect bank customers if firms pass along the cost.

One option under consideration involves placing a fee on a bank's liabilities, a number that theoretically represents the amount of risk a bank takes on, according to officials familiar with the matter. That approach would also have the effect of tamping down banks' risky behavior, another administration goal. Another option would be to target bank profits, these people said.”


Washington Post -- Obama speechwriter Ben Rhodes is penning a different script for the world stage

Writer Jason Horowitz looks at the rise of President Obama’s foreign policy speechwriter, Ben Rhodes.

Lots of interesting tidbits. Rhodes started out more conservative: he was a 1997 Rudi Giuliani for Mayor staffer while prepping at Collegiate, he went to Rice, his brother was an executive at Fox News, Rhodes considered joining the Army after witnessing the Sept. 11 attacks while working as a poll watcher for a Democratic mayoral candidate, and more.

Rhodes got into the foreign policy pipeline in Washington, working for Lee Hamilton on the 9/11 commission and then Sen. Mark Warner, before going to work for the Obama campaign. Since, Rhodes has written Obama’s Nobel Speech, West Point address on his second Afghan surge, and, most notably, his remarks at the Ft. Hood memorial service.

But the story is really about the president’s more famous speechwriter, boy wonder Jon Favreau, and the end of his era. Horowitz argues that as the administration takes a beating and struggles to govern, the lofty, hopey-changey rhetoric of Favreau is losing favor while Rhodes’ more concrete language is gaining favor – that Obama is himself becoming more serious and detail oriented.

Maybe. But whatever the case, there’s been a heck of a lot more foreign policy to talk about than there was during the campaign, much to the obvious dismay of the administration. And that’s been good news for Rhodes.

“Since moving from Favreau's immediate supervision in the speechwriting group in September to become deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, Rhodes has reported to national security adviser James Jones and press secretary Robert Gibbs. The 32-year-old New Yorker's ascent is not a product of any intra-administration maneuvering: Favreau is still Rhodes's pal and remains the principal channeler of Obama’s voice.”


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About The Author

Chris Stirewalt


Washington Examiner Political Editor Chris Stirewalt, who coordinates political coverage for the newspaper and in addition to writing a twice-weekly column and
regular blog posts.

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