- - Sunday, May 22, 2011

WHITE HOUSE

White House, allies get jump on GOP field

The early action was supposed to be in the competitive Republican primary. But the White House and its allies aren’t sitting on the sidelines in South Carolina.

A group backing President Obama called Priorities USA is airing a TV ad in South Carolina that jabs Mitt Romney, one of the best-known Republican contenders. The ad coincided with Mr. Romney’s visit to the state Saturday, his first since forming a presidential exploratory committee.

Mr. Obama keeps offering praise, which he knows can damage a candidate in a Republican primary, to Mr. Romney on health care issues and to Jon Huntsman Jr. for his service as the Obama administration’s ambassador to China.

Mr. Huntsman, a former Utah governor, also is considering running.

FEDERAL DEFICIT

Biden talks seen as hope for debt-ceiling deal

A deal to lift the U.S. debt limit may hinge on negotiations led by Vice President Joseph R. Biden, which still have a long way to go to close the gap between deeply divided Democrats and Republicans.

Top congressional Republicans on Sunday suggested they could compromise on the two biggest issues — health care and taxes — that stand in the way of a deal to get the United States’ debt under control.

Rep. Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican and the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said he would “absolutely” be willing to negotiate with Democrats on his plan to control health care costs.

Separately, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky did not rule out a tax increase — a contrast to other Republican leaders who have insisted that any deal to increase the country’s borrowing authority must consist of spending cuts alone.

Mr. Biden will gather together senior lawmakers from both parties on Tuesday afternoon for a third set of talks.

CAMPAIGNS

Gingrich says he’s debt-free, mum on Tiffany’s bill

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich says he and his wife are “very frugal,” live within their budget and have no debts.

But the former House speaker is keeping to himself about how they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at Tiffany’s jewelry store.

A financial disclosure form filed by Callista Gingrich in 2006 and 2007 showed the couple owed from $250,000 to $500,000 to Tiffany & Co.

Appearing Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Mr. Gingrich refused to say what they’d bought at Tiffany’s, noting that “it is my private life.”

Mr. Gingrich added: “If the U.S. government was as debt-free as I am, everybody in America would be celebrating.”

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Huntsman: Stop bickering, come together as nation

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Pitching himself as a politician with international experience who would help the United States’ economy rebound, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. on Saturday told college graduates in this key early nominating state that the nation must set aside its partisan sniping.

Mr. Huntsman, a Republican who until last month served as Democratic President Obama’s ambassador to Beijing, told Southern New Hampshire University’s commencement that civility is important as the nation faces its problems.

“If we Americans remain civil to each other, we can deal with our problems, including the debt crisis that hangs over all of us,” Mr. Huntsman said.

DEFENSE

Pentagon chief sounds warning on defense cuts

Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned on Sunday against sharply cutting the size and reach of the U.S. armed forces to trim the deficit.

The comments by Mr. Gates to graduating students at Notre Dame University came as some Republicans and Democrats look to defense as a way to address the U.S. deficit, running about $1.4 trillion this fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.

Mr. Gates, a holdover from the George W. Bush administration who is leaving the post at the end of June, predicted future calls for major Pentagon cuts could challenge U.S. global leadership.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Romney tests waters in key primary state

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina wasn’t kind to Mitt Romney in 2008, but the former Massachusetts governor and presidential contender is hoping for a better fate in this Southern bellwether in 2012.

He made his first trip to the state since forming a presidential exploratory committee, plying a crowd with mustard-based barbecue and boiled peanuts, photo ops with cute kids and meeting with business owners carping about jobless benefits and illegal immigration. He left with a pair of endorsements from state legislators.