Despite recent signs that gas prices may be about to fall, the Obama team harbors very real fears that pain at the pump could very well deprive him of credit for the recovery. It could impose additional financial hardships on swing voters who might otherwise be inclined to accept the premise that things are improving.
So today, the White House will unveil a new proposal designed to reframe the debate. The Associated Press reports:
Under pressure to take action on rising gasoline prices, President Barack Obama wants Congress to strengthen federal supervision of oil markets, increase penalties for market manipulation and empower regulators to increase the amount of money energy traders are required to put behind their transactions.
The White House plan, which Obama was to unveil Tuesday, is more likely to draw sharp election-year distinctions with Republicans than have an immediate effect on prices at the pump. The measures seek to boost spending for Wall Street enforcement at a time when congressional Republicans are seeking to limit the reach of federal financial regulations.
Details in the link. The move seems like an effort to take hold of a gas-prices narrative that has mostly eluded the White House’s control. Previously, Obama and Dems had sought to deflect public anger over high gas prices by highlighting GOP protection of oil industry subsidies; by pointing out that Big Oil interests are pumping big money into ads attacking them; and by picking a sustained fight with the oil billionaire Koch brothers.
This latest effort takes all this a step further, by linking the argument over gas prices to the larger election-year dispute over the proper role and reach of government regulations and oversight in protecting consumers. Though White House officials are not claiming that market speculation is to blame for high gas prices, the new proposal in effect dares Republicans to defend “Wall Street’s role in the oil price chain,” as the AP puts it.
* Buffett Rule’s defeat sets stage for contrast between parties: Last night’s vote of virtually the entire GOP Senate caucus against the idea that millionaires should pay the same tax rates as middle class taxpayers sets the stage for a broader election year contrast. One party wants to increase the amount the rich pay towards deficit reduction, shifting the burden of solving our fiscal problems upwards; the other party wants to decrease the amount the rich pay towards deficit reduction, shifting the burden of solving our fiscal problems downwards.
Despite the nonstop claims of pundits that this was pure gimmickry, holding the vote was perfectly defensible. It illustrated where the two parties stand on a larger dispute that simply must be resolved one way or another.
* Dems amplify “secrecy” attack on Romney: The DNC is out with a new Web video linking yesterday’s hot mic moment at a fundraiser, in which he revealed policy intentions he hasn’t publicly disclosed, to his refusal to release tax returns, his alleged offshoring, and the deleted hard drives from Massachusetts.
The wealth of material Dems now have to sow doubts about Romney’s character and rationale for running for president has even right-leaning Romney defenders very worried.
* The broader strategy against Romney: Alexis Simendinger reports that Obama officials see the “secrecy” attack as part of a broader strategy: Paint Romney as lacking core convictions, then link that to his willingness to pander to the right in order to undermine basic trust in his approach to leadership and governance.
Dems appear to be moving away from portraying Romney as a closet right-winger towards painting him as someone with no actual beliefs who adopts positions solely out of political convenience and would allow himself to remain hostage to the right even as president.
* The billion-dollar campaign: Good New York Times reporting: Between $800 million from the Romney campaign and the RNC, and another $200 million that pro-Romney Super PACs expect to spend, it’s very possible that $1 billion will be spent to deny Obama reelection.
It’s been said that the Obama campaign will raise a comparable amount, but Obama officials deny it. Either way, here’s the question: Why are Dem outside groups having so much trouble raising cash for this campaign?
* Obama re-elect reality check of the day: Gerald Seib has a bracing look at the worst-case scenarios straight from the nightmares of Obama advisers: The very real possibility of a summer economic slowdown, or outside shocks to the economy and jobs, underscore that forces beyond their control may largely determine whether Obama is reelected.
* Bonus Obama re-elect reality check of the day: In an interesting piece, Pew Research director Andrew Kohut notes that only 10 percent of Americans rate the economy positively, then adds: “in 1992 only about 10 percent held a positive opinion of the national economy in the final year of George Bush’s one term in office.”
If Obama is to win reelection, he will be defying history.
* But Romney will have to defy history, too: In the above link, Kohut also says Romney is up against history: “no candidate in the modern polling era with personal favorability ratings as low as his has ever won the presidency.”
Bottom line: Whoever wins, he will be doing so in defiance of modern history — and the election will turn on which is decisive: The economy, or their clash of visions and personalities.
* Extra bonus Obama re-elect reality check of the day: I fully agree with Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake here:
While the dominant image of Romney at the moment is as a diffident and out of touch executive, it’s not impossible to imagine that he could emerge from this reintroduction process as a sort of economic fix-up artist — a profile that could have real appeal to the ideological middle. Given those realities, it’s hard to see Obama running away with a victory unless the economy begins to soar sometime very soon. That seems unlikely. This is going to be — unless something drastic changes — a very, very close election.
Romney will have a chance to reintroduce himself to key swing constituencies, particularly if media figures don’t hold him accountable for the positions he took to get through the primary. Also: It seems likely that Romney will clear a basic competence threshold with swing voters.
* Dems recruiting nontraditional candidates for House races: An interesting look from USA Today at the DCCC strategy of recruiting candidates without political backgrounds to challenge House GOP incumbents. The move represents an effort to take back the “outsider” mantle that Republicans successfully appropriated in 2010.
* And Romney’s serial mendacity, explained: Richard Cohen boils down Romney’s blithe willingness to lie, distort and dissemble in truly epic fashion:
Business is business. It’s what you do. It is not who you are. Lying isn’t a sin. It’s a business plan.
As I’ve said before, it’s the casual and effortless nature of Romney’s nonstop dishonesty that’s so striking. It often does seem as if it’s just about getting from point A to point B — point B, of course, being the White House.