Between the Lines by Mark Halperin

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Brian Snyder / REUTERS

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally in Dubuque, Iowa in this January 2, 2012.

For the second straight week, Republican confidence about Mitt Romney's chances in the November election has surged ... After the humbling, yearlong GOP nomination process, party officials are delighting in President Obama's performance slump and run of bad luck ... Republicans are trying to take advantage of the moment and rattle the opposition with political psyops and name calling. ("Chicago needs a shrink," says a Republican strategist. "They're lost.") ... Some Romney advisers sound especially bullish, with one positing that a big win by their side is now more likely than a narrow Obama victory and another claiming that normally safe blue states will be in play or already are--Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and perhaps Minnesota, Oregon and New Jersey--threatening Obama's Electoral College edge ... Both sides are girding for a message war following the Supreme Court's imminent decision on the President's health care law ... If the law is struck down, Democrats plan to attack the Justices who vote in the majority, while Republicans will tell voters that a Romney Administration and a Republican Congress can best replace the unpopular, unconstitutional act ... If the law is upheld, Romney will argue that only his election will halt the law's implementation, while the White House will seize a fresh opportunity to regain the political momentum (and sell the plan's more popular provisions) ... Both sides agree that flaps over Commerce Secretary John Bryson's mysterious car accidents and Attorney General Eric Holder's investigative dustups are catnip for party activists but are minor distractions from voters' main worry, the economy.

FIGHTING FIRE

Colorado's High Park blaze--the third largest in the state's history--has consumed more than 46,600 acres near Fort Collins since a lightning strike sparked the flames around June 8. As a result, some 2,000 people have been forced to evacuate, and 1,000 firefighting personnel are trying to contain its spread.

PHRASE OF THE WEEK

Fiscal cliff

n. A moment in early 2013 when federal tax cuts expire and automatic spending reductions take effect, removing $600 billion, or about 4% of the U.S. GNP, from the already shaky economy over the coming year

Q+A

Questions from the Ledge

Who created the cliff?

Your elected leadership, of course. In 2011, Republicans and Democrats could not agree on a rational mix of spending cuts and tax increases, so they manufactured an irrational cataclysmic event in the not-so-distant future in the hope of forcing a compromise.

What would it mean to go over the cliff?

Lots of pain. The Congressional Budget Office says the nation would plunge into a recession for at least six months and the unemployment rate would spike. Financial markets would likely face sharp sell-offs. On the upside, the U.S. budget deficit would fall dramatically.

Can the cliff be avoided?

Yes. Congress and the White House could either agree to a large package of tax hikes and spending cuts or rewrite the laws to postpone the cliff for another day.

Will the election in November help Congress face up to its problems?

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