US Politics Digest: Republicans cracking over tax deal; Tea Party icon quits; and more

The latest US politics news - including cracks in the GOP over the tax deal and a Tea Party icon quitting Congress.

Top News:

GOP splits grow over tax deal as Obama digs in on debt ceiling

A number of congressional Republicans have indicated their readiness to compromise over income tax rates as part of efforts to avoid the fiscal cliff, increasing pressure on House Speaker John Boehner to reach an accord with the White House on tax rises and spending reductions due to come into force at the start of 2013.

Several GOP representatives, including Texas’s Kay Granger, Florida’s Dennis Ross and Ohio’s Steve LaTourette, echoed calls last week from Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole to extend tax cuts for middle-income earners and allow rates for the top 2 per cent of Americans to rise. They were joined by ultraconservative Senator Tom Coburn, who said an increase in rates now would permit broader tax reform further down the line.

GOP leaders had earlier floated proposals to end the impasse which included $800 billion in revenue to be raised through changes to tax deductions and credits. This blueprint was panned by the White House, while former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles rejected attempts by Boehner to cast it as a successor to his commission’s bipartisan plan.

Aides to senior Republicans have since looked for ways of conceding on tax without incurring the anger of key supporters. Ideas mooted include setting the top rate of tax between current and Clinton-era levels, or moving two bills through Congress which would effectively saddle Democrats with the responsibility of enacting an increase.

Republicans are also discussing the possibility of conceding on tax now and using a vote on the debt ceiling early next year to extract concessions from the President on entitlement spending. The administration this week refused to haggle over passage of the debt ceiling, and pushed plans originally advocated by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that would force Congress to vote against increases in the limit. McConnell subsequently proposed but then blocked a Senate vote on the issue amid a row with his opposite number Harry Reid over the votes such a measure needed to pass.

President Obama has cautioned Republicans against using the debt ceiling to win entitlement cuts, although there is speculation he could be forced to negotiate if a crisis ensued. There are differences between the White House and senior Democratic leaders over whether Obama should consider invoking section 4 of the 14th amendment to raise the federal debt limit, but reports of disunity within the president’s party over allowing him more leeway on the ceiling appear exaggerated.

The President took questions from Twitter users on the fiscal cliff on Monday, and discussed the importance of middle-class tax cuts in the home of a Virginia family yesterday; Republican leaders, meanwhile, indicated they will not adjourn Congress until a “credible” solution to the cliff has been reached, even if this means keeping lawmakers in Washington through the holiday season.

Related polling: [Quinnipiac]; [WaPo/Pew]; [Gallup]; [AP]; [PPP]; [National Journal].

Tea Party icon DeMint leaving Congress

South Carolina’s conservative Republican Senator Jim DeMint has announced he is leaving his post to become head of the Heritage Foundation. DeMint, credited with elevating the likes of Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Mike Lee to the Senate, will depart for the right wing think tank immediately. South Carolina’s GOP Governor Nikki Haley will appoint a successor to serve for two years until a special election can be held.

African-American Congressman Tim Scott is tipped as a possible replacement, with chair of the South Carolina Board of Economic Advisers Chad Walldorf, Representative Mick Mulvaney, and former state Attorney General Henry McMaster among others mentioned.

DeMint will improve his financial situation as a result of his move to Heritage, and is sure to remain an influential player in Washington. There is some debate as to whether DeMint’s more moderate Republican colleague Lindsey Graham will now have an easier time seeking re-election in 2014.

November jobs report released today

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’s monthly jobs report will be released at 13.30 GMT today, with weaker growth in hires anticipated following Superstorm Sandy. Experts predict the economy added 80,000 new jobs through November, down from gains of 171,000 in October. The unemployment rate is forecast to hold at 7.9%.

A well-regarded monthly survey released by payroll processor ADP showed new private sector hires at 118,000, less than the 158,000 recorded in October. Weekly jobless claims beat expectations to come in at 370,000.

Concern mounts over chemical weapons in Syria

The Obama administration has reacted sternly to suggestions President Assad’s regime is moving its stockpile of chemical weapons. In a speech to Washington’s National Defense University, President Obama warned the Syrian leader “the world was watching”, and that the use of chemical weapons would be “totally unacceptable” to the US. Obama’s press secretary Jay Carney later stated the use or proliferation of the arms would constitute a red line for America.

An official with knowledge of the situation told Wired magazine on Monday the US was concerned the Syrian army had combined precursors necessary to weaponise Sarin gas, and had “gotten to the point where they can load it up on a plane and drop it”. A source at the Pentagon subsequently informed NBC News there was no evidence of such actions, although other officials told the same outlet on Wednesday nerve agents had been “locked and loaded” inside bombs.

SCOTUS still considering gay marriage review

The Supreme Court put off deciding whether to review same-sex marriage cases on Monday, with the justices scheduling further deliberations for today. The court could declare its intentions this afternoon; make an announcement next Monday; or kick the challenges further into the long grass.

An Idaho-based group opposed to equal marriage rights, meanwhile, asked the court to bypass an appeal lodged by a gay rights group against Nevada’s ban on same-sex partnerships.

Related polling: [Quinnipiac].

UN disabilities treaty falls in Senate

The Senate has failed to pass a UN treaty that would have written rights for disabled people into US law following a grassroots push by conservative groups. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was originally negotiated during George HW Bush’s time in office, fell short of the 66 votes needed for ratification. Only eight Republicans backed the measure, among them former presidential contender John McCain and outgoing Senators Scott Brown, Richard Lugar and Olympia Snowe.

Conservatives argued the treaty – which was also backed by former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole – infringed upon US sovereignty and could threaten the rights of parents who educate their children at home. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry – who is still under consideration for Secretary of State – won praise for his impassioned defence of the treaty as it went down to defeat.

Republican chief faces criticism from potential rival

The head of the Republican National Committee, Wisconsin’s Reince Priebus, has been strongly criticised by a former GOP congressman who could challenge him for re-election. JC Watts, who previously represented Oklahoma’s 4th district in the House, assailed Priebus for failing to broaden the Republican Party’s outreach to “non-traditional voters”. The African-American told MSNBC he had been “encouraged” by calls to run against the incumbent, but added Priebus probably had the votes he needed to secure a second term.

Priebus, meanwhile, launched his bid to stay in office with a YouTube video touting his accomplishments at the RNC.

Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the current head of the Democratic National Committee, is set for another term in her post after receiving support from the White House.

Colorado’s junior Senator Michael Bennet and his ex-chief of staff, Guy Cecil, are to oversee the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the 2014 Midterms.

Warren may get coveted committee slot

Massachusetts Democratic Senator-Elect Elizabeth Warren looks likely to gain a spot on the Senate Banking Committee, an opportunity which would allow the former consumer advocate to once again take on her Wall Street foes. A senior Democratic official indicated on Tuesday Majority Leader Harry Reid wanted Warren on the panel, although the Democratic caucus has the final say over the appointment.

The move will enrage representatives of the financial industry, who fought hard to keep her off the committee, and is also being seen as a coup for Rhode Island’s liberal Senator Jack Reed, who lobbied hard for Warren and is tipped to head the committee in the future.

In related news, conservative groups have reacted angrily after Speaker John Boehner removed fiscally hawkish Republican congressmen from the House Financial Services Committee for failing to act as “team players”. Boehner has also faced heat from Democrats for rectifying a gender imbalance among committee chairmanships by appointing a woman to run the relatively insignificant panel on House administration.

News in Brief:

• Rubio, Ryan seek to reposition party at foundation dinner [WaPo]; make light of 2016 speculation [CBS News];

• Senate Dems block GOP immigration move [NYT]; Bush makes rare foray into debate [Daily Mail];

• Defence spending authorised with amendments [Bloomberg];

• Rice Benghazi talking points were edited by CIA [NPR]; Clinton praises record as UN envoy [NYT];

• Hillary writes to defeated Democrats [Politico]; surveys show huge backing for presidential effort [CSM]; Bloomberg denies asking to run for NYC mayor [CBS News];

• Admin says it did not push European nations to punish Israel for settlement move [Yahoo News];

• Prez raises Egypt violence concern with Morsi [AP];

• Obama set to request Sandy aid package [BBC News];

• Christie discusses storm relief with Prez [WaPo]; standing with GOP voters dips [PPP];

• Governors, progressive commentators invited to talk fiscal issues at WH [LA Times], [Examiner];

• Petraeus resisted appeals from Fox News chief to seek presidency [NY Daily News];

• Pentagon lawyer tipped for AG quits [Politico];

• Romney rejoins hotel chain board [CNN];

• Tea Party leader ousted [CNN];

• IL’s Kirk schedules date for Senate return [Huffington Post];

• Perriello declines VA governor run [Huffington Post]; McAuliffe golfs with Obama and WJC [WaPo];

• GA’s Chambliss could be vulnerable in 2014 [PPP];

• SD Senator hints at retirement [Politico];

• Paul derides prospect of Ashley Judd KY run [CSM];

• Anna Wintour still a contender for UK envoy [Telegraph].

Best of the Web:

The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein suggests that for all the praise heaped on the fiscal plan drawn up by the Bowles-Simpson Commission, few politicians are willing to vote for it and many of its supporters are not fully appraised of its content. The blueprint advocated by the ex-Clinton Chief of Staff and the former Republican Senator includes a large hike in revenues, progressive tax reform, sweeping cuts to the defence budget and wide-ranging changes to social security.

These facts help explain why neither the White House nor House Speaker John Boehner embraced the plan, and illustrates how little its supporters in the business community understand what they are advocating.

Over at The National Interest, the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis’s Bilal Saab queries the Obama administration’s ‘red lines’ on Syria’s chemical weapons, and asks why the US President is willing to embark on unspecified intervention should they be used but not prevent excessive deployment of conventional weapons or wider regional conflict.

Obama is prudent not to corner himself by issuing a detailed threat to President Assad, but a more coherent Syria policy – including a proactive deterrence against chemical weapons – is required.

The Atlantic’s Molly Ball argues that while many progressive groups disdained the Supreme Court’s decision to relax limits on political spending, several of their number deftly exploited changes in the law to win big in the 2012 elections. Those heading Super PACs set up by a leading union and a left-leaning phone company recount how they used the Citizens United ruling to wage volunteer-based campaigns to target congressional Republicans.

Writing in The Sacramento Bee, Dan Morain explains how New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg intervened to topple pro-gun Democrat Joe Baca, who was seeking re-election in California’s newly drawn 35th congressional district. The billionaire threw his weight behind another member of Baca’s party, Gloria Negrete McLeod, after the congressman sponsored a resolution which would have obliged New York and other gun control states to honour lax concealed weapons permits on the books in other parts of the US.

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