It has been a busy news-week for the United States. Jon Huntsman has dropped out of the race and will be backing frontrunner Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination. In Washington, Obama has compounded resistance against him among Republicans by pushing through an increase in the debt ceiling—which Congress has symbolically rejected with a bill that the President can still veto—and refusing to approve the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline. Congress has also been under fire by concerned citizens protesting the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) bill.
GOP Nominations: Huntsman out of the race, Romney’s money trouble
On January 17, former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman declared that he would be leaving the Republican nomination race, and would be supporting Mitt Romney in his bid to become the Republican presidential nominee. In his closing speech, Huntsman took one final jab at his rivals, sharply criticising the race that had ‘degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks.’ Mitt Romney has thanked Huntsman for his support, ignoring his past remarks that Romney’s flip-flopping on key issues make him “unelectable.”
At a news conference, with his wife and children in tow, Huntsman declared that it was time for the Republicans to unite around “the candidate best equipped to defeat Barack Obama.” Despite his strong foreign policy credentials, language skills and business as well as government experience, Huntsman has suffered from fairly low support in the Iowa caucus and consequent primaries. Huntsman’s exit from the race is likely to push his supporters towards Romney, although some may peel off to support Ron Paul instead.
Romney may need the extra support, as he has come under fire after revealing that he pays a tax rate of 15%, well below the average tax rate for most Americans. Rival candidate Newt Gingrich has responded by boasting that he pays a 31% rate. Gingrich has joined the voices pressuring Romney to release his finances, and will be releasing his own documents soon. The Boston Globe claims it has asked Romney for his tax returns on a regular basis for almost two decades, every time Romney has sought office, but the Massachusetts government has always refused, citing privacy reasons.
Romney previously led rival Newt Gingrich by 20 points, but the lead has thinned to 10 points, which has resulted in a new wave of press releases and other moves attacking Gingrich. Romney has also drawn some unwelcome attention because of his religion, and new information that has revealed that he donated a very significant amount of his money as well as his time while at Bain Capital to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Romney has long argued that the Mormon church’s authority “ends where the affairs of the nation begins,” and that he does not define his candidacy by his religion.
Romney still appears to be the popular Republican choice—he is matched with Obama at 45% each in recent polls.
Congress defies President’s new debt ceiling
In a highly symbolic move, the House of Representatives voted to reject President Obama’s request to raise the US debt ceiling by $1.2 trillion dollars to the amount of $16.4 trillion. The House was divided 239-176 in supporting a measure that opposed the increase. One Republican defected from supporting the rejection, while six Democrats defected to reject the increase. The move is practically moot, as Obama will still have the authority to raise the debt limit, so long as the Senate does not reject the measure as well. Even if the Senate refused, both chambers need a two-thirds majority to overcome the presidential veto.
Last Thursday, Obama a submitted the request to Congress to raise the government’s debt ceiling, but it was a formality, as the measure was already agreed upon last August during the tense period that threatened to push the US government into default for the first time in history. Although the president will be able to pass the measure, he has caused tension and resistance against him in Congress in the eve of the general elections.
Various Republicans are already levelling their criticisms against him for raising the debt ceiling further. Republican hopeful Rick Perry, for example, argues that Obama is “mortgaging the future of [American] children with all these spending programs,” and argues that the solution is to cut spending in a mindful manner. Brendan Buck, spokesman for Speaker of the House John Boehner says “the President has consistently punted on the tough choices needed to rein in the deficit and protect important programs.” Democracy Jared Polis of Colorado, however, argues that under the previous House budget plan by the Republicans, the national debt would have risen by more than $5 trillion dollars, and the debt ceiling needs to be raised to pay for a $1 trillion plus spending bill that the Republicans supported last month.
The new debt ceiling is expected to buoy the US until late 2012, and a new rise will not be needed probably until the general elections in November.
In a separate incident, Obama has angered some and drawn cheers from others with the decision to not approve the request for a crude oil pipeline measuring 1,700km long, in the Keystone XL pipeline issue which involves the TransCanada corporation. Environmentalists were fervently opposed to the building of the pipeline, but the energy sector, as well as Republican lawmakers, has decried the decision.
Obama has said that the decision not to approve the pipeline was due to the deadline placed on the process, which has not made it possible to ascertain whether the pipeline will be in the interests of the American people. TransCanada will be allowed to reapply, and has publicly stated that it will do so.
SOPA causes a stir in Congress, worldwide
Wikipedia, Reddit, Google, Wired and Craigslist have limited their services or gone completely dark to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act from being passed in Congress, as well as the equivalent Protect Intellectual Property Act from being approved in the Senate. Widespread awareness across the internet of the measure has driven US citizens to call, e-mail, and otherwise flood the offices of their representatives to protest the bill.
The massive response by American citizens have driven Congressmen and officials in the Senate to reconsider or retract their support for the bill. Republican Jim Matheson of Utah, for example, claims SOPA and PIPA offer the wrong solution to Internet piracy. Key figures that originally backed the measure have also announced they will retract their support for the issue.
Various Senators have called for a delay in bringing PIPA to a vote, which is planned for January 24. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been the most outspoken about bringing the issue to a vote as soon as possible, arguing that it is “too important to delay.” Considering the increasing amount of resistance against both SOPA and PIPA, a delay is likely, if not the eventual death of both bills, in the opinion of many experts.
Interview: http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/on-the-record/2012/01/13/how-perry-presidency-would-handle-national-debt How a Perry presidency would handle the national debt (FOX News’ “On the Record”, 12 January 2012)
Report: Keystone XL Pipeline Seen Moving Ahead on Alternative Route (Bloomberg BusinessWeek, 19 January 2012)
Report: Jon Huntsman's sharp criticisms make for a prickly embrace as he quits presidential bid and endorses Mitt Romney (The Daily Mail, 17 January 2012)
Report: House votes against debt ceiling increase (FOX News, 18 January 2012)
Report: Perry at Squat and Gobble (CNN, 13 January 2012)
Report: Obama asks Congress for debt limit increase (AFP, 13 January 2012)
Report: SOPA protest rattles Congress (Politico, 18 January 2012)
Mitt Romney’s Tax Return Shows He Is a Fat-Cat (Technorati, 18 January 2012)
Report: Momentum shift: SOPA, PIPA opponents now in driver's seat http://news.cnet.com/8301-31001_3-57359306-261/momentum-shift-sopa-pipa-opponents-now-in-drivers-seat/(CNET News, 14 January 2012)
Report: Poll: Obama ties Romney in head-to-head match up (CBS News, 18 January 2012)
Report: Jon Huntsman quits Republican presidential race, endorses Mitt Romney(Washington Post, 15 January 2012)