December 19, 2012

Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

Later this morning, President Obama will announce that he’s creating a new inter-agency process designed to formulate a policy response to gun violence in the wake of the Newtown massacre. Joe Biden will head up the new effort. Given all the things that are happening, it is now impossible to avoid the conclusion that this particular shooting has produced a political response that is fundamentally different from the ones that came after previous mass shootings.

Whether this will actually result in meaningful gun law reform, given the obstacles that remain, is obviously an open question. But it’s becoming clear that we will now find out whether meaningful reform is possible if it’s actually attempted.

The Post has a good piece rounding up all the evidence that the gun industry is genuinely on the defensive this time. More red state Democrats — senators-elect Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana — have come out for more gun control. Crucially, these are folks with strong backing from the NRA.

As I reported here yesterday, Senate Democrats also are planning to introduce a package of gun law reforms next year that go further than previously thought. Obama will not offer specific policy proposals today. But keep an eye out for whether he lays down any basic policy principles, such as the idea that hunters and/or sportsmen don’t have any legitimate need for assault weapons or high-capacity magazines, or that no one should be able to buy a gun without undergoing a background check.

At a minimum, it’s clear we’re going to see a sustained political debate that will shed light on the available policy responses to gun violence, hopefully undermining the right’s caricature of them as full blown liberal tyranny in disguise. There has been plenty of speculation that the gun industry and Republicans simply have to bide their time, that ultimately public attention will move on to other things, and that familiar Washington inertia will reassert itself. Surely there’s reason to fear this. But if there’s any tragedy that has any hope of breaking this pattern, it’s this one. Indeed, this tragedy must break this pattern, if only because if it doesn’t, nothing will ever be sufficient to do so. This one line from the Post account is a searing reminder why:

In Newtown, it was another day for burying children.

* House GOP pushes forward with “plan B”: House GOP leaders are working to round up votes for his fiscal cliff fallback plan, i.e., passing a bill that extends lower tax rates for all income up to $1 million. The Post explains the game plan:

Some Republicans see Plan B — in addition to spurring the White House to give more ground — as a necessary fallback. They doubt the gap between Obama and Boehner can be bridged before the end of the year. If talks were to collapse, the House would have acted to avert the worst effects of the fiscal cliff, putting the responsibility on the Democratic-controlled Senate for whatever happens next.

But the Senate has already sent the House a bill that would extend just the tax cuts for income up to $250,000, which the House could pass today. And in a concession to Republicans, Obama has offered to raise the threshold to $400,000. So the pressure is still on Republicans to accept a tax hike Dems can live with. If we do nothing, we’re going over the cliff, and Dems can move to pass just the middle class tax cuts. It’s unclear that this million-dollar maneuver gives Republicans an out.

* What on earth is the thinking behind “plan B”? The First Read crew (no link yet) tries to figure out what is driving this last-minute switch to a unilateral plan, right at the moment when a deal actually seemed close:

Is Plan B, which comes after President Obama made some of his biggest concessions in the fiscal-cliff debate (chained CPI, moving the income marker to $400,000), a way to strengthen Boehner’s negotiating hand with the White House? Is it to prove a point to his rank-and-file members that they can’t have their entire way in these negotiations? (It’s highly doubtful that Boehner even has the votes to pass Plan B.) Or is it a way to scuttle the talks with the White House?

Also: Glenn Kessler has a useful guide to how each side views the other side’s various offers. It appears that the remaining differences really aren’t that big and could well be bridged any day now.

* Why liberals must keep pushing White House on fiscal cliff: Jonathan Cohn has the bigger picture why: It is essential that Republicans be forced to capitulate this time in order to break the power of the GOP’s extremist wing. Cohn also explains why, in the wake of the Chained CPI news, any further concessions will be impossible for the left to stomach — and that this needs to be made clear, loudly and often, as the final deal comes together.

* Labor targets GOP on fiscal cliff: A trio of labor unions — the SEIU, AFSCME, and the NEA — are launching a new ad asking folks to call their member of Congress and oppose House GOP-proposed cuts to entitlements. The ad — which will run in Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Virginia, and on national cable — doesn’t name any Congressional Democrats. It’s also unclear to me why labor isn’t publicly coming out more strongly against Dems over the possibility that Chained CPI on Social Security may be in the final deal.

* Why Obama should act on gun control: Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times has a nice overview: He notes that by acting, Democrats will help solidify the coalition of the party’s future, and as some Dems hope, may even continue to marginalize the GOP as the party of rural white males. Indeed, Obama may find that he has to respond to his coalition’s desire for action, just as on gay marriage.

Also, as McManus notes, to make things different this time, gun control advocates must “keep public pressure high and expectations low.”

* Fix our background check system: The New York Times has a good editorial explaining why the problems with our background check system are allowing guns to fall into the wrong hands, and the steps lawmakers can take to fix this. Every member of Congress needs to be asked whether they agree with this statement:

No gun should be sold in the U.S. without the buyer’s identity being checked against a national database.

With the NRA holding a presser Friday, the thing to watch will be whether the organization feels any pressure to give even the slightest ground toward the most modest and sensible of reforms. Also: Matt Miller proposes a massive gun buyback initiative, to deal with the real problem of all the guns already out there.

* Joe Manchin, peacemaker on guns? The West Virginia Senator tells ABC News that he thinks he’ll be able to negotiate a dialogue between gun rights advocates and the NRA over responding to the Newtown tragedy. However, Manchin was still unwilling to endorse any specific reforms.

 * And the latest on filibuster reform: Ryan Grim reports that discussions are closing in on a bipartisan deal to change Senate rules, one that may be watered down in order to win over Republicans. It looks like such a compromise may jettison the “talking filibuster” in the process, which is what reformers had feared would happen, though we can’t really be sure just how toothless the final reforms will be until we see the final package.

What else?

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.