The Big Questions: Deficit, Gas and Libya

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Mark Halperin’s answers this week in TIME.

Given the partisan cross fire of late, is a deficit-reduction deal dead for this year?

No, but the odds of a bipartisan agreement are narrowing. The right was inflamed by Harry Reid’s emotional celebration of federal funds for a cowboy poetry festival and outraged by a video that caught a National Public Radio executive trashing the Tea Party. Conservatives are turning on one another as well, ostracizing the Republican realists who see tax increases as essential to any compromise. And most everyone is criticizing President Obama for a failure to lead, with GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell dismissing him as not being serious about entitlement reform. If you’re wagering today, bet on gridlock.

Have U.S. attitudes toward high gas prices changed in the age of Obama?

There is no sign that the nation is willing to pay more at the pump. Americans, egged on by a hyperventilating media, consider cheap gas a birthright. The reaction to the latest spike has nothing to do with alarm over the country’s toxic reliance on foreign oil and fossil fuels and
everything to do with short-term economic anxiety.

Is there a reason the U.S. doesn’t have 436 Secretaries of Defense?

Yes, indeed. The sniping and second-guessing from Capitol Hill over the Administration’s handling of the Libyan crisis is a reminder that it is easy to lob criticism from the cheap seats. Strong, confident Presidents publicly welcome congressional input but don’t cave to carping. In response to the evolving events, Obama is following his instincts and listening closely to Bob Gates, the real Defense Secretary, an approach that is serving him well.

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