The Note: Up Pup, Pup Is Up

9 days to the Inauguration

DHS NOMINEE is (announced today at 10:00 am ET)

SOCIAL SECURITY REFORM is on (the griddle? tap? life support? fire?).

PRESIDENT BUSH is in (vogue? the Wall Street Journal? command? to too much?).

HAMISH BOWLES is of (the phrase of the day: "calculated not to frighten the horses.").

BILL KRISTOL is from (the inside? an outside-the-Beltway mindset? and inside-the-Beltway mindset?).

HOWARD DEAN is upon (the crossroads of his career? the decision of a lifetime? his second loss?).


Today, the President kicks off his agenda-framing on Social Security with a 10:45 am ET conversation in Washington, D.C. See below for more.

The Supreme Court meets at 10:00 am ET for arguments and orders.

The Washington State legislature meets today at 3:00 pm ET/noon PT in a joint session where they're expected to certify the election of Democrat Christine Gregoire as governor. Secretary of State Sam Reed certified Gregoire the winner over Republican Dino Rossi on Dec. 30, 2004 by a 129-vote margin.

Big Apple Mayor Michael "Mike" Bloomberg gives his State of the City address at midday.

Social Security:

The Wall Street Journal's John McKinnon and Chris Cooper nabbed the first newspaper interview with President Bush after his re-election victory and have the President's vow to "lead" on the issue of Social Security. The President did not offer specifics and he did not tell the Journal reporters whether he'd let Congress propose specifics first, although he seemed to suggest that the Administration has first dibbs on a precise proposal.

"Mr. Bush declined to specifically embrace recent assertions by aides that the Social Security benefit formula has contributed to the system's insolvency by making benefits rise too rapidly, but he pledged to propose more than a 'Band-Aid' solution to address the 'structural problem' in the system."

"While vigorous in describing his domestic agenda, Mr. Bush was at his most animated when discussing prospects for bringing democracy to the Middle East, an idea he said is being propelled forward by the weekend balloting among Palestinians and the Iraqi elections scheduled for Jan. 30. After the formal 30-minute interview ended, Mr. Bush paused while escorting reporters out of the Oval Office to explain at length his relish at joining what he sees as a historic effort at transformation, amid widespread skepticism about prospects for success among Western governments and even some of his fellow Republicans."

Of course, this Friday night, in his first post-election TV interview, the President is interviewed on ABC News' 20/20 by Barbara Walters -- in a program that will also include the First Lady.

All this, as the inevitable but politically perilous grumbling from Hill Republicans continue in earnest. The options for them are not palatable: either somehow raise taxes . . . borrow $2 trillion . . . or cut benefits (and/or reduce the guaranteed benefit). So there is plenty of complaining, though we suspect most of it is intended to try and force the White House to lead, lead, lead, lead the way.

The Washington Post's Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen report that GOP leadership places the number of House Republicans who are expected to stand firm, at least initially, against the plan, at 15 to 20. LINK

"Some Republicans question whether Bush's victories had anything to do with Social Security. A post-election survey by Pew found that Social Security was named by 1 percent of voters as the most important or second most important issue in deciding their vote."

"A Washington Post-ABC News poll in late December found that 1 in 4 Americans thinks the Social Security system is in crisis, and the percentage that says the country is facing a Social Security crisis has gone down, not up, since 1998."

Note the Bill Kristol quote on the politics of all this.

The Los Angeles Times' Ron Brownstein's lays another labyrinthine political trap at the President's feet. Not only could his presumed support for benefit cuts hurt the support he gets from those who favor personal accounts, but:

"Increasingly, it appears Bush also could face the...risk: that the personal accounts could erode support for the benefit reductions. The reason is that the deficit hawks in both parties who are most willing to risk cuts in the growth of Social Security benefits are the most resistant to the massive government borrowing the administration is considering to fund personal accounts." LINK

"Yet if Bush were to try reducing such borrowing by raising taxes, he risks alienating the conservatives most enthusiastic about creating the personal accounts in the first place. These complex considerations underscore the challenge Bush faces as he tries to design a restructuring plan that can win a majority in the conservative-dominated House and enough Democratic support to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to break a filibuster in the Senate."

USA Today's Susan Page looks at the USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll taken over the weekend, which shows young voters giving the most solid support to President Bush's Social Security plan. Voters under 30 called the plan a "good idea" by 55 percent to 42 percent; those over 50 call it a "bad idea" by 63 percent to 33 percent. LINK

Poll results: LINK

As the President begins his "national conversation" on Social Security today, the Progress for America Voter Fund, this election cycle's top-spending Republican 527 organization (they did the "Ashley's Story" ads) will broadcast the first of what will be a series of television ads designed to sell the president's Social Security principles. The ads directly compare, through images, FDR to GWB and suggest that share(d) the same motive.

The ads will run for a few weeks on Fox and CNN where they are bound to be seen by policy makers, agenda setters, and politically interested citizens. We don't have precise information on the exact size and scope of the buy, although people familiar with the ads suggest the 527 will spend several million dollars to sell the plan.

They begin with a sound bite of Franklin D. Roosevelt singing the initial Social Security Act into law.

Says the narrator: "It took courage to create Social Security. It will take courage and leadership to protect it. Once, 16 workers supported one retiree, But when today's workers retire, only two workers will support one retiree. Washington must strengthen Social Security. No changes for those at or near retirement, but younger workers should have the option of a personal savings account. Call Congress today and urge them to strengthen Social Security for everyone."

Soon, the Free Enterprise Fund, the new advocacy group run by former Club for Growth president Stephen Moore, will begin to air its own ads touting the President's principles. Administration allies such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are also preparing ad blitzes and grassroots/grass tops lobbying efforts.

The PFAVF is run by several top GOP consultants attached to the DC lobbying firm DCI Group. While coordination with the administration is not legal, do not be surprised to see the ads and the Administration use language and phrases that sound as if they were poll-tested by the same firm.

Opponents of the president's Social Security approach, led by the AARP and the AFL-CIO, have already hinted at plans for a massive, nationwide ad campaign. Select newspaper ads have already been published.

The New York Times' Edmund Andrews on economists' questions for Sec. John Snow in the midst of his Social Security sales pitch to the markets. Key question: how much borrowing (or potential borrowing) can the bond market absorb? LINK

Key paragraphs: "Despite the apparent windfall in business that could create, many Wall Street executives are less than enthusiastic about administering tens of millions of very small accounts if, as is likely, the government forces them to charge much lower fees than on traditional mutual funds. But administration officials have already signaled that the government would probably take responsibility for accounts of less than $5,000, relieving financial companies from dealing with millions of accounts that would probably be unprofitable."

"Far more important is support from bond market investors. If investors gag at the prospect of vast new federal borrowing, the value of Treasury bonds could plunge and interest rates would rise. Even a hint of panic in the bond markets would be enough to kill support for Mr. Bush's plans in Congress."

Paul Krugman opines that the Administration is manufacturing the Social Security crisis out of whole cloth. LINK

Bush agenda:

PBGC may well be the most important acronym in Washington that most people outside Washington have never heard of. Which is why this article is so important. LINK

Robert Pear's analysis of the latest cost of health care numbers from the government Notes a slowdown in prescription drug spending, but not by much, and still faster than the average rate of growth for health care costs in general. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's brief write up of Allan Hubbard's ascension to the NEC post does mention the Council on Competitiveness. Its editorial board loves the man.

Eileen Putman of the AP examines a redefined role for Vice President Dick Cheney -- namely, less as the man behind the curtain -- in the Bush Administration's second term. "Indeed, some wonder whether Cheney, with no ambition to succeed his boss in the White House, will serve out his second term. And while he has redefined a job that traditionally involved attending ceremonial and campaign events or undertaking thankless policy assignments, there is speculation Cheney's influence is waning." LINK

(We are now done laughing at that last sentence; you can resume reading.)

Writes the Boston Globe's Bryan Bender of Robert G. Joseph, a former special assistant for national security to President Bush: "The man who insisted that President Bush make the claim that Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium for nuclear weapons in Africa is poised to assume a top State Department job that would make him the lead US arms negotiator with Iran and North Korea, according to administration officials." LINK

The Washington Post's Ann Gerhart turns in her own profile of White House personnel chief Dina Powell -- a day after the Los Angeles Times did the deed. The profiling of Powell continues tomorrow when we start publishing our three-part series on her (only partly investigative). LINK

The inauguration:

Read Jeanne Cummings on the inaugural money trail in the Wall Street Journal and try to answer the big question: are conventions and inaugurations more about civic pride than they are about governmental affairs? Or vice versa?

With the gracefully written story about Oscar de la Renta inaugural gown for Laura Bush, we welcome Ruth La Ferla of the New York Times to The Note. LINK

The Washington Post's Robin Givhan has the wardrobe skinny as well. LINK

The Washington Post's Spencer Hsu reports that there's an argument going on between the federal government and the Washington, D.C. government over funds for inaugural security. Federal officials say the District should cover $11.9 million in security expenses with some of the $240 million it gets in federal homeland security funds. D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams says that money is already spoken for by other security needs. It's the first time there hasn't been a specific allotment for the Inauguration, the mayor's office says, and Rep. Tom Davis' spokesman called the security costs "an unfunded mandate of the most odious kind." LINK

DNC chair's race:

Today is Howard Dean's day. Check at 1:00 pm ET for the official announcement that he is entering the race for DNC chair, which will be posted just as soon as Dean notifies DNC members by e-mail and phone.

Allies of Dean say the former Vermont governor has told them he will run, owing to a growing body of support among DNC members. Dean allies say they were particularly pleased with his reception in Atlanta last weekend and that finally propelled Dean to take the step of formally announcing his candidacy.

Former Lieberman communications director and all-around mensch Dan Gerstein receives prime Wall Street Journal op-ed space for his less than favorable reaction to reports that some Democrats want Terry McAuliffe to stay as DNC chair.

"We chose as our House and Senate leaders (and thus the public face of the party) Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid -- two honorable, decent people who nevertheless have done little to inspire confidence that they could successfully fight a parking ticket, let alone the war against terrorism. We chose (by abdicating responsibility to two extreme-ish members of Congress) to mount a formal, indignation-filled challenge to the results in Ohio -- despite the fact that George Bush won by 100,000 votes, as compared to the 537 he (ostensibly) won by in Florida."

"And now we hear there's a move afoot to choose Terry McAuliffe -- another decent, honorable man who nevertheless presided over two consecutive election cycles in which the number of elected Democrats at almost every level shrank, and who will never be mistaken for a base-expanding communicator -- for another term as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. The 'Keep Mac' pack's rationale? He'll save us from Howard Dean, who most believe would have led the party to an even bigger catastrophe last fall had he gotten the nomination. Call me a curmudgeon, but that seems like an odd way to project strength at a moment an historic political realignment is taking place -- at least the old guy won't humiliate us!"

"Taken together, these developments indicate that, beyond our rural-state problem and Hispanic problem and our values problem and our security problem, we Democrats have a far more fundamental leadership problem. To put it crudely, right now we don't seem to know how to pick winners -- or fire losers."

Gerstein has nice things to say about Simon Rosenberg, as does, apparently Chris Heinz -- who in a shameless attempt (successful!) to make The Note two days in a row intends to endorse Rosenberg's candidacy shortly.

Dems regroup:

Deborah Orin's sources say the Sandy Berger probe "is now before a federal grand jury." a href=""> LINK

Correction: Mark Warner is the governor of Virginia, not a state Debbie Dingell is more familiar with. We regret the typo.

Washington governor's race:

If it's Tuesday (or, frankly, pick a day), there must be another mistake turned up in the Washington state gubernatorial vote tally. This time, King County elections officials who were trying to reconcile the number of votes cast with the number of voters on the rolls, last week said the discrepancy was 1,217, down from 3,539. It's actually closer to 1,800, they said yesterday. LINK

Republican legislators in Washington state have failed in their bid to delay certifying Christine Gregoire as governor-elect. Today they'll try to get the results thrown out in the joint legislative session. LINK and LINK

On Friday, Republican Dino Rossi filed a formal challenge to the election results, asking the Chelan County Superior Court to throw out the election results and order a statewide re-vote. Republicans in the Legislature support the re-vote, but don't expect to be successful in holding off the certification in the Democrat-controlled state house. Re-vote supporters have collected 150,000 names on a Web petition at

At 1:30 pm ET/10:30 am PT today, representatives from county parties statewide will gather to protest the certification and rally on behalf of the re-vote, and Republicans from the Legislature are expected to speak out in favor of the re-vote. Among the protesters will be Charles Farmer, the father of Tyler Farmer, a Marine wounded in Fallujah, who didn't receive his ballot until after the election. Charles Farmer narrated a 60-second radio ad that ran statewide last week.

In the tick-tock of the hand recount and beyond, a whole host of problems with the vote have been uncovered: provisional ballots being counted along with regular ballots at polling places; voters casting absentee ballots on behalf of their deceased spouses; problems reconciling the votes cast with the number of voters (as we said, estimates originally had 1,200 more votes than voters in King County, but the number has increased); and delays in sending out military ballots that prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to threaten to sue (see Monday's Seattle Times: LINK ).

Governor-elect Gregoire is scheduled to be sworn in at 3:00 pm ET/noon PT tomorrow.

On Friday, the Chelan County Superior Court will hear Rossi's challenge at 12:30 pm ET/9:30 am PT, and Rossi's campaign will motion to expedite the process so that discovery can begin.

Dems regroup:

The New York Times' Jim Rutenberg lays out what New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to say during today's State of the City speech: "With crime on the decline, the city's economy rebounding and the mayor pushing ahead with his plan to overhaul public schools, Mr. Bloomberg's aides say they hope the speech will present a compelling case for a second term and help him swipe potential issues away from his likely challengers before they begin to step up their own campaigns. He plans to announce some new initiatives and bring back some others that were popular, like the $400 property tax rebate that he also championed last year." LINK

But Step A: find some way to apologize to The Bronx. LINK


DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe today is expected to how much money the national party will spend to help Tim Kaine replace Mark Warner as Virginia's governor. When Warner ran in 2003, the DNC coughed up $1 million. We're told this year's commitment will be even higher.


Roll Call's Josh Kurtz reports that Doris Matsui, wife of Rep. Robert Matsui (D-CA), "hasn't closed the door on running" for her late husband's seat.

The Schwarzenegger era:

The Los Angeles Times' Dan Morain looks at how Gov. Schwarzenegger is setting up the budget battle in California, centered primarily around controlling state spending, which he's taking a crack at this year by cutting some social and education programs and borrowing. LINK

Evan Halper and Nancy Vogel of the Los Angeles Times offer a closer look at Schwarzenegger's $111.7-billion budget. LINK

CBS documents:

The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz sums up the report on CBS's handling of the story on President Bush's National Guard service, which resulted in the network firing four staffers. LINK

Bill Carter on what he says is a lack of confidence many CBS News employees have in chief Andrew Heyward. LINK

Kurtz and his colleague Dana Milbank take it a step further, looking at the fallout for journalism. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' James Rainey focuses on the critics who say the report went easy on Dan Rather. LINK

The New York Daily News' Michael Goodwin says Dan Rather should resign. LINK

The New York Post on Mary Mapes' statement. LINK


Boston Globe: LINK

Chicago Tribune: LINK


White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card addresses the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at 11:40 am ET today . . .

Sources say that Steve Bouchard -- field Director for Mark Warner's 2001 gubernatorial campaign, New Hampshire director for Graham and then Wes Clark, Ohio director for ACT (last seen in Matt Bai's NYT magazine piece having the worst day of his life) -- will be the new director for Americans for Responsible Leadership, Senator Bayh's vehicle . . .

And now, The Note's award for best Feb. 10, 2005 panel ever devised: Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Jim Tower and John DiIulio on the future of faith based initiatives. It's sponsored by the Federalist Society . . .

Joel Johnson, most recently a top adviser to Sen. John Kerry's presidential race, is leaving the Harbour Group to join Glover Park Group. But Thurgood Marshall, Jr. and Suzanne Spaulding will join Richard Marcus as managing directors of the Harbour Group, so fear Not, Harbour Group fans. Spalding most recently worked for Sen. Arlen Specter, and Marshall served as President Clinton's cabinet secretary . . .

The New York Observer's Ben Smith has a top-notch new blog that we urge everyone to check . . .

Note to Ben Ginsberg: Babbo . . .

Bernard Kerik says he's sorry: LINK . . .

On the Chicago Sun-Times' home page, the weather reads: "34º 'CROTCHETY."