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Romney campaign denies acting rashly on Libyan situation

Caught up in the middle of a roiling and deadly foreign policy crisis, Mitt Romney’s campaign denies it acted rashly in condemning the Obama administration’s reaction to fatal assaults against U.S. diplomats in Libya and a violent raid against the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

Senior Romney advisers, who declined to speak on the record, said on Wednesday the protests at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, where U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed along with three others, demanded a comment from the GOP nominee. The larger point of Romney’s statement, which faulted the administration for initially siding with protesters in Cairo, was that Obama is misreading the violent underbelly of the Arab Spring and jeopardizing U.S. interests in the region.

“This was a story that was building the entire day,” a senior Romney official said of the developments that took place late on Tuesday and into Wednesday morning. “With the killing of a U.S. diplomat it is the type of thing where the Republican nominee for president has to have a response. This was a big deal. And the statement was about the consistent failure of this administration to engage constructively ...

Romney talks troops, Afghanistan at National Guard conference

RENO, Nev. – Mitt Romney paid tribute to the work of U.S. troops and veterans Tuesday in a speech that honored those affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks and focused on topics he was criticized for bypassing in his acceptance speech at the Republican convention.

The GOP nominee declined to directly attack President Obama, telling more than 4,000 people at a National Guard Association Conference that would be inappropriate on the 11th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on American soil. 

“With less than two months to go before Election Day, I would normally speak to a gathering like this about the differences between my and my opponent’s plans for our military and for our national security,” Romney said. “There is a time and a place for that, but this day is not it.” 

Romney drew reproaches from Democrats and Republicans alike after he failed to mention either the troops or the ongoing war in Afghanistan during his convention speech.  After a week of fielding questions about that decision, he specifically nodded Tuesday to the 70,000 men and women still on the ground in Afghanistan and weighed in on their fate.

“Our goal should be to ...

Play of the Day -- Courting the Hip-Hop Voter

The reversal of Nicki Minaj's apparent presidential endorsement from Mitt Romney to President Obama plus Snoop Dogg's support for the President dominated the late-night monologues. Obama's post-convention bump plus the hip-hop vote may give the President an insurmountable lead.

Today's Must See Moment -- Fast forward to 1:54 to see Snoop Dogg (now Snoop Lion) publicly explain his endorsement of President Obama.

IRS defends implementation of health care law

With the 2010 health care reform law a lingering cause of political skirmishing, a top Internal Revenue Service official Tuesday defended the agency’s staged rollout of the legislation’s tax components against Republican critics’ charges that the IRS is ill-equipped to handle the task without overburdening taxpayers and threatening privacy.

Steven T. Miller, the IRS deputy commissioner for services and enforcement, told a hearing of the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee that the agency “would absolutely be ready” by the law’s deadline of 2014, “based on level of effort and the plan in place.”

The law’s 47 tax provisions include a requirement that the IRS report family incomes in a format that will allow the coming state exchanges to determine the size of a health premium tax credit available to taxpayers and businesses enrolling in the exchanges.

“The IRS has a successful history” in such endeavors, Miller added. He cited a “robust dialogue” with people the changes affect, such as tax preparers, software makers and businesses and pointed to dozens of new rules and notices intended to establish “simplified safe harbors.” Miller also noted 1,400 meetings with small business people that took place in the ...

Pelosi blames Boehner for fiscal cliff

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi Tuesday afternoon jumped on House Speaker John Boehner's comment this morning that he is "not confident at all" that a fiscal cliff deal will be reached, suggesting that the gridlock is due to Republican "intransigence and partisan obstructionism."

"With our nation inching closer to the 'fiscal cliff,' Speaker Boehner's lack of determination to reach an agreement is due to his party's intransigence and partisan obstructionism," Pelosi said in a statement.

"The ball is in Speaker Boehner's court. Instead of going out for seven weeks, we call upon Speaker Boehner to work with Democrats across the aisle to restore fiscal responsibility with a balanced approach, create jobs, return fairness to our economy, and strengthen the middle class," Pelosi said.
There have been no serious negotiations and Moody's warned Tuesday that should Congress not reach an agreement, it would downgrade the United States' credit rating.
For his part, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was "disappointed [that] my friend John Boehner said that he has no confidence."
"I think we can avoid a cutoff and help 98 percent of Americans who deserve a middle class tax cut," he said. "It's ...

Outgoing senator on why he told Obama not to back Simpson-Bowles budget plan

Outgoing Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., acknowledged Tuesday that he advised President Obama against embracing the recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission and said he did so because he feared an endorsement from the Democratic president would cause House Republicans to "reflexively" oppose the panel's blueprint for deficit reduction.

"I said to him that if he just endorsed Simpson-Bowles, that House Republicans would then in all likelihood oppose it, and that it would be better, in my judgment, for him to make the case for why a comprehensive plan along the lines of Simpson-Bowles was needed," Conrad told reporters Tuesday.

The counsel that Conrad provided came to light in the book "The Price of Politics" by veteran journalist Bob Woodward. Woodward's book is critical of Obama's leadership on deficit issues and in particular his strategy for dealing with Congress. Many pundits have criticized Obama's decision to stop short of endorsing the December 2010 blueprint produced by the White House-appointed fiscal panel. Some view that decision as suggesting a lack of resolve by the president in tackling the long-term budget challenges.

Conrad, a member of the 18-member bipartisan commission led by former White House chief ...

House speaker 'not confident' of getting fiscal cliff deal

In light of Tuesday's news that Moody's warned it will downgrade America's credit rating if a deal isn't reached on the fiscal cliff, House Speaker John Boehner said he's "not confident at all" that negotiations will be successful.

"Listen, the House has done its job on both the sequestration and the looming tax hike that will cost our economy 700,000 jobs. The Senate at some point has to act," Boehner told reporters on Tuesday.

If Congress doesn't act by the beginning of next year, a volatile cocktail of tax increases and spending cuts are forecast to throw the country into "significant recession" and lead to the loss of 2 million jobs.  

With Bob Woodward's book chronicling the collapse over last summer's debt ceiling negotiations in the news, Boehner said, "I still look at my failure to come to an agreement with the president as the biggest disappointment of my speakership."

But Boehner's not getting too introspective. He still laid the blame for the failed negotiations on President Obama, saying "the president didn't want to have a second round of a fight over increasing the debt limit."

What you need to know about the stopgap spending measure

Our colleagues at National Journal Daily, report Republicans in Congress agreed to the $1.047 trillion stop-gap budget measure -- which you might know as the continuing resolution -- to avoid a spending battle during the lame-duck session. Here's a look at some keys aspects of the CR. National Journal subscribers can read more here.
  • The annual rate of the CR is $26.6 billion below last year's level.
  • Funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Disaster Relief Fund stays flat at $6.4 billion.
  • $88.5 billion goes toward war-related funding, the amount requested by the White House.
  • New projects and programs will go unfunded.
  • There will be no new policy riders.

When Congress doesn't fight over spending

So, Congress may actually not fight over spending levels this fall.

A stopgap bill, or continuing resolution to keep the government funded for six months, is expected make it through both chambers this week. The text of the bill is expected later Monday, and the House Rules Committee will discuss the CR on Wednesday.

My colleague Katy O'Donnell reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised no policy riders this go-around, and the CR raises current spending levels by $8 billion:

Rumors that defense authorization or the farm bill would be tacked onto the must-pass funding measure circulated last week, much to the chagrin of appropriators.
"It's hard for me to say definitively one way or the other" whether another bill would be attached, said House Appropriations GOP press secretary Jen Hing, "but my chairman has always said we need to do a clean CR."
Because leadership already set the CR at a $1.047 trillion rate, appropriators were given $8 billion in extra funds to allocate, a process they were still sorting through last week. Going into the weekend, leadership hadn't signed off on where the increases would go. The money could simply be divvied ...

Did an FAA employee violate Hatch Act by laying out budget scenarios?

A senior Federal Aviation Administration official is under investigation for possible violations of the Hatch Act after comments he made at a town hall meeting in Seattle were submitted by a watchdog group to the Office of Special Counsel.

John J. Hickey, FAA’s deputy associate administrator for aviation safety, may have violated the law in May, when he remarked on possible budget scenarios based on the outcomes of the November election.

In emails exchanged with the government watchdog group Cause of Action, an FAA employee who attended the meeting remarked that Hickey’s comments may have been construed as political pressure. In one email, unedited, the  employee said,“I would not be able to quote Mr. Hickey exact words, but what I took out of it was, if the conservative republication gain control of congress then the FAA could be looking at as much as a 15 percent cut in budget and we may be looking at furloughs.” The employee added that Hickey may have said, “if the liberal Democrats take control of congress then we would be looking at a flat budget. In short if the Republicans win office our jobs may be effected (furloughs) if the Democrats ...