Sunday, January 27, 2013

Ryan Says Obama Ignores Fiscal Woes to Fight Republicans

Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the former vice-presidential candidate, said on Sunday that President Obama was ignoring the nation’s problems and was choosing instead to focus on the “political conquest” of the Republican Party.

“When you saw his speech, say, at the inauguration, it leads us to conclude that he’s not looking to moderate, that he’s not looking to move to the middle,” Mr. Ryan said in an interview on the NBC News program “Meet the Press.” “He’s looking to go farther to the left, and he wants to fight us every step of the way politically.”

In his first major interview since the November election, Mr. Ryan also warned that more partisan gridlock was in store as lawmakers prepared to renew the debate over balancing the budget and raising the country’s debt limit. His remarks echoed those of other Republican leaders, including Speaker John A. Boehner, who said last week that Mr. Obama was seeking to “annihilate” the Republican Party.

Republicans were put on the defensive after Mr. Obama’s inauguration speech, in which he laid out a starkly liberal vision for his second term, declaring his support for same-sex marriage, gun restrictions and changes in immigration laws.

With his stature increased within the party, Mr. Ryan, who is the chairman of the House Budget Committee, will increasingly be expected to set the tone for Republicans, particularly on fiscal issues.

In a rebuke to the president on Sunday, Mr. Ryan said that if Hillary Rodham Clinton had beaten Mr. Obama in the Democratic primaries in 2008 and had gone on to win the presidency, “we would have fixed this fiscal mess by now.”

“I don’t think that the president thinks that we actually have a fiscal crisis,” he said. “He’s been reportedly saying to our leaders that we don’t have a spending problem, we have a health care problem. That just leads me to conclude that he actually thinks we just need more government-run health care.”

But Mr. Ryan acknowledged that the Republican Party needed to reach out to more Americans, and he signaled a willingness to compromise on some issues.

“We obviously have to expand our appeal,” he said. “We have to show how our ideas are better at fighting poverty, how our ideas are better at solving health care, how our ideas are better at solving the problems that arise in people’s daily lives.”

On immigration, he said he was hopeful that legislation could be passed this year, if Mr. Obama did not “play politics.” 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Obama expected to nominate chief of staff Lew for Treasury secretary

White House chief of staff Jack Lew is expected to be nominated to replace Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, likely by the end of this week, two sources close to the process told Fox News.

"It is all but a done deal," one of the sources said, adding that it would take something "extraordinary" to pop up in the next couple of days to derail that decision.

Geithner has said for well over a year that he would like to leave the administration and spend more time with his family after a grueling time playing key roles throughout the economic and fiscal unease of recent years. His tenure at the Treasury followed previous service as head of the New York branch of the Federal Reserve.

Lew has become an Obama favorite through several top posts because of his sharp knowledge of the federal budget and no-drama style.

Picking Lew is a sign the president knows his next Treasury secretary will be smack in the middle of a series of budget battles, starting with the debt ceiling fight that will be brewing during the expected confirmation process.

A red flag is that during the last debt ceiling fight, in the summer of 2011, Lew served as White House budget director and clashed repeatedly with Republicans, who may want to get a pound of flesh in confirmation hearings.

In fact, advisers to the president say Lew deliberately kept a low profile during the recent fiscal cliff talks so as not to enflame those tensions on the eve of the expected announcement of his nomination for Treasury.

Afghan peace efforts show flickers of life

President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai will discuss matters of war, including future U.S. troop levels and Afghanistan's army, when they meet on Friday, but matters of peace may be the most delicate item on their long agenda.

After nearly 10 months in limbo, tentative reconciliation efforts involving Taliban insurgents, the Karzai government and other major Afghan factions have shown new signs of life, resurrecting tantalizing hopes for a negotiated end to decades of war.

Pakistan, which U.S. and Afghan officials have long accused of backing the insurgents and meddling in Afghanistan, has recently signaled an apparent policy shift toward promoting its neighbor's stability as most U.S. combat troops prepare to depart, top Pakistani and Afghan officials said.

In another potentially significant development, Taliban representatives met outside Paris last month with members of the Afghan High Peace Council - although not directly with members of the Karzai government, which they have long shunned.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the developments are promising - but that major challenges remain to opening negotiations, let alone reaching an agreement on the war-ravaged country's political future.

Hopes for Afghan peace talks have been raised before, only to be dashed. Last March, the Taliban suspended months of quiet discussions with Washington aimed at getting the insurgents and the Karzai government to the peace table.

Obama is expected to press the Afghan president to bless the formal opening of a Taliban political office in the Gulf state of Qatar as a way to jump-start inter-Afghan talks.

Karzai has been lukewarm to the idea, apparently fearing his government would be sidelined in any negotiations.


Karzai's meeting with Obama, at the end of a three-day visit to Washington, is shaping up to be one of the most critical encounters between the two leaders, as the White House weighs how rapidly to remove most of the roughly 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and how large a residual force to leave after 2014.

Obama, about to begin his second term in office, appears determined to wrap up U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan. On Monday, he announced as his nominee for Pentagon chief former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, who appears likely to favor a sizeable U.S. troop drawdown.

Other issues on the agenda have plenty of potential for causing friction: the future size and focus of the Afghan military; a festering dispute over control of the country's largest detention center; and the future of international aid after 2014.

Karzai's trip "is one of the most important ones because the discussions we are going to have with our counterparts will define the relations between (the) United States and Afghanistan," Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rassoul told the lower house of parliament this month.

No final announcement on post-2014 U.S. troop levels is expected during Karzai's visit, and the issue is further complicated by Washington's insistence on legal immunity for American troops that remain.

General John Allen, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, recommended keeping between roughly 6,000 and 15,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014, but the White House is considering possibly leaving as few as 3,000 troops.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the White House had asked for options to be developed for keeping between 3,000 and 9,000 troops in the country.


Last year, the Obama administration hoped to kick-start peace talks with a deal that would have seen Washington transfer five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay prison. In return, the Taliban would renounce international terrorism and state a willingness to enter talks with Karzai's representatives.

That deal never came off, and the question now is whether it, or an alternative peace process, can get under way as the U.S. military presence rapidly winds down.

Looking at developments in the last few months, "you could see that there are things happening," said one U.S. official, who was not authorized to speak for the record.

At the end of 2012, Pakistan released four Afghan Taliban prisoners who were close to the movement's reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. It appeared to be a step toward meeting Afghanistan's long-standing insistence that Islamabad free those who could help promote reconciliation. A senior Afghan official welcomed the release.

A member of Pakistan's parliament closely involved in Afghan policy-making said there are signs of a shift in the thinking of Pakistan's powerful military. Some in the military, which has long regarded Afghanistan as a battleground in its existential conflict with rival India, are now saying that the graver threat comes from Pakistan's own militants.

"Yes, there is skepticism. The hawks are there. But the fact is that previously there were absolutely no voices in the army with this kind of positive thinking," the parliamentarian said.

"Pakistan has also realized that there won't be a complete withdrawal of the U.S. from Afghanistan," the lawmaker said. "The security establishment realizes it has to compromise somewhere. Hence the Taliban releases. ... Hence the statements from even the most skeptical Afghan officials that there is a change in Pakistani thinking."

Ghairat Baheer, who represented the Hezb-e-Islami faction at last month's peace talks in the Paris suburb of Chantilly, rejected a continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, but praised the Pakistan prisoner release as a sign of its good intentions.


After more than a year of frustration, Obama administration officials are skeptical about luring the Taliban to peace talks, citing what appears to be a deep fissure within the movement between moderates who favor entering the political process and hard-liners committed to ousting both NATO troops and Karzai.

The Taliban's lead negotiator, Tayeb Agha, whom the Obama administration regards as a reliable interlocutor, offered to resign last month in apparent frustration, the Daily Beast website reported.

Taliban envoys have yet to meet officially with Karzai's government, and the insurgents demand a rewriting of the Afghan constitution.

"I don't think anyone knows where (reconciliation) stands. And I mean that because there are a lot of reconciliation talks and a lot of games that are being played in a lot of places," said Fred Kagan, a military analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

"The likelihood of getting an acceptable deal that actually secures our interests is vanishingly small," he said. "But the probability that you could get the deal and have it implemented in time to make this drawdown timeline make sense is nonsense."

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Obama might echo Pelosi's call for House vote on Senate bill

Congressional Democrats are working closely with the White House to corner House Republicans into an up-or-down vote on the Senate-passed "fiscal cliff" bill, according to a Democratic source.

If House Republicans seek to amend the Senate measure, Democrats on Capitol Hill would like to see President Obama call for a roll call vote on the bill that passed 89-8. Obama has endorsed that measure.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) demanded such a House vote on Tuesday, but it remains unclear if GOP leaders will allow it.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) told The Hill that few if any House Republicans would back the Senate legislation.

House Republicans are huddling Tuesday evening to discuss their next step on the fiscal cliff.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has repeatedly called on Obama to send a fiscal cliff plan to Congress that can pass the House and the Senate.