Morning Must Reads -- Obama, Congress ditch fiscal discipline when the sun goes down 

New York Times -- President Signs Bill to Extend Jobless Aid

Washington saw an interesting dichotomy on Tax Day.

All day, thousands of small-government activists were in the city. They held marches, taught classes on taking the movement back home, endorsed candidates, and generally made a ruckus about taxes, spending and deficits.

Both parties in Congress talked about their fiscal responsibility and tax-cutting ways throughout the day. But after the buses were heading back beyond the Beltway and the signs were folded away, Congress approved a bill that adds another $18 billion to the deficit.

President Obama, who had gone to Florida to try to soften the political blow from cuts he has proposed to the space program and for a pair of fundraisers, got back in town and signed the bill late at night in the White House.

The message from all the Democrats (save Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee), three of 41 Senate Republicans and 49 of 177 House Republicans: They like all of that cutting spending and deficit reduction jazz, but only when it’s for things that are unpopular. If it had been $18 billion for something bad or unpopular, no problem.

Because the legislation at hand was to extend unemployment benefits and keep up doctor reimbursements from Medicare, adding $18 billion to the deficit was a no-brainer for most lawmakers.

It was rather a skulking move by the Democrats and Obama, and it perfectly illustrates why the national debt is eating us out of house and home and how the leaders of a bankrupt government could add a new health care entitlement.

Even under direct public pressure for general fiscal discipline, lawmakers are unable to resist any spending that has a constituency. Even on the day when Congress was most motivated to be responsible, lawmakers refused to find the cuts necessary to pay for the relatively modest spending of a benefits extension.

Just wait until we start talking about cutting Medicare to pay for Obamcare.

Writer Carl Hulse stayed up late to hear the last-minute mau-mauing.

“Democrats said that many out of work Americans were unable to find jobs and that delaying what for some is their sole income in a political fight over spending was unconscionable. They say the money should be treated as an emergency expense.

‘Holding unemployed Americans, hundreds of thousands of them, hostage to score what some think may be political points I think is reprehensible,’ said Representative Sander M. Levin, Democrat of Michigan.”

 

Miami Herald -- Why Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed Florida teacher pay bill

It took a tremendous effort for the Florida legislature to beat back the public employees unions and pass what is the most far-reaching school reform legislation perhaps since the Progressive Era.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush devoted himself fully to the proposition, which would have tied pay to performance and freed high-quality schools to fire failing teachers. It is the legislation that government unions fear the most. If it takes hold in Florida, it could go to other states and other sectors of the government.

Current Gov. Charlie Crist, who is trying to jump out of the runaway train of his candidacy for the Republican nomination for an open Senate seat, said that the outpouring of concern expressed by teachers and the parents of special needs children convinced him to drop his support for the bill and veto the measure. He said it was the same thing that president Obama should have done with the health care legislation.

This guy makes Arlen Specter look like a profile in courage. And if, when Crist declares himself an independent candidate for Senate, the teachers union endorses him over the much more ideologically aligned Democratic nominee Rep. Kendrick Meek it will be pure political payola.

Writers Hannah Sampson and Cristina Silva have the report from Talahassee and a kicker quote that I assume was not meant to be ironic.

“Karen Gowan, a first-grade teacher at East Marion Elementary School in Ocala, was visiting the Capitol on a field trip with a group of eighth-graders when Crist made the announcement.

`I am so happy I am here today, walking this beautiful place while history is being made,' she said. ‘It really makes you believe in the process.’”

 

Associated Press -- Judge rules National Day of Prayer unconstitutional

There is a strong argument to be made that the establishment of a multi-faith civic religion in America actually weakens the potency of individual faiths – replacing the stout ale of unabashed faith with the near beer of inoffensive, gauzy religiosity -- “creator” prayers offered before Rotary meetings.

This is not a case for that strong argument.

Presidents going back to Washington have called for national days of prayer – calling on citizens to pray for the nation in whatever way they prefer and to whatever God they worship. There’s no penalty for those who don’t participate – just an exhortation to people of faith to put in a good word for the U.S. of A.

President Bush, who loved to talk about his own faith, totally dug the idea and always brought together a boatload of preachers, rabbis, imams and whatever holy rollers he could find for a big ceremony and some pastries. Obama, whose attitudes about religion are quite prickly, scrubbed the ceremony and issued a statement that essentially endorsed the idea prayer and that it is probably a good thing to do, unless they don’t pray, which is good too.

It caused a minor ripple of controversy, but when the day rolls around again next month, the judge’s ruling will back up the Obama position that the day is a legally and morally complex subject that merits more contemplation than celebration.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of Madison, Wisc., did not help Obama in the longer run. He has to decide whether his lawyers should join the other defendants in their appeal and face the potential of a Supreme Court battle over whether or not he call on Americans to pray.

“Crabb wrote that her ruling shouldn't be considered a bar to any prayer days until all appeals are exhausted. U.S. Justice Department attorneys who represented the federal government in the case were reviewing the ruling Thursday afternoon, agency spokesman Charles Miller said. He declined further comment.”

 

Wall Street Journal -- Troubles Mount For Former Car Czar

There was a strong belief in Washington that Obama car czar Steven Rattner was next in line for Treasury secretary once Tim Giethner flamed out.

A year later, it is famed Democratic moneyman Rattner who has combusted.

Rattner got rich by exercising his political influence to win lucrative investment contracts for public employee pension funds in Democratically dominated states. He is the embodiment of the cycle that starts with a raise for public employee unions and ends with huge political contributions to Democratic candidates.

Oftentimes, firms hire influence peddlers like Rattner to win investment contracts and other government business like bond issuance at an arms-length distance. Ratter made big bucks by becoming a vertically integrated operation at Quadrangle group. He would raise the money for Democrats, get the business, and make the investments. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Rattner is getting off easy in the civil suit from the SEC – agreeing to pay a paltry $12 million from his vast net worth. He’ll be toxic for awhile, but he’s too good at the game to stay on the sidelines forever.

Writer Peter Lattman tells the tale:

“Mr. Rattner left the firm in February 2009 to become car czar as Quadrangle was struggling through the depths of the financial crisis and dealing with the government investigation.

The developments are the latest in a three-year investigation into alleged kickbacks paid by money-management firms to secure investments from the New York state pension fund. A number of large private-equity funds, including the Carlyle Group, have made settlement payments related to the probe.”

 

Times of London -- Nick Clegg seizes his moment in historic TV debate

Republicans got a foreshadowing of their worst fears for November and 2012 in the first-ever televised debate in British electoral history – a charismatic third party candidate who steals the show and splits the vote.

Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg cast a pox on both Labor and Tory. He made Prime Minister Gordon Brown look like a plonker and Conservative challenger David Cameron look weak and politically calculating.

Writer Roland Watson has the gory details.

“Betraying his frustration, Mr Cameron at one point said of Mr Clegg that there was ‘a slight danger of holier than thou’ about the Liberal Democrat leader.

The Tory leader opened strongly, delivering an unprompted apology for the expenses scandal. ‘I’m extremely sorry for everything that happened,’ he said. He delivered hard lines on immigration and crime. ‘Immigration is simply too high,’ he said. He closed by urging voters not to be put off by ‘repeated attempts to try to frighten you about a Conservative government’.”

 

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About The Author

Chris Stirewalt

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

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