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Terrible Thursday for Obama

HERB BOYD Special to the AmNews | 12/16/2011, 11:02 a.m.
Last Thursday was not a good day for President Barack Obama. He took two expected...
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Last Thursday was not a good day for President Barack Obama. He took two expected blows from the Republicans. First, Senate Republicans rejected rival Democratic plans to extend the payroll tax cut. To add insult to injury, Obama's choice to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, was torpedoed by the Senate by a vote of 53-45, far short of the 60 needed to avoid a filibuster.

At stake for many middle-class Americans is a possible extra $1,000 from their wallets in taxes next year. Like so many bills, this one proposed by the GOP comes with a proviso to build the controversial oil pipeline from Canada to Texas, an issue the Obama administration wants to deal with after the 2012 election, fearing environmental dangers and safety concerns.

The pipeline measure was included to appease House conservatives, many of whom were in opposition to the extension of the payroll tax. House Speaker John Boehner felt the Republicans were ready to accept the bill, but Obama has promised to kill any tax extension that includes the Keystone pipeline.

"It's a non-starter," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic leader.

As for the standoff on Cordray's nomination, which evolved from the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and is independently funded by the Federal Reserve, not Congress, Obama has several options.

There has been discussion, as well as support from liberals and the AFL-CIO, of a recess appointment of Cordray, who became Obama's choice after Republicans were adamantly opposed to Elizabeth Warren, who set up the bureau. At that time, more than 40 senators announced they would block any nominee until the agency underwent several structural changes. However, Obama said he's not backing down or folding to GOP intransigence.

"I just want to give a message to the Senate," Obama said last Thursday. "We are not giving up on this."

To block a possible recess appointment, the Senate has been meeting in brief "pro forma" sessions.

According to those familiar with the strategy, the sessions last for only a few minutes with but a handful of members present. This tactic is backed by the Constitution, which states in Article 1, Section 5, "that neither chamber will adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other."