A political tip sheet for the rest of us outside the Washington Beltway, for Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012:
ROMNEY'S TAX CUT PLAN: To help the economy grow, Mitt Romney proposed cutting personal income taxes for everyone by 20 percent. Under the plan, the top tax rate would drop from 35 percent to 28 percent, and some popular breaks for upper-income taxpayers would be scaled back, although aides provided few details. Romney also proposed raising the Social Security retirement age for younger workers and curtailing annual benefit increases. He would allow younger workers to choose a voucher to pay for private insurance instead of participating in traditional Medicare when they become eligible. The proposals come as Romney faces a challenge from Rick Santorum, who is courting conservative voters who have been reluctant to embrace Romney. Romney decided to release the tax proposal two days earlier than planned so he could discuss it during Wednesday night's nationally televised debate.
OBAMA'S TAX CUT PLAN: President Barack Obama rolled out a plan to overhaul corporate taxes that would lower rates and try anew to eliminate loopholes and subsidies cherished by businesses. Obama would reduce the current 35 percent corporate tax rate, the highest in the world after Japan, to 28 percent. Many corporations avoid paying the current rate anyway by taking advantage of deductions, credits and exemptions. Under Obama's plan, incentives for manufacturers would enable them to pay an even lower effective tax rate of 25 percent. Obama also would seek to end subsidies for the oil and gas industry and special breaks for the purchase of private jets, two provisions he's long targeted. He'd also do away with some corporate tax shelters. Obama has not laid out a plan to redo the personal income tax structure.
LATE TO THE GAME: Santorum acknowledged that he's probably running behind Romney in Arizona, but he implored a crowd of fired-up tea party activists not to settle for "a Johnny-come-lately to the conservative cause." He was talking about Romney, who is still struggling to convince Republicans that he's a conservative through and through. Santorum told several hundred people in Tucson that Romney proposed a lower corporate tax rate long after Santorum had done so. "Welcome to the party, governor. It's great to have you along," the former Pennsylvania senator told the cheering crowd. Polls show Romney running ahead in Arizona, where a strong presence of fellow Mormons should help Romney in Tuesday's GOP presidential primary.
BUDDY BIDS GOP BYE-BYE: Former Louisiana Gov. Charles "Buddy" Roemer says he'll formally announce Thursday that he's getting out of the Republican presidential race and will try to run for president as an independent. Who knew he was running? Roemer barely registered in the polls. The 68-year-old former congressman said in a statement Wednesday that he will try instead to become the nominee of Americans Elect, a nonpartisan group pushing for a third-party candidate to run against President Barack Obama and the eventual GOP nominee. He'll also seek the Reform Party nomination.
HAVE ELEPHANT, WILL TRAVEL: There's a campaign manager, campaign spokesman and campaign elephant? There is on Newt Gingrich's presidential team. The GOP hopeful's wife, Callista, has been trying to visit schools in cities her husband visits to read from her children's book "Sweet Land of Liberty," which features Ellis the Elephant revisiting key moments in U.S. history. At a school near Phoenix on Wednesday, a staff member dressed in an elephant costume to play Ellis and act out parts of the book.
ASSOCIATED PRESS POLL TRENDS
OBAMA VS REPUBLICANS: Santorum is now running even with Romney atop the Republican presidential field but neither candidate fares well against President Barack Obama, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows. Obama's support tops 50 percent when he is pitted against each of the four GOP candidates and he holds significant leads over each one. Republicans are divided on whether they'd prefer to see Romney or Santorum as the party's nominee, with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul lagging behind. Thirty-three percent of Republicans prefer Santorum and 32 percent favor Romney. Gingrich and Paul trailed, each with 15 percent support.
OBAMA APPROVAL ON ECONOMY: His rating is improving. Forty-eight percent of adults said they approve of Obama's efforts to turn around the economy, according to the AP-GfK poll. That number is up 9 points from December.
PUBLIC'S VIEW OF ECONOMY: It's improving, too. Thirty percent in the survey described the economy as "good," up 15 points since December. The 30 percent figure also is the highest level since the AP-GfK poll began asking the question in 2009. Roughly the same share say the economy improved in the past month, while 18 percent said it got worse. Looking ahead, four in 10 said they expect the economy to get better in the next year. One-fourth said they expected it to get worse, while 31 percent said it would stay the same.
IN OTHER POLLS:
Two new NBC News/Marist Polls show Romney with a double-digit lead over Santorum in Arizona, and the two running neck and neck in Michigan. Both states hold their GOP presidential primaries on Tuesday.
ARIZONA: Romney, 43 percent; Santorum, 27 percent; Gingrich, 16 percent; Paul, 11 percent.
MICHIGAN: Romney, 37 percent; Santorum, 35 percent; Paul, 13 percent; Gingrich, 8 percent.
IN THEIR WORDS:
_ "As others have mentioned, this day has been a long time coming." _ President Barack Obama, at a ground-breaking ceremony for the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.
_ "There are three things to come together. We've got to have more jobs, less debt and smaller government. They go together." _ Romney, on his plan to create jobs and a smaller federal government.
_ "Look at the record, versus the rhetoric of what you see of, in many cases, Johnny-come-latelies to the conservative cause. That's the decision you have to make here in Arizona." _ Santorum, on Romney.