By Ian Swanson - 03/17/10 10:00 AM EDT
President Barack Obama could stand to learn a few tricks from embattled U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Brown has been hammering his political opponents on the economy, warning that if Conservatives take over the government, they will wreck the nascent recovery his country has seen after a devastating global recession.
Brown soared as Conservative leader David Cameron became the story, which provides part of the roadmap for Democrats. The next British general election is due to take place on or before June 3.
“The biggest thing in Britain is Cameron’s fall in the polls,” said Stan Greenberg, a Democratic pollster and CEO of Greenberg, Quinlan Rosner.
“When I consult Democrats … I say make your opponent the issue,” said Democratic strategist Paul Begala.
As people begin to think about a choice, Greenberg said, Democrats must create an advantage for themselves just as Brown did.
To Begala, the “goldmine” for Democrats is Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget and healthcare plan that would partially privatize Social Security and Medicare.
By focusing criticism on the impact Ryan’s proposals would have on people’s wallets, Democrats can favorably cast light on their ideas, he said.
Democrats pounced on Ryan’s ideas in February, and Begala said they need to do more of the same going forward.
The problem is that while Ryan is a rising star in the GOP congressional delegation, he’s hardly well-known. Republican leaders in the House and Senate aren’t household names, and there’s no Newt Gingrich to demonize.
Cameron, in contrast, is a household name in the U.K. and quite possibly the next prime minister of the country. That makes it easier to present a choice to voters.
Greenberg thinks the GOP could benefit this fall from an angry electorate voting lawmakers out more than in.
There’s one other lesson Obama could stand to pick up from Brown.
While the narrative for the Obama White House during the last month has been political infighting, the focus of the stories on Brown has been his bullying of staff members.
“It wouldn’t be bad to see a few stories about Barack the bully,” said Begala.
China Pressure intensifies
Democrats are putting heavy pressure on the Obama administration to take tougher action on China’s currency.
Senate Democrats on Tuesday joined forces to introduce legislation that would compel the administration to impose tariffs on China and other countries that manipulate their currencies.
The new bill replaces legislation backed by many of the same sponsors that had given the administration more discretion. Under the new bill, the administration would have to consider a more objective test to determine whether a currency is being manipulated.
Lawmakers are growing increasingly frustrated with China on a host of issues, but the economic relationship remains the source of the most friction. By pegging its currency to the dollar, China lowers the value of its exports and makes U.S. exports to China more expensive.
The new bill serves as a compromise between Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).
Its introduction follows a letter sent Monday by 130 House Democrats that urged Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to find that China manipulates its currency.
Treasury is preparing a semiannual report on currency manipulation that is due on April 15. Lawmakers want Treasury to find that China manipulates its currency, something department officials under Obama and President George W. Bush have refused to do.
The latest moves by Congress have some thinking the mood has changed, and that Treasury is likely to call China a currency manipulator next month.
That will make China very angry.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Sunday said China viewed the pressure other countries are putting on it as motivated by protectionism.
Bunning fights again
Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) hasn’t stopped being a pain for President Barack Obama.
Bunning, who held up an extension of unemployment benefits earlier this month, has a hold on Michael Punke, Obama’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to the World Trade Organization.
That means the U.S. doesn’t have its “best possible … representation” at the international talks, according to Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.). She and other Democrats took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to criticize obstructionist GOP tactics, and the Bunning hold specifically.
Obama has set a goal of doubling U.S. exports in the next 10 years, and Republicans would be glad to help by moving stalled free trade deals with Colombia, South Korea and Panama opposed by many House Democrats.
But in this case, it’s a GOP senator getting in the way. Bunning has a hold on Punke because he’s trying to get the administration to put pressure on Canada to change a smoking law that hurts U.S. producers of burley tobacco.
The law bans flavors in tobaccos and is targeted at cigarettes with candy or chocolate flavorings that are marketed toward children. But it also would prevent cigarettes with burley flavoring from being sold in Canada, which would affect major U.S. brands like Marlboro.
Hagan represents the largest tobacco state and said she understood Bunning’s concerns with the law, but argued the hold is counterproductive.
Swanson is the news editor at The Hill.