LAST NOTE!

34 Days Until Inauguration Day

Welcome to the final Note of 2004.

We want to thank all our loyal readers (including Wolf Blitzer © ), our semi-loyal critics (including Rush Limbaugh © -- sorry we didn't get a chance to meet you at the White House last night!!), and our VERY loyal sources (including . . . well, you know who you are).

We will be back in 2005 -- and we are certain that the year after the widely-described "most important election in a generation" is bound to be pretty important too.

We will have some Note changes next year that we think many of you will just positively love more than a barrel full of (Googling) monkeys.

With the chaos, rivalry, indecision, and lack of clarity of the race for DNC chair serving as a perfect metaphor for a party with little power and almost no sense of what it believes in or how to achieve it, the Democrats surely have a lot of reflecting and thinking to do over the next few weeks.

But most of them (even the "leaders"!!) will probably coast and assume someone else will handle it.

Meanwhile, at Casa Blanca and back at the ranch, they are taking the people's business -- and the President's agenda -- very seriously.

So, with no rest for the weary or Dan Bartlett, here are the Eight Simple Rules for Being President the rest of the month:

1. Come to terms with the fact that the President "has not fully explained how he would sharply reduce the deficit while also absorbing the costs of his Social Security program, pursuing new tax cuts and paying for the war in Iraq." (Courtesy jolly Dick Stevenson of the New York Times -- who is no supply sider.)

2. Come to the realization that -- with the election over -- Republicans are going to be increasingly critical of the war in Iraq and Secretary Rumsfeld, and figure out what to do about that.

3. Solve the DC baseball crisis.

4. Get the House to stop talking on background about queuing up tax reform before Social Security reform.

5. Find an intelligence czar and a secretary of Homeland Security, after reading this sentence from the New York Times' latest Kerik story: "White House officials have said they relied in part on the assumption that Mr. Kerik had already run a gantlet of city background checks before becoming police commissioner," and remembering the classic "Odd Couple" line. LINK

6. Do the regression analysis to determine how many more vigorous bike rides it will take to be able to go back to desserts from vegetables.

7. Figure out what to think of Secretary Snow's progressivity remarks in a Los Angeles Times interview touching on tax reform.

8. Convince Andy Card and Karen Hughes to allow the dream of going to Mars back in the State of the Union speech again.

At 9:55 am ET, President Bush signs S. 2845, better known as the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan gaggles in the press briefing room at 9:30 am ET, and holds his briefing at 12:330 pm ET.

Vice President Cheney has no public events scheduled.

Nor does First Lady Laura Bush.

Outgoing NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe holds a 10:00 am ET news conference in Washington, DC.

Hot on the heels of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell and Q&A session at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Center for Strategic and International Studies takes a closer look at the UN with a forum on reforms in 2005 at 10:30 am ET.

On Sunday, "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" features not only the unveiling of Time magazine's Person of the Year, but also a debate on Social Security with the New York Times' Paul Krugman and Americans for Tax Reform's Grover Norquist. In addition, Richard Perle joins ABC News' Martha Raddatz, Fareed Zakaria, and George Will to talk foreign policy and Iraq.

The AP's Nedra Pickler does a nice little nuts-n-bolts of the Intel reform bill, in anticipation of President Bush's signature this morning. LINK

The Washington Post's Walter Pincus reports the White House might add preparing the PDB to the to do list for the DNI, "according to present and former senior administration officials and sources on Capitol Hill." LINK

If by some chance you weren't closely following the President's economic conference, Dick Stevenson of the New York Times does an aces job of laying out the issues the President Bush and his advisers talked about as they pushed their Social Security plan. Dealing with long-term solvency problems will reassure financial markets, the President said, and the plan to borrow as much as $2 trillion in the short term would be a good tradeoff. LINK

However, Stevenson Notes, "In particular, Mr. Bush never mentioned the near certainty that without raising taxes, which he has ruled out, any plan to add personal investment accounts to Social Security and improve its financial condition would include a reduction in the guaranteed retirement benefit."

(Even without making any resolutions yet, we can assure you that The Note is going to be writing a LOT about the guaranteed minimum benefit in 2005.)

President Bush is sounding the alarm that the Social Security system "has already reached a 'crisis' stage," the Washington Post's Peter Baker reports. LINK

The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman reports Bush's two-day conference on the economy highlighted a plan riddled with contradictions. "By confining the economic discussions to discrete panels discussing specific subjects, conference organizers usually kept the contradictions from clashing head-on. But to an observer of the entire gathering, they were not hard to find." LINK

Weisman, normally crisp and clean in his prose, however, never quite makes it clear what the contradictions are.

Christopher Cooper and Jackie Calmes of the Wall Street Journal preview the fight ahead for President Bush's Social Security plan, Noting that the AFL-CIO, AARP, the NAACP, the National Organization of Women and other groups have announced they will stand together against it. LINK

The New York Times' Edmund Andrews profiles "regular folk" Sandra Jaques, who offered up a testimonial about privatizing Social Security as a way for the President to illustrate his plan. Conveniently, Jaques is also the Iowa state director of FreedomWorks, whose founders are Jack F. Kemp and Dick Armey. LINK

Paul "Pauly One-Note" Krugman of the New York Times looks at international examples of privatizing retirement funds and says he isn't buying the Administration's arguments, saying that privatization cuts benefits and leaves more retirees in poverty. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's Jackie Calmes and Deborah Solomon sat down with Treasury Secretary John Snow yesterday and took Note of the complaints of the business community over the implementation of the Sarbanes-Oxley law on corporate accountability. The key is balancing the need for oversight while not creating the impression that such oversight is a hindrance to business – it's all in the implementation, he said. LINK

"Mr. Snow's comments plainly reflected the earful he got from business groups this year as he traveled widely for the president's re-election effort. They come a week after President Bush asked him to stay in his cabinet after public hesitation by the White House contributed to several days of speculation that he could be replaced."

The Los Angeles Times also got an interview with the newly-retained Snow, in which he talked about tax reform too. LINK

Of course, it's not over until it's over -- but will the Washington governor's race ever be over?

It's the first time we can remember a prominent former state official saying well, let's just scrap this election and go for a new one. Meanwhile, those ballots seem to keep turning up in unlikely places. This afternoon brings the latest court action on what to do with the found ballots in King County.

Ralph Thomas of the Seattle Times reports that former Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro said Thursday that a new vote in the gubernatorial race "is probably the only way to restore voter confidence and get a clear winner," and suggested new voter registration and another election in February. Munro is a supporter of Republican Dino Rossi, and the Democrats aren't warming to the idea, saying it's only a suggestion now that Rossi's lead may be in jeopardy. A judge in Pierce County hears the state GOP's request for a restraining order in King County this afternoon. LINK

The New York Times' Eli Sanders reports that the Washington State Republican Party went to court on Thursday to try and get a restraining order to prevent the 573 found ballots in King County from being counted. LINK

The Seattle Times' Keith Ervin reports that King County election officials are looking for another 162 misplaced absentee ballots, which could drive the number of uncounted ballots that Democrats are pushing to count to 735. LINK

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Chris McGann reports that Christine Gregoire picked up 44 votes in Snohomish County on Thursday, closing the Dino Rossi's lead to 74 votes with King, Pierce, and Spokane counties left to report their recount results. LINK

The White House is considering appointing Federal Reserve Board member Ben S. Bernanke to be chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, the Washington Post's Nell Henderson reports. LINK

Sen. Trent Lott has climbed aboard the anti-Rummie bandwagon. The Washington Post's VandeHei and Ricks report Lott is "not a fan." LINK

The Wall Street Journal's Sarah Lueck looks at how HHS nominee Mike Leavitt handled health care when he was governor of Utah, raising the premiums for Medicaid beneficiaries and scaling back benefits to cover more people. We wonder if "Robin Hood with a twist" will catch on. LINK

The New York Times' Robert Pear looks at the National Governors Association's report on the states' fiscal health that came out yesterday, which showed states with improved balances -- a total of $25.3 billion -- providing a financial cushion for them. However, the cost of Medicaid and other health care still represents their biggest hurdle. LINK

"Customs Commissioner Bonner, who's endured confirmation before, emerges as strong contender for Homeland Security chief after Kerik flap," Notes the Wall Street Journal's John Harwood in chock-a-block Washington Wire. Harwood offers some interesting tidbits from the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, including our favorite: "Four in 10 who cite importance of "social issues and values" watch 'Desperate Housewives' or 'Sex and the City.'" LINK

Departing homeland security chief Tom Ridge called Los Angeles police chief William Bratton and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca qualified to succeed him. LINK

Inaugural planning is going full speed ahead. LINK

The Ohio Supreme Court's chief justice has denied a challenge to the state's presidential election results which was brought by Rev. Jesse Jackson and Cliff Arnebeck, a Columbus lawyer for the Massachusetts-based Alliance for Democracy, reports the Los Angeles Times. LINK

The AP reports, "Without listing specific evidence, the complaint says 130,656 votes for Kerry and John Edwards in 36 counties were somehow switched to count for the Bush-Cheney ticket." LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Tim Reiterman and Nancy Vogel report a state audit has determined California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley mismanaged millions of dollars in funds earmarked for voter education and new election machines. "The report asserted that Shelley used some of the $46 million from an election reform program to pay contractors who attended partisan political events and wrote speeches for him. At the same time, counties were waiting months for their share of money to buy sorely needed voting equipment." LINK

Note to the 49 other states: if you misused HAVA funds, you might want to move to correct that now.

USA Today's Martin Kasindorf reports, "Three years after President Bush announced restrictions on federally funded medical research using stem cells from human embryos, a California panel will meet today to begin the process of granting $3 billion in state money to stem cell researchers." LINK

With prominently placed quotes from Jamal Simmons, USA Today's Jill Lawrence writes about the up and coming young Dems "who worry about the Democratic Party's dependence on interest groups, their relations with minority groups, the stereotypes that they are weak on defense and values, the Republican appropriation of the "reformer" label and the swaths of America that Democrats seem to have written off." LINK

The New York Times' Michael Janofsky writes up the new report from the Center for Public Integrity that shows Democratic 527 groups outspent Republican ones by more than 3 to 1, spending $550.6 million in the 2004 presidential race. LINK

The New York Post's Ian Bishop reports that a new Quinnipiac University poll shows 68 percent of Republican voters want to see Giuliani run for the White House in 2008, and he edges Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in a head-to-head faceoff, 45 percent to 43 percent. LINK

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn has won the backing of the political arm of the county AFL-CIO in his bid for a second term -- elbowing out Antonio Villaraigosa. LINK

For one night only, it'll be spitballs and Swift Boats together on the same stage -- a who's who of Sen. John Kerry bashing.

Sen. Zell Miller will present the "Courage Under Fire" award to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth at the Conservative Political Action Conference's Feb. 18 banquet. LINK

Roll Call's Amy Keller and Tory Newmyer report the FEC is considering a rules change that supporters think could make it much easier for trade associations to raise money for their PACs. The new rule would allow associations to collect contributions by electronic payroll deductions from employees of member companies. LINK

More in The Hill. LINK

Alexander Bolten reports a band of House Republican lawmakers are pressing for the GOP to file a reciprocal complaint against Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for violating campaign-finance law. LINK

We at The Note bid everyone safe and happy holidays.