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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Obama to Make Three-Day Campaign Swing Through Iowa


At a time when he usually races from state to state seeking votes, President Obama has decided to invest much of next week in a single place, Iowa, the one where it all began for him.

Mr. Obama's campaign announced on Tuesday that he would make a three-day bus tour through Iowa, joined in part by his wife, Michelle. Iowa has long held a special place in the Obama creation story as the state whose caucuses propelled him on his way to the Democratic nomination in 2008.

Jen Psaki, a campaign spokeswoman, called it “an opportunity for the president to visit a state where the journey began” and “build enthusiasm” in a key state. “He also loves bus tours because it allows him to spend time with people where they work, where they spend their days and to have conversations about the challenges they are facing,” she said.

This time, Mr. Obama returns as an embattled incumbent trying to hold his own territory. A cumulative average of polls collected by the Web site Real Clear Politics shows that his lead there has slipped to barely 1 percentage point, its lowest since last December and within the margin of error, making it effectively a tie with Mitt Romney. Still, there has been so little recent polling in the state that it is hard to evaluate precisely where the race stands.

Iowa is one of the handful of states considered crucial to putting together the 270 votes in the electoral college needed to win the presidency. With six electoral votes, it is one of eight states rated a tossup by The New York Times, and it is among the states where Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group backed by the Koch brothers, will begin broadcasting ads attacking Mr. Obama this week.

Mr. Obama will arrive in Iowa on Monday and hold campaign events in Council Bluffs and Boone. He will travel to Oskaloosa, Marshalltown and Waterloo on Tuesday and then, j oined by the first lady, to Dubuque and Davenport on Wednesday.

Obama Signs Law Requiring Him to Detail Budget Cuts


President Obama agreed on Tuesday to tell Congress within a month just how he would make nearly $1 trillion in automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect starting at the beginning of 2013.

Mr. Obama signed legislation requiring a detailed contingency report in 30 days for complying with last year's budget control mandates, commonly called sequestration in Washington. Under last year's law, the government must slice $984 billion in spending by 2021 starting on Jan. 2 unless the president and Congress agree on an alternative plan.

The bill signed on Tuesday was promoted by Republicans as a way to build support for heading off deep reductions in military spending by showing just what would be cut. Under last year's Budget Control Act, half of the automatic cuts, or $492 billion, would come from military and other national security spending on top of previous cuts, a looming ax that has stirred increasing agitation amo ng hawks in Washington just as the election campaign heats up.

“The American people deserve to know how their commander in chief intends to implement half a trillion dollars in cuts to our national security, which his own secretary of defense compared to shooting ourselves in the head,” said Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, chairman of the House Republican Conference and co-author of the bill signed on Tuesday.

Mr. Hensarling said House Republicans were committed to finding the full $1 trillion in savings over 10 years but wanted to redistribute them to prevent “a national defense crisis.”

Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said the legislation was necessary because the Obama administration had resisted disclosing its plans for dealing with the automatic cuts.

“The unbalanced defense cuts threaten our nation's ability to defend itself, and the presiden t and Congress must find a smarter, more deliberate way to attain the nearly $500 billion in required defense savings,” said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.

Mr. Obama made no comment on Tuesday about the bill, which he signed in private and announced in a one-sentence statement.

The White House had resisted the legislation, aware that a detailed report could provide fodder for Mr. Obama's Republican critics and potentially so alarm members of both parties that they would try to cancel the automatic cuts without finding a replacement plan to reduce the deficit. The automatic cuts were set up last year to be so draconian that they would serve as an incentive for the two sides to come together to produce a bipartisan fiscal plan. So far, that has not happened.

Mr. Obama has said that one way the Republicans can avoid such deep defense cuts would be to let Bush-era tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans. “Those big across-the-board cuts, including defense, that Congress said would occur next year if they couldn't reach a deal to reduce the deficit?” he said in a recent speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “Let's understand, first of all, there's no reason that should happen, because people in Congress ought to be able to come together and agree on a plan, a balanced approach that reduces the deficit and keeps our military strong. It should be done.”

TimesCast Politics: A New Republican Charge on Welfare Change

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

George Romney\'s Extra, Extra-Value Meals


On the campaign trail, Mitt Romney rarely tells detailed personal stories from his life, an omission that has left some voters grasping for a flesh-and-blood narrative to latch onto.

But during a fund-raiser in Chicago on Tuesday, he shared a vivid memory of his father, George, an auto executive, the former governor Michigan and a towering figure in Mr. Romney's life.

The memory - a tale of food, frugality and fatherhood - appeared to be elicited by a member of the audience, who had worked for McDonald's for 27 years, many of them with the chain's founder, Ray Kroc.

“You know how boys liked to go through their dad's top drawer, just to sort of see what he has in there, maybe find an old coin he might not miss?” Mr. Romney asked the audience.

Mr. Romney recalled doing just that: rummaging through his father's drawer one day when he was in his teens or early 20s.

“I found a little paper card, a little pink card, and it said this entitles George W. Romney to a lifetime of a hamburger, a shake and French fries at McDonald's,” Mr. Romney said. “It was signed by the hand of Ray Kroc.”

The card, Mr. Romney said, was a way of thanking the elder Mr. Romney for leading a training exercise at McDonald's when the chain was “just a handful of restaurants.”

Mr. Romney said that when “I saw this thing and was like, ‘This is a gold mine, Dad!' ”

“So I had it laminated,” Mr. Romney said. “My dad, as you know, would go almost every day to a McDonald's restaurant and get either a hamburger or a fish filet sandwich. And he would present this little card, and of course, the person behind the counter would look and say, ‘Well, what is that?' They'd never seen something like that, but he said it was never turned down.

“They always honored it,” Mr. Romney said.

What Influences Consumers to Buy or Rent Their Homes


Even the most dramatic housing crisis since the Great Depression wasn't enough to dampen Americans' desire to own their homes.

A recent study by Fannie Mae came to that conclusion and attempted to answer some major questions: What influences consumers' current home ownership status? What would motivate us to buy versus rent in the future? And are we influenced by unconscious biases that lead us to make less than ideal choices, such as buying too much house, or others that might prevent a well-qualified renter from buying at all?

Naturally, Fannie Mae - the government-owned housing agency - has a reason for investigating: the answers to these questions have vast implications for housing policy makers and industry players. And the survey found that home ownership still appeals to the vast majority of Americans: 85 percent said owning makes more sense than renting over the long term, and 64 percent of those polled s aid that they would buy a home if they were going to move.

The survey, which analyzed Fannie's monthly housing survey data for all of 2011, looked at three different groups of consumers: renters, homeowners with a mortgage, and those who own their homes outright. (The Fannie Mae National Housing Survey polls 1,000 adults each month across the U.S. with more than 100 questions about the economy, household finances and owning and renting; this study's full-year data includes information from more than 12,000 people.)

Researchers found that demographics - including income, age, marital status and employment status - are the primary drivers behind individuals' current home ownership status, as well as what influences outright homeowners' future intentions to own or rent. And perhaps not surprisingly (particularly when mortgage underwriting is tighter) homeowners with mortgages are more likely to be middle-aged, married and employed full-t ime with higher incomes, whereas the converse is true for renters. Outright owners tended to be older, more likely to be retired, widowed and past their peak earnings years, the study said.

But renters' and people with mortgages' “intentions” to buy or rent as their next move are largely driven by their financial and housing attitudes, the study said. The most influential belief was whether they thought “owning or renting makes sense financially over the long term,” which influenced all three groups, and especially renters. The perceived ease or difficulty of getting a mortgage influenced the intention of homeowners with mortgages, the study said, but isn't as big a factor for renters.

Meanwhile, the study results also found that once consumers buy a home, get a mortgage and have a positive experience owning, they want to continue to own. But concerns about affordability â€" both for the home purchase itself and upkeep â€" is a major factor that discourag es renters from taking the plunge.

“For renters and mortgage-owners, aspirations for and belief in home ownership play a major role in decision-making, possibly forming a ‘home ownership optimism' in determining whether they expect to own or rent in the future,” the study said.

“It is possible that many of these drivers, especially the attitudinal ones, act as automatic or unconscious biases that lead consumers to less fulfilling and less successful housing choices,” the researchers said, adding that further research is necessary.

The researchers also found that exposure to default, perceived appreciation or depreciation in home value, and self-reported underwater status only had a minimal effect on predicting whether a consumer intended to buy or rent for their next move.

What influenced your decision to buy or rent? Are you satisfied with your decision? And has the housing crisis altered your views on home ownership?

Returning to Campaign Trail, Romney Presses Welfare Attack


ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Ill. - Mitt Romney returned to the campaign trail on Tuesday to press a theme that his campaign had hit earlier in the day with a new advertisement, accusing President Obama of gutting the work requirement at the heart of the federal welfare program, a message designed to peel away middle-class votes from the president.

“I hope you understand,'' Mr. Romney said at a factory here, “President Obama in this last few days has tried to reverse that accomplishment by taking the work requirement out of welfare. That is wrong. If I'm president I'll put work back in welfare.''

Mr. Romney seized on a previously little-noticed memorandum issued by the Obama administration last month, which Republicans say does an end run around a bipartisan welfare overhaul passed under President Bill Clinton in 1996 that was widely credited with reducing dependency.

The Obama campaign and Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, which issued the directive, said Republicans were engaging in distortions. The administration order allows states to seek waivers from parts of the work requirements for “experimental, pilot or demonstration projects.” The department said a number of states, including two with Republican governors, Utah and Nevada, had requested the waivers.

The obscure issue - a rare venture by Mr. Romney into social policies other than health care - shows how he and the president are in a tough fight for middle- and working-class voters, with whom this issue may resonate. Mr. Obama has said that Mr. Romney's tax proposals would unfairly burden the middle class, and at a fund-raiser on Monday, he called the proposals “Romneyhood,” suggesting that they took from the poor and gave to the rich.

The new line of attack comes as Mr. Romney prepares for a bus tour of swing states beginning Saturday i n which he will highlight “the Romney plan for a stronger middle class.''

In seizing on welfare, a theme that aides said Mr. Romney would continue to amplify in the coming days, the candidate invoked Mr. Clinton as a bipartisan figure in an implicit contrast with Mr. Obama, whom Republicans portray as overly liberal.

Mr. Romney also seemed to aim at white blue-collar voters by criticizing welfare without work as an invitation to government dependency and irresponsibility.

“There is nothing better than a good job to help lift a family, help people to provide for themselves and to end this incredible culture of dependency,'' Mr. Romney said here. “We must include more work in welfare.''

The federal welfare program created in 1996, known as Temporary Aid to Needy Families, put a limit on how long families could receive benefits and required recipients to work or prepare for work. The money is distributed by states, whose feet were held to the fire by Washington in order to receive the financing.

An outcry about the administration directive, issued on July 13, was first raised by conservatives, including Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, who wrote that the changes would “bludgeon the letter and intent” of the law.

But in a letter last month to Representative Dave Camp, Republican of Michigan, Ms. Sebelius denied that the directive would water down work requirements. To qualify for a waiver, a state's governor must guarantee to “move at least 20 percent more people from welfare to work compared to the state's past performance,'' she wrote.

Mr. Romney referred to his experience as Massachusetts governor here, saying he fought “time and time again” against the Democratic legislature, which sought to weaken work requirements for welfare recipients.

But Mr. Romney also was among 29 Republican governors who sought in 2005 to receive waivers for their welfare programs. Ms. Sebelius wr ote that some of their requests were “very far-reaching and would not be approved under the department's proposed waivers” issued last month.

Congressional Primaries in Missouri and Michigan Among Those to Watch


Nope, sorry. The Congressional primaries are not over yet.

On Tuesday, voters in Missouri, Michigan, Washington and Kansas will pick their candidates for the House and the Senate. Among the other results pending, Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, will learn at last which of three Republicans she will face in November in what is likely to be one of the most expensive and brutal fights in the country.

The three-way fight to replace Ms. McCaskill, who is perhaps the most endangered Senate Democrat and one Republicans must defeat if they are to retake that chamber, has been a high-profile one.

Ms. McCaskill and her Democratic allies are clearly hoping to face Representative Todd Akin, and have spent almost $2 million in the G.O.P. primary in a tacit effort to bolster his candidacy. Mr. Akin's cheerful, feel-good campaign with religious overtones could help him with his voter base, but may cost hi m among those who are spoiling for a brass-knuckle fight against an incumbent known for pushing back.

As a member who has supported earmarks in the past, Mr. Akin would also be easier to target in a general election, while John Brunner, a manufacturing company owner who is self-funded, would make things more difficult for Democrats, and as such is the preferred candidate among many Republicans. Also running is a former state treasurer, Sarah Steelman, who has the imprimatur of Sarah Palin, whose endorsement record has been strong in Republican primaries this year.

No matter whom Ms. McCaskill faces, she is certain to continue being pelted with negative advertisements paid for by outside groups determined to send her packing.

Missouri also plays host to a member-on-member House primary, and as is often the case in such races, it hasn't been pretty. The race to represent the First Congressional District pits two members of the state's political dynasties in a battle that has included tricky racial politics.

Representative Russ Carnahan â€" son of the late governor Mel Carnahan - lost his district in the decennial redistricting process and was drawn with Representative Lacy Clay in a St. Louis-area district that is a majority-minority district. The matchup occurred through a series of legislative and legal maneuvers, and Mr. Carnahan blamed Mr. Clay for helping Republicans mastermind their contest. He has also dinged Mr. Clay for missing some key House votes.

Mr. Clay, the son of Bill Clay, his state's first black congressman and founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, has pointed out that Mr. Carnahan â€" who has had to fight off tough challengers in all five of his races - has gone negative at the tail end of the campaign. Mr. Clay was first elected in 2000. With 70 percent of the new district containing his constituents, it seems like an uphill battle for Mr. Carnahan.

With accusations flying lef t and right about who has undermined whom, this primary starkly illustrates how a member-versus-member fight can turn regional and ideological allies into nasty foes.

Over to Michigan, where former Representative Pete Hoekstra seems positioned to beat back Clark Durant, a lawyer, for the privilege of taking on Senator Debbie Stabenow, the Democratic incumbent. Mr. Durant has picked up a lot of Tea Party support in recent weeks, but it does not seem likely to help him in a fairly moderate state where Mr. Hoekstra is well known and polling well above his opponent.

Should he prevail Tuesday night, Mr. Hoekstra may find his troubles have just begun. While Ms. Stabenow has struggled with seesawing job performance numbers over the last year, she returned to Michigan last week having beaten back House Republicans in their effort to undermine a recent farm bill that as chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee she ushered through a reluctant Senate.

The final outcome of that battle is far from over â€" House Republicans passed a short-term drought measure that she declined to consider in favor of a long-term bill that helps more producers than the House bill â€" but she looks to be a fighter, and for now, a strong one. Mr. Hoekstra's fortunes seem tied to those of Mitt Romney.

Michigan Democrats also have a member-on-member House primary, which pits Representative Gary Peters against freshman Representative Hansen Clarke for control of Michigan's 14th District. Two black candidates have shaved off some of the support for Mr. Clarke, who had a black mother and father from Bangladesh, while Mr. Peters, who is white, enjoys labor support and a nod from voters in the upscale Oakland County portion of the district.

In one of the oddest contests this summer, former Representative Thaddeus McCotter's failure to qualify for the ballot in the 11th Congressional District, followed by his surprise resignation, left Republicans in a bit of a quandary.

Now, the Republican candidate on the ballot is one Kerry Bentivolio, a libertarian-leaning reindeer farmer and Santa impersonator who just months ago was written off as a gadfly of little electoral consequence.

Republicans are scrambling to put together a write-in campaign for Nancy Cassis, a former Michigan state senator. While both candidates are largely self-funded, Mr. Bentivolio recently received a large donation from Liberty for All, a new “super PAC” financed almost entirely by one college student's inheritance from his grandfather.

Not to be outdone in the 11th District, which covers Detroit's western suburbs, Democrats are stuck with Syed Taj, the chief of Oakwood Hospital, and Lyndon LaRouche-backed Bill Roberts, neither of whom has much name recognition in the district. This seat leans Republican, no matter the outcome of either primary, but the race is starting to have an anything-goes flavor from the jump.

For about 10 minutes, Representative John Conyers looked to have a challenge as he sought his 25th term in the House from four Democratic comers in a new Michigan district that includes portions of Detroit and chunks of neighboring suburbs. But recent polls suggest Mr. Conyers will pull it out.

In Washington State, Democrats are fighting it out for a safe seat in the First District made open by the retirement of Representative Jay Inslee, who resigned to run for governor. In this blanket primary, Snohomish County Councilman John Koster, the only Republican in the race, is facing Darcy Burner, a prior candidate; Suzan DelBene, a former Microsoft executive; and Laura Ruderman, a former state lawmaker, among others.

In Kansas, the focus is more at the state level, specifically the fight to determine which Republicans â€" the more conservative or the more moderate â€" will take control of that state's Senate.

Rafalca Does Not Advance in Olympic Dressage


LONDON - As he rode into the ring on his horse, Rafalca, the equestrian Jan Ebeling blew a kiss to a few women in the stands he calls the three amigos: his wife, Amy Ebeling; Beth Meyer; and Ann Romney, whose husband, Mitt, is the presumptive presidential candidate for the Republican Party.

They share ownership of Rafalca, a 15-year-old mare, and they were on hand at Greenwich Park on Tuesday morning to see what would be Ebeling and Rafalca's last ride at the London Games.

“I'm really happy with her piaffes,” Ebeling said about Rafalca's moves in the ring after their turn in the Grand Prix Special portion of the dressage finals.

Ebeling and Rafalca received an individual score of 69.302, not enough to advance to the Grand Prix Freestyle on Thursday. By about 4:30 p.m. local time Tuesday, Ebeling and his “three amigos” will know whether they have won a team medal.

Read the complete article here.

Economix: Romney\'s Job Growth Promises


Last week, Mitt Romney declared that if his new, one-page economic policy plan were implemented, the country would add “12 million new jobs by the end of [his] first term.”

Now, usually politicians (Barack Obama included) get hammered for overstating how much the economy will improve under their watch. But by at least some forecasts, Mr. Romney's promises may actually be a little underambitious, in that his promised job growth is pretty close to what's already expected.

In its semi-annual long-term economic forecast released in April, Macroeconomic Advisers projected that the economy would add 11.8 million jobs from 2012 to 2016. That means Mr. Romney believes his newly announced policies would add an extra 200,000 jobs on top of what people already expected, or a jobs bonus of about 2 percent. The more jobs the better, of course, but that's not really much to write home about.

Moody's Analytics, anothe r forecasting firm, projects similar job growth:

Payroll Employment Change
Millions of Jobs
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Moody's Analytics


In an e-mail Monday, Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody's Analytics, emphasized that he actually expects the economy to remain on about the same path regardless of who is elected:

The forecast is agnostic with regard to who is elected in November.  The key assumption is that whoever wins they will reasonably gracefully address the fiscal cliff, increase the Treasury debt ceiling without major incident, and achieve something close to fiscal sustainability.

My view, is that the economy's fundamentals are much improved, as households deleverage, the financial system re-capitalizes, and American businesses become global competitive.  Moreover, the construction cycle is on the verge of turning up significantly, which by itself will create a boat load of jobs, particularly in 2014-15.  If policymakers can get it roughly right soon after election, all of this will shine through quickly.

Not everyone is so upbeat.

Jan Hatzius, the chief economist at Goldman Sachs, told me that he has not developed explicit forecasts that go through the end of 2016, but he says he expected an average job growth of just under 150,000 a month from now through the end of 2013.

Given those expectations for the start of the next presidential term, he said that Mr. Romney's promise of job growth averaging 250,000 a month over the next four years “would be quite a good outcome.”

Additionally, the Congressional Budget Office's latest long-term economic forecast, released in January, showed that employment would grow by just 10 million from the first quarter of 2013 to the first quarter of 2017, the dates of the next presidential term. (Two asides: The numbers are the same if you use the last quarter of 2012 through the last quarter of 2016. Additionally, note that the C.B.O.'s forecast refers to the number of workers employed, as opposed to the n umber of payroll jobs in existence, which was the metric in the other forecasts cited.)

That C.B.O. forecast implies that Mr. Romney would be promising an extra 2 million jobs, or a 20 percent bonus from what's already expected. Pretty impressive.

By law, though, the Congressional Budget Office must base its projections on the laws that are on the books rather than on what Congress is expected to do. That means that the office's forecast assumes the “fiscal cliff” - with its sharp tax increases and deep spending cuts - materializes at the end of this year. Most economists do not believe Congress will allow this to happen.

Needless to say, the C.B.O.'s jobs numbers would probably look stronger if they likewise assumed Congress does not allow the country to go over the cliff. In that case, Mr. Romney's job growth premium would be at least somewhat less impressive.

So what to make of all these figures?

First, as you can probably tell from both these forecasts and the events of the last decade, there is a huge margin of error when it comes to predicting economic trends for the next week, let alone the next four years. So it's very hard to judge whether a promised gain of 12 million jobs under Mr. Romney's policy overhaul significantly deviates from what would happen without the overhaul.

Perhaps the more important corollary, though, is that there's a huge margin of error in what Mr. Romney is promising, too. And that's true for just about any economic forecast you hear from any politician (or pundit or journalist for that matter).

Politicians throw out lots of different numbers for what the economy will do under the assumption that their exact agenda is passed, which is a pretty unrealistic assumption in the first place. Even if their policies do sail through the sausage factory that is Washington unscathed, there's no telling what effect they'll have when they move out of the world of bullet points and into the actual economy. So take any forecasts you hear from either presidential campaign with a boulder-size grain of salt.

Obama Wraps Himself in Olympic Glory


WASHINGTON - One of the two major candidates for president actually ran an Olympics, made a point of visiting this year's Games in London and has a wife with a personal stake in one of the events.

And yet the candidate who cannot stop talking about the gymnasts, swimmers and soccer players on the campaign trail nearly everywhere he goes these days is the one who by his own admission “can barely do a somersault.”

From Ohio to Florida to Virginia, President Obama has been wrapping himself in Olympic glory, giving shout-outs to the winners and slipping in that he just happened to call some of them personally to congratulate them on their medals. A little Olympic name-dropping never hurt a candidate, particularly when it allows you lead a crowd in chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A.” And one of the perks of being president is being the country's official cheerleader in chief every four years.

“Obviously, I know that all of you have been spending most of this week rooting for our unbelievable athletes in London,” Mr. Obama told a crowd of supporters in Stamford, Conn., on Monday night. “On the flight over here, I've got to admit I was spending most of my time watching U.S. women's soccer. They won, by the way, 4 to 3.”

He went on to extract political meaning from the game.

“It's just an extraordinary reminder of the fact that even when we've got political differences, when it comes to our love of this country and the incredible people who represent us, we are unified,” he said. “And it's a very gratifying feeling during the course of a political season, where sometimes the fact that we are unified around so many important things gets hidden.”

That may be a presidential thing to say but it is also carefully considered politics. One of the consistent attack lines against Mr. Obama has been that he is somehow not American enough, fr om the extreme conspiracy theories about his birth to the more conventional Republican criticism about his policies and supposed lack of faith in his country. His Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, who ran the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, titled his book “No Apology” to present Mr. Obama as someone who thinks the United States is just another nation like France or Greece.

Sensitive to the accusation, Mr. Obama this year has tried to compete in the chest-thumping over American exceptionalism. In his State of the Union address, he declared that “America is back” and said, “Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned doesn't know what they're talking about.”

Mr. Obama has reprised versions of that line in campaign speeches ever since, trying a form of political jujitsu by turning the Republicans' argument against them, painting their criticism of his policies as if they were defeatists t alking down America. While he does not claim that it is morning in America, he has tried to channel Ronald Reagan's famous optimism about America's future.

It is in that context that Mr. Obama has been associating himself with the likes of Michael Phelps and his colleagues. In Mansfield, Ohio, last week, the president highlighted two athletes from that state, Abby Johnston, the diver, and Justin Lester, the wrestler. In Leesburg, Va., the next day, he made sure to hail “Virginia's own Gabby Douglas” before leading the crowd in the familiar “U-S-A” chants.

Mr. Obama also uses the moments to humanize himself, declaring with a sense of wonder in his voice that there is no way he could do the things the young athletes do. “I couldn't walk across that balance beam,” much less jump and flip, he said in Ohio. “I can barely do a somersault,” he said in Virginia. “Unbelievable.”

As it happens, Mr. Romney personally went to this year's Games in Lo ndon and his wife's horse competed again on Tuesday at the Olympic team equestrian dressage competition. But the visit was marred when he raised questions about whether London was ready for the Olympics, drawing a rebuke from Prime Minister David Cameron and overshadowing Mr. Romney's own longstanding love for the Games.

Asked about it afterward, Mr. Romney made sure to praise this year's events. “I was there for two days; the Games were carried out without a hitch so far as I'm able to tell,” he told ABC News. “Despite the challenges that any organizing committee faces, they were able to organize games that had been so far so good, picture perfect.”

Since returning to the United States, though, he has not said much about the Olympics at his campaign events.

Still, the Olympics proves to be one area where Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney do agree. Last week, a Romney spokesman said the candidate favors exempting Olympians from paying taxes on the value of t heir medals, as proposed in a bill introduced by Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican.

On Monday, an Obama spokesman said the president would sign the bill if it makes it to his desk.

That, at least, would be easier to do than a somersault.

Americans for Prosperity Begins $25 Million Anti-Obama Ad Campaign


ORLANDO, Fla. - Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party organization backed by the Koch brothers, is set to begin a $25 million advertising assault aimed at President Obama, its largest effort to date.

The group said that the first of several ads would begin appearing on Wednesday in 11 battleground states, including here in Florida. The campaign will last for three weeks - extending through Labor Day weekend - and includes Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The first ad, titled “President Obama: A One-Term Proposition,” hits the president over the rising national debt - an issue that conservative political groups like Americans for Prosperity and American Crossroads, which is run with the help of Karl Rove, believe is particularly powerful with swing voters in this election.

The commercial focuses on an excerpt from an interview Mr. Obama gave to NBC News at the beginning of his term in which he pledged to cut the debt. It was during that interview that he uttered the phrase that his rivals now regularly use against him: “I will be held accountable.”

The Obama administration has faulted the Republicans as failing to reach a budget deal to help close the deficit, saying the party's opposition to raising revenues through higher taxes and by closing loopholes is the main reason more progress has not been made on this front. Democrats also note that when President Obama came into office, he inherited a growing budget deficit from President Bush.

The ad takes a relatively straightforward approach, avoiding hyperbole or over-the-top negativity. An image of the national debt clock appears on screen for much of the ad, ticking ever higher. It ends with Mr. Obama's words, “If I don't have this done in three years, then there's going to be a one-term proposition.”

The ad goes a step further than Americans for Prosperity's previous knocks against the president. Those ads focused on specific policies of the Obama administration like energy, an important distinction under campaign finance rules. This new ad campaign will take aim directly at the president, forgoing the issue ad approach but perhaps opening the group up to greater scrutiny.

This campaign is the first time the group has expressly advocated for Mr. Obama's defeat in an ad. “We don't take this lightly,” said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity. “We've always stayed away from express advocacy. But given the president's disastrous record, we felt this was necessary.”

Subsequent ads in this campaign will feature the personal stories of Americans who have been hit hard by the economic collapse, Mr. Phillips added.

The Agenda: How to Parse Climate Change and Extreme Weather?


James E. Hansen, the irrepressible NASA scientist who was among the first to sound the alarm about human-caused global warming, has roiled the scientific community again with a new scientific paper explicitly linking high concentrations of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases to recent severe heat waves and drought.

My colleague Justin Gillis has a detailed article in Tuesday's Times on the study and the initial reaction to it.

In the paper, published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Hansen and two co-authors say that human activities â€" chiefly the burning of fossil fuels â€" have “loaded the dice,” making extreme weather events more frequent. They go further and say that the drought in the United States and the deadly heat wave in Russia, among other recent weather extremes, were direct consequences of this phenomenon.

While the vast majority of climatologist s believe that higher concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases make harsh weather more likely, most have so far been reluctant to attribute specific weather events to higher greenhouse gas levels.

This is a question that has vexed scientists and perplexed the public for years. Was global warming responsible for Hurricane Katrina and other powerful storms? Has the burning of coal and oil caused the historic heat waves that large parts of the United States are now suffering? How much of the weird weather so much of the world is now experiencing can be attributed to global warming, and how much to the natural variability of climate?

These are questions that have not only scientific implications but political consequences as well. If one believes â€" as President Obama does â€" that human activities are contributing to climate change, then it follows that people have an obligation to take steps to slow emissions a nd mitigate the impact. If one believes â€" as Mitt Romney now appears to â€" that recent weather phenomena are merely cyclical events, then an aggressive government response seems like a costly and ineffective solution.

These are core political questions that the candidates and the electorate will face this fall, even though so far we have not yet heard a vigorous public debate on them. The Times hopes to kick-start that discussion through its Agenda project.

Here and here are links to more detail from the Hansen study, with some fascinating visualizations of the spreading heat.

New Romney Ad Attacks Obama on Welfare Waivers


Seven years ago, Mitt Romney joined other governors to urge the federal government to grant “increased waiver authority” to states to experiment with implementation of the federal welfare-to-work program.

But as he runs for president, Mr. Romney and his Republican allies are now accusing President Obama of “gutting” the welfare program by saying it will consider waivers to states.

On Tuesday, Mr. Romney elevated that argument to a new level, releasing a new attack ad accusing Mr. Obama of quietly announcing “a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements.”

“Under Obama's plan, you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check,” the ad says.

Mr. Romney's campaign bases that accusation on concerns expressed by conservatives who say they fear new waivers for states could be used to undermine the fe deral rules that were overhauled in 1996 to require welfare recipients to work or receive training.

An assessment of Mr. Obama's waiver change by the Heritage Foundation describes it as a “trick to get around work requirements.”

“The new welfare dictate issued by the Obama administration clearly guts the law,” the Heritage Foundation concluded. “The administration tramples on the actual legislation passed by Congress and seeks to impose its own policy choices - a pattern that has become all too common in this administration.”

In a memorandum released Tuesday, Lanhee Chen, Mr. Romney's policy director, writes that Mr. Obama's willingness to grant waivers to states reflects a desire to do away with work requirements that were central to the reforms of the mid-1990s.

“This policy change undermines the very premise of welfare reform,” Mr. Chen writes. “It is an insult to Americans on welfare who are looking for an opportunity to build be tter lives for themselves. And it is a kick in the gut to the millions of hard-working middle-class taxpayers struggling in today's economy.”

The president's campaign calls those accusations absurd, noting that the recent requests for waivers came from five states, including two - Utah and Nevada - which are governed by Republicans.

A defense of the president's action on his campaign Web site notes that “states say that their caseworkers spend more time completing paperwork than helping people get work.” The waivers are aimed at giving states flexibility to address that problem, Mr. Obama's campaign says.

“Waivers that weaken or undercut welfare reform will not be approved,” the campaign writes. “Waivers will not be granted to avoid time limits on when assistance may be provided. The only waivers that will be granted will test approaches that can do a better job at promoting work among families receiving assistance.”

The president's camp aign notes the letter that Mr. Romney and more than a dozen other governors wrote in 2005, seeking more flexibility.

“By joining some in his party to falsely criticize a policy that empowers states to implement welfare reform, Romney has made it clear that he is far more interested in another political attack against the president than he is in actually finding solutions,” Mr. Obama's campaign writes.

Follow Michael D. Shear on Twitter at @shearm.

Republicans Focus Attacks on Obama\'s Advisers


As election day draws closer, Republicans have stepped up their attacks - not just on President Obama, but also on his top aides.

For weeks now, senior advisers to Mr. Obama have been fending off a variety of charges that have called into question their official activities while serving in the White House for the president.

Most of the attacks have involved Solyndra, the California solar energy company that received federal government loan guarantees but went bankrupt as its business failed to materialize. Those have been fueled by once-secret e-mails unearthed by Republicans on Capitol Hill.

But the Republican allies of Mitt Romney have also seized on news reports to criticize Mr. Obama's senior advisers for myriad other alleged transgressions, highlighting the president's own insistence at the start of his term that his administration would maintain the highest ethical standards.

On Monday, the White H ouse once again found itself on the defensive, this time over a report by The Washington Post that David Plouffe, a senior adviser in the White House and Mr. Obama's 2008 campaign manager, had received a $100,000 speaking fee from a company that has done business with Iran.

“David Plouffe was invited to speak in Africa by an affiliate company of the company you mentioned in the spring of 2010,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary told reporters Monday. “He gave two speeches on mobile technology and digital communications, and had no separate meetings with the company's leadership.”

Mr. Carney quickly pointed to similar speeches by members of the Bush White House.

“I don't recall similar criticism from the R.N.C. when senior members of the George W. Bush administration, prior to taking office, had given paid speeches to companies that, in the case of Credit Suisse and UVS, were cited for violations regarding f inancing in Iran,” Mr. Carney noted.

That argument - that the current White House has not done anything that prior administrations have not - has drawn criticism from some watchdog groups (and from Mr. Obama's partisan critics) who point out the administration's early claims to be hewing to a higher standard.

None of the attacks have so far produced the kind of legal jeopardy for any of Mr. Obama's aides that bogged down some of Mr. Bush's aides in the previous administration. Karl Rove wrote in his book about the heavy burden of the investigations that he faced while working in the White House.

(The exception for Mr. Obama's team is Eric H. Holder Jr., the attorney general, who has been found in contempt by the House over his refusal to hand over documents related to a gunrunning investigation.)

Attacks on presidential aides are something of a tradition in Washington, usually led by the Hill leadership of the out-of-power party. Democrats assailed President Bush's advisers much the way Republicans did President Bill Clinton's.

But the intensity of the attacks ratchets up during presidential campaigns. In recent weeks, the Republican National Committee has regularly blasted out e-mails to reporters about the president's staff, urging reporters to write stories.

The committee sent out releases on Tuesday declaring “Iran Connections Known Before Plouffe Speech” in which Reince Priebus, the committee chairman, said that “David Plouffe may be the biggest loophole in the international community's sanctions against Iran.”

And on Tuesday, Republicans will hold a conference call to push the concerns about the solar energy company, Solyndra, part of the broad effort to distract the president's top advisers even as they enter the final stretch of the president's re-election campaign.

Here are some of the top Republican targets:

David Plouffe: As the man credited most with engineering Mr. Oba ma's 2008 victory over Senator John McCain of Arizona, Mr. Plouffe has a big, political target on his back. The story in The Post on Monday provided a perfect opportunity for Republicans.

After spending the first two years of Mr. Obama's administration giving speeches and writing a book, Mr. Plouffe joined the White House staff; he is now the chief political voice inside the West Wing.

Republicans would like nothing more than to take Mr. Plouffe down a peg or two. It is not clear that Mr. Plouffe's speech violated any rules, much less any laws. But coming just weeks before rejoining the White House, it provides fodder for the Republican attacks.

Jim Messina: A senior adviser and deputy chief of staff in the White House, Mr. Messina essentially swapped places with Mr. Plouffe two years ago when he left to become the campaign manager for Mr. Obama's re-election campaign.

Republicans in the House last week released a report detailing e-mail exchanges bet ween the White House and outside groups during the health care debate in 2009 and 2010. Among them, e-mails that Mr. Messina sent from his personal account - not his official White House one.

That prompted Republicans to cry foul, alleging that Mr. Messina might have done so to avoid rules that require all official communication to be preserved and archived. (The White House said those e-mails would be copied into the record.)

Of course, the Republicans do not bring up the millions of White House e-mails that went missing during the 2007 Democratic inquiry of United States attorney firings during Mr. Bush's administration. Or the removal of computer hard drives from Mr. Romney's governor's office at the end of his term in Massachusetts.

Bill Daley: E-mails are also central to the Republican criticism of Mr. Daley, who served as Mr. Obama's chief of staff for a year. Another Republican committee digging through the Solyndra issue found one that hinted at Mr. Daley's knowledge of the company's shaky finances.

“The issue was discussed with the N.E.C. and the chief of staff,” the e-mail - released to reporters - said.

It is unclear exactly what that e-mail meant, or how much Mr. Daley might have known about Solyndra. But that has not stopped Republicans from highlighting it. A news release from the Republican National Committee flatly stated that “Bill Daley knew” about the government's reservations about Solyndra.

Other Staffers: Republicans appear to view Solyndra as the key to accusing many other top White House staffers of misdeeds. Republican news releases have accused Rahm Emanuel, the former chief of staff, Jacob Lew, the current chief of staff, and Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser and close friend of Mr. Obama, of knowing more than they have acknowledged.

The idea behind the attacks? Use the questions about Solyndra and the other issues to broadly indict Mr. Obama's White House on the groun ds that it is no more transparent or ethical than prior administrations.

Will it work?

Mr. Obama's team has been through rough-and-tumble campaigns before. It is unlikely to wilt in the face of some accusations. But in a race as close as this one might be, anything that diverts attention onto a staffer is probably not welcome.

Follow Michael D. Shear on Twitter at @shearm.

Tuesday Reading: Paid Sick Leave May Reduce Worker Injuries


A variety of consumer-focused articles appears daily in The New York Times and on our blogs. Each weekday morning, we gather them together here so you can quickly scan the news that could hit you in your wallet.

The Early Word: Bull\'s-Eye


Today's Times

  • Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee raised $25 million more in July than President Obama and the Democrats, Nicholas Confessore and Michael D. Shear report. Mr. Obama's team appears to have all but conceded the money race, as Mr. Romney is on a pace to meet the $800 million target his campaign set in April.
  • The White House defended President Obama's senior adviser on Monday for taking $100,000 in speaking fees before joining the government from a subsidiary of a company working with the Iranian government, Peter Baker reports. The six-figure payment to the adviser, David Plouffe, was seized on by Republicans who have attacked Mr. Obama for not being tough enough in pressing Iran to abandon its nuclear program, but Mr. Plouffe's allies pointed to various examples of Republicans who gave speeches for companies with business in Iran before going to work for President George W. B ush.
  • While Mitt Romney enjoyed his “down” days from the campaign trail, there were still plenty of tea leaves for reporters to sift and interpret, Trip Gabriel writes. His every arrival and departure is being tracked by a press pool, similar to how the president's movements are covered, as they sit on edge awaiting the announcement of his vice-presidential choice.

Around the Web

  • A group of 10 Senate Republicans sent a letter to the Internal Revenue Service on Monday, encouraging them not to make any changes to rules that have allowed many Tea Party groups to avoid paying taxes, Politico reports.
  • The White House said that President Obama would sign the bill proposed by Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, exempting Olympic medal winners from paying taxes on the money they have earned competing in the games, Politico reports.
  • Comedian Rob Delaney â€" “Mitt Romney's Twitter nemesis” â€" has caught the attention of the Obama campaign, which asked Mr. Delaney to support his re-election efforts, Bloomberg Businessweek reports.
  • Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was attacked by a swarm of bees at an airport in Malawi on Monday, The Hill writes.

Happenings in Washington

  • The Federal Reserve Board will host a town hall meeting with Ben S. Bernanke for “Conversations with the Chairman.”

Celebrities Turn Out for Obama Fund-Raising Event


President Obama finished an evening of fund-raising at a star-studded event at the Connecticut home of the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein on Monday night, and even offered his personal review of the latest Batman movie.

Mr. Obama, who has made Mitt Romney's wealth a signature issue during this campaign season, had no problem hobnobbing with wealthy New York and Hollywood figures who joined him in the spacious house in Westport complete with swimming pool and badminton court within sight of Long Island Sound.

Two gold Oscar statues sat on shelves as Mr. Obama addressed 60 donors who forked over $35,800 each for the privilege. Among the guests were Anne Hathaway, who played Catwoman in “The Dark Knight Rises,” the new Batman film; Jerry Springer, the talk show host; Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue magazine; Joanne Woodward, the actress and widow of Paul Newman; Aaron Sorkin, creator of television shows like “The Newsroom ” and “The West Wing”; and Gov. Daniel P. Malloy of Connecticut.

Mr. Obama made sure to single out Ms. Hathaway, who was wearing “a silver dress with puffed sleeves gathered from the elbow to the shoulder, and a tight bodice,” according to a pool report by Dave Boyer of The Washington Times. “She's spectacular,” Mr. Obama said. “And I did get a chance to see Batman. And she was the best thing in it. That's just my personal opinion.”

Mr. Obama also mentioned Mr. Sorkin, “who writes the way every Democrat in Washington wished they spoke.” And he paid tribute to Ms. Woodward. “Joanne and Paul were not only I think what was best about American film but also just embodied the American spirit in so many ways,” he said.

Mr .Weinstein, who hosted the event along with his wife, the fashion designer, Georgia Chapman, cast Mr. Obama as the leading man. “You can make the case that he's the Paul Newman of A merican presidents,” Mr. Weinstein said.

Presumably, he didn't mean Mr. Newman as Butch Cassidy, who didn't do so well in his last election.

Obama Tells a Tale of \'Romney Hood\'


President Obama has been looking for new ways to keep pressing the same attack on Mitt Romney's tax plan, and on Monday, he coined a phrase he hopes will stick: “Romney Hood.”

Ever since a study came out last week suggesting that Mr. Romney's plan would result in tax increases, not cuts, for the middle class, Mr. Obama has been touting it at every campaign stop. In effect, he argues, Mr. Romney wants to take from the middle class to give more tax cuts to the rich.

“It's like Robin Hood in reverse â€" it's Romney Hood,” Mr. Obama told supporters at a fund-raiser in Stamford, Conn.

Mr. Obama has hammered away at the tax study in the hope of taking ownership of an issue that has long bedeviled Democrats even as he presses Congress to let taxes rise for income over $250,000 a year.

The Romney campaign has disputed the study, by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, calling it flawed and biased. The study was based on assumptions about how Mr. Romney would meet his stated tax-cutting goals while not increasing the deficit since he has not filled in all the details himself.

“President Obama recently said the biggest regret of his first term was not telling better stories,” said Ryan Williams, a Romney campaign spokesman. “He's trying to make up for it now, but his stories just aren't true. There's only one candidate in this race who's going to raise taxes on the American people, and that's Barack Obama.”

The president's appearance in Stamford before an expected audience of 500 paying $500 each will be followed later in the evening by a more exclusive dinner at a private home in Westport for 60 donors who paid $35,800 apiece.

A Swing-State Bus Tour, Paved With Speculation


Mitt Romney will embark on a four-day bus tour on Saturday that will take him to Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio, his campaign announced Monday.

The plan for a drive through swing states comes as Mr. Romney is expected to announce his running mate soon. That the last stop is in Ohio has prompted speculation that his choice will be Senator Rob Portman.

Other potential nominees who are from states on the route include Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, who is the head of the Republican Governors Association.

Keeping with tradition, Mr. Romney and his surrogates have been tight-lipped about the vice-presidential selection process. “I have nothing for you on the vice-presidential front,” Mr. Romney said in an interview shown on CNN on Sunday.

“I give you nothing on that,” he said. “But I can assure you that by the third day of the Republican convention, we will nominate a Republican V.P.”