The ever-shifting to unseat President Obama in 2012 got a supercharge last week with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul formally jumping in, Mike Huckabee staying out, and Mitt Romney talking health care. But the debt-ceiling vote loomed, as always, as a more immediate concern. Both dominated this week’s Sunday talk shows. Among the highlights: Huckabee slept soundly after making his no-go official; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’ll listen to the markets on raising the debt limit; Gingrich dismisses Medicare vouchers as “social engineering” and saying the teacher/analyst Newt will have to take a back seat if he’s elected president.
- Gingrich Criticizes Medicare Vouchers, Talks About His Limits
- Leaving Romney to Fend for Himself
- Boehner Blames Obama on Debt Limit, Urges Strengthening Ties With Pakistan
- Ryan Firm on Metric for Cuts, Less So on Substance
- Paul Slams IMF After Strauss-Kahn’s Arrest
- McConnell: Long-Term Budget Plan Must Come Together Now, With No Tax Increases
- Huckabee Says He’s at Peace With Decision Not to Run
1:42 p.m. In a long and wide-ranging interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Newt Gingrich supported the idea of short-term, interim debt-limit increases; dismissed Medicare vouchers as “social engineering”; and spoke candidly about how he’ll need to watch what he says if he’s elected president.
On the debt-limit stalemate: “Find a formula and pass very, very short debt-ceiling increases with very small amounts and take some savings that the president couldn’t possibly veto. If you had to do a debt-ceiling [vote] every three weeks—but do not give him a blank check.”
On House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan for a Medicare voucher program: “I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering.... What you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options, not one where you suddenly impose [change].”
On Pakistan and Osama bin Laden: “Notice, by the way, what the intelligence chief has apologized for. He’s apologized for the Americans getting bin Laden. He didn’t apologize for 9½ years of failing to find him.... And who did the Pakistanis call the minute the American covert helicopter was shot down? They called the Chinese. Now, I would just suggest to you we need to rethink carefully what we mean by the word ‘ally.’”
Speaking more broadly about his candidacy, the former House speaker recognized his shortcomings musing about President Obama, his past, and other topics on the trail.
“One of my great weaknesses is that part of me is a teacher/analyst, and part of me is a political leader. And one of the most painful lessons I’ve had to learn—and I haven’t fully learned it, obviously—is that if you seek to be president of the U.S., you are never an analyst. You’re never a college teacher. Because those folks can say what they want to say. And somebody who offers to lead America has to be much more disciplined and much more thoughtful than an analyst,” he said.
Gingrich did, however, defend himself when host David Gregory asked him about recent comments he made about unemployment calling Obama “the most successful food-stamp president in American history.” Gregory said some critics are suggesting Gingrich was using “coded racially tinged language.”
“Oh, come on, David, that’s bizarre,” Gingrich shot back. “This kind of automatic reference to racism—this is the president of the United States. The president of the United States has to be held accountable.... What I said is factually true: 47 million Americans are on food stamps. One out of every six Americans are on food stamps. And to hide behind the charge of racism? I have never said anything about President Obama which is racist.”
12:10 p.m. Republican leaders declined to take an opportunity to defend former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s recent speech attempting to justify his leadership in enacting Massachusetts’s mandatory health care law, which has several similarities to the heavily criticized “Obamacare” federal law that Republicans want to repeal.
Speaking about presidential candidates in the Republican field on CNN’s State of the Union, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., tried to sidestep answering a question from host Candy Crowley about whether he would have any qualms if Romney were the Republican nominee.
“I'm not going to start dabbling around or endorsing or criticizing one candidate or another running for president on the Republican side. But let me say this about Obamacare; it was the single worst piece of legislation that's been passed in my time in the Senate,” McConnell said.
When asked about the Massachusetts plan, McConnell ignored the question and kept up his attack on the federal law. “The biggest step in the wrong direction for America. I think it needs to be repealed and replaced. We've had that vote earlier this year. I would hope whoever gets elected president, if it's not the current president, would join with us and repealing it totally.”
Later on ABC’s This Week, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said that continuing to answer questions about his health care position would continue to be Romney’s challenge as a candidate.
“I think that issue is going to continue to be part of the debate,” she said. “Every candidate is going to have their challenge. I certainly think that that’s going to be his challenge.”
11:39 a.m. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that President Obama needs to get serious about agreeing to long-term spending cuts without raising taxes, the U.S. should make strengthening relations with Pakistan a priority, and now is not the time to pull out of Afghanistan.
Discussing negotiations on lifting the debt ceiling on CBS’s Face the Nation, Boehner offered no new signs of compromise and laid the onus to cut a deal on President Obama.
“He’s really not serious about tackling the big problems that face our country,” Boehner said about the president. “Now is the time to deal with the fiscal problems we have in an adult-like manner.”
Boehner said that Social Security and Medicare benefits promised to seniors should be honored, but that reforms should be made now for programs affecting those 54 and younger.
“Medicare, Medicaid, all—everything should be on the table, except raising taxes,” he said. “But for those 54 and younger, I think it’s time to make changes to those plans or they won’t exist.... The retirees are going to be taken care of. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about that. But we all know that if nothing is changed, senior benefits are going to get cut. Why? Because they’re unaffordable. That’s why we have to deal with this, and we need to deal with it now.”
On foreign policy, Boehner said that it would premature to pull out of Afghanistan simply because Osama bin Laden is out of the picture.
“Our goal in Afghanistan is to make sure that we’re not ceding ground to the Taliban, al-Qaida and others; ground where they can plan, train, and execute attacks on Americans here and abroad. That effort has to continue, because there are others out there.... And they’ve got to be eliminated,” he said.
“We have hundreds of billions of dollars that we’ve spent in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. We’ve lost thousands of lives. This is not the time to just walk away from the fight.... We need to make sure that we put Afghanistan on a solid foundation before we walk away from there.”
He added that Pakistan is an important strategic relationship that must be nurtured despite suspicions about Pakistani officials’ knowledge of bin Laden’s whereabouts.
“They are an important ally of the United States. And I think that at this moment in time, we should reengage and strengthen our relationship with Pakistan, not walk away from it,” Boehner said. “...But having said that, there are some real questions that remain about their relationship with us. And I think it’s time to look the Pakistanis in the eye, and to make sure that they have both feet in this camp. Not one foot in this camp and another foot in another camp.”
11:12 a.m. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., continued to defend his plan to overhaul Medicare on CNN’s State of the Union and said that budget negotiations now “should” include reform of the program, but he refused to say whether they had to in order to get his support.
Indeed, he did not say much about what his bottom line would be in budget talks.
When asked whether he agreed with House Speaker John Boehner that at least $2 trillion in cuts need to be made in any deal now, he reemphasized that his plan calls for cutting $6 trillion over 10 years and said that the reason why the $2 trillion in cuts is being discussed is because that’s how much President Obama wants to raise the debt ceiling. He said if Obama only can agree to $1 trillion in cuts, then that is how much Republicans can agree to lift the debt ceiling.
“Like John Boehner said, for every dollar the president wants to raise the debt limit, we’re saying cut at least a dollar’s worth of spending, because that is the necessary thing to do in order to stave off a debt crisis. If we get a debt crisis we have another recession or worse, and that’s what we want to avoid,” he said.
Switching gears to politics, Ryan said he was caught off guard by Friday’s news that Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., plans to retire. But he said he would decide soon whether he plans to run for the Senate seat.
“It was a bit of a surprise to all of us,” he said. “So my family and supporters just started digesting this. I plan to make an announcement very quickly. I don’t want to dwindle on this. But we are just beginning to process this.”
Asked by host Candy Crowley if he might make a decision this week, Ryan said, "yes."
10:29 a.m. International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest on sexual assault charges in New York gave GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul another opportunity to whack the IMF, which he normally does on grounds of U.S. financial sovereignty.
“These are the kind of people who are running the IMF, and we want to turn the world’s finances and control of the money supply to them?” the Texas congressman said on Fox News Sunday.
10:11 a.m. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on CNN’s State of the Union that any agreement to lift the debt ceiling must include “significant” short-term, mid-range, and long-term spending cuts to reduce the deficit without raising taxes.
The Kentucky lawmaker would not say whether he agreed with House Speaker John Boehner that at least $2 trillion in cuts must be made now. Instead he said that his bellwether on whether a plan could win his vote would be based on market reaction.
“Standard and Poor’s would be a good indicator,” he said. “If they are impressed with what we’ve done, then that will mean that the markets will think the Americans are going to get their act together; foreign countries, many of which have lent the U.S. an enormous amount of money, will think the Americans are getting their act together.”
McConnell elaborated on his vision by saying that short-term cuts should include a spending ceiling for the next two years on a declining basis. Mid-range cuts within the next few years should include reforms in discretionary and mandatory spending, including entitlement reforms. Long-term planning should address both Medicare and Social Security reforms, he said.
“We have over $50 trillion in unfunded liabilities,” he said. “The president doesn’t seem to want to do Social Security without a tax increase, which is not needed, and we just heard from the trustee Friday that both Medicare and Social Security are in serious trouble and it’s worse than anybody thought. Maybe the president is willing to do something on the Medicare side, but in order to get my vote, we need to do something significant, short-term, medium-term and long term.”
McConnell also said explicitly that tax increases were off the table.
“There are not going to be any tax increases,” he said. “We are not going to do tax increases.”
He indicated that closing tax loopholes was not a priority.
“The problem with doing it right now is it’s very, very complicated.”
9:50 a.m. Mike Huckabee isn’t looking back.
Appearing on Fox News Sunday the morning after announcing on his own Fox News show that he wouldn’t be running for president in 2012, Huckabee responded to host Chris Wallace’s question about whether he had the “fire in the belly” by talking about his “sense of peace” as a man of faith: “For those of us who are believers, there is a sense of peace. And I’ll put it this way, Chris. Last night, I laid my head on the pillow and had a very good night’s sleep, and I was at peace with the decision.”
Huckabee said he isn’t making an endorsement just yet, but would likely support the eventual Republican nominee against President Obama. That includes two candidates not typically associated with his wing of the Republican Party: Mitt Romney and Donald Trump.
He also added a little context about Trump’s good-luck statement at the end of the show.
“Donald Trump taped two versions of the sort of end of the show, one that I was running, one that I wasn’t,” Huckabee said. “And Donald Trump did not know which one would be used, nor did my executive producer, nor did my staff, right up until the moments before the show when I finally of course had to tell them.”