The Note: Getting Over It


There are only six pairs of questions that matter in American politics today.

1. Will there be any stories coming out of tomorrow's State of the Union address besides Social Security? And will the President's hand be stronger or weaker on that signature issue than it is now by Super Bowl kickoff?

(The Washington Post's Jim VandeHei and Jonathan Weisman report exclusively and must-readily that President Bush may be willing to compromise a little on his plan for personal/private Social Security accounts in order to calm jittery Republicans and court skeptical Democrats, entertaining limiting the costs and risks of moving to the new system by phasing in changes and offering more conservative investments for people as they near retirement. He's also allegedly said he's willing to explore ways to prevent lower-income workers from having their benefits cut. The duo also offer some detail about how Bush will outline his ideas in his State of the Union tomorrow night. LINK)

(Trial balloon or unplanned leak? As they said in the '70s: you make the call . . .)

2. Will anyone write more elaborate prose than The Note connecting the SOTU with Groundhog Day? And will punchy White House speechwriters begin uttering the catch phrase "It's in the hole" after they read this?

3. How can the President gain domestic political oomph from the successful vote in Iraq? And is there anyone of any power and influence in the Democratic Party who realizes that their current Tower of Babble on the issue is as self-destructive to them as it is inspirational to Karl Rove?

4. Will the self-styled budget hawks in the Republican conference squeal like stuck pigs when the real spending restraints in the President's budget start to hit their districts and states? And will the fallout from that intra-party discord impact the White House's overall legislative agenda?

5. How closely would Howard Dean as chair of the Democratic National Committee live up to the nightmare that so many Washington, Hill, and Clinton Democrats think he would be? And will Dean do anything -- anything -- stylistically or substantively in the next ten days to calm their nerves?

6. How will the endemic illness among United States Senators affect the capacity of the World's Most Deliberative and Delirious Body to do the people's business? And what can be done to end the madness?

Mitch McConnell has a runny nose.

Dan Akaka has a pain in his lower back. (It is more of a dull ache, really, than a sharp pain.)

Susan Collins' elbow kind of stings.

Jim Talent was sounding sort of hoarse, so his staff fed him some Echinacea and 500 milligrams of chewable vitamin C.

Pat Roberts was wearing sandals in his den yesterday, and stubbed his toe; there's a little swelling.

John Sununu HAD a headache, but he took a few Advil, and now he's feeling much better.

As Sir John Gielgud famously said, "I'll alert the media."

Today at 10:15 am ET, President Bush signs a presidential proclamation for National Heart Health Awareness Month in the Oval Office, joined by First Lady Laura Bush.

Mrs. Bush hit the morning shows today ahead of the proclamation, talking about women and heart disease -- and turned her appearances into a conversation about the Iraqi elections and a bit of a preview of the State of the Union (She says she'll probably be sitting with voters from Afghanistan and Iraq at the speech tomorrow night.). And there was a call for a little less partisanship in the talk about Social Security.

There's an OEOB backgrounder on the SOTU at 1:00 pm ET.

At 9:00 am ET, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a hearing to look at reshaping U.S. policy toward Iraq and the Middle East.

At 9:30 am ET, the Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on death benefits and services for survivors of military personnel. The White House stole the panel's thunder this morning with its announcement on increasing survivor benefits, but we expect talk about congressional pressure that got it done.

At 10:00 am ET, the Senate Budget Committee looks at the CBO budget and economic outlook.

At 10:30 am ET, Sens. Wyden and Snowe hold a presser to talk about a new bill on Medicare prescription drug coverage.

ABC News' Linda Douglass reports the Senate debate on the Gonzales nomination starts at 10:45 am ET. No time agreement yet on length of debate and schedule for a vote.

Virginia GOP Sen. George Allen and Sen. Mary Landrieu, the Louisiana Democrat, will offer a resolution this morning calling on the U.S. Senate to apologize to African-American families for having ignored the widespread lynching murders that occurred throughout the South in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They'll speak at the National Press Club at 10:00 am ET, along with author and journalist Janet Langhart Cohen and James Allen, author of "Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photographs in America."

Allen, a possible 2008 presidential aspirant, was moved to become more involved in civil rights issues, a spokesman says, during a pilgrimage to sacred grounds last year, including hikes along the Freedom Trail and a visit to the 16th Street Baptist Church site in Alabama.

At 11:00 am ET, outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft delivers a speech on "True Faith and Allegiance" at a program hosted by the Heritage Foundation.

At 11:55 am ET, House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX) holds a pen and pad briefing.

The House convenes at 2:00 pm ET.

At 2:30 pm ET, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) addresses the World Health Care Congress' second annual conference. At 3:00 pm ET, newly minted HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt keynotes.

State of the Union:

The New York Times' Robin Toner compares President Bush's Social Security roll-out with President Clinton's health care legislation roll-out a baker's dozen years ago. LINK

The lesson then: whichever side framed the narrative would win.

"It is a cliché of public policy that the devil is in the details, but nonetheless true. For the Clinton administration, the deadly details involved the method of getting to universal coverage: the requirement that employers provide insurance; the creation of quasi-governmental structures to administer the system; and the changes it would impose on Americans, even those who were perfectly happy with their medical care as it was. As the months dragged on, and the plan came under unrelenting attack from Republicans and an array of interest groups as a dangerous expansion of government, Americans shifted."

The Wall Street Journal fronts the Pentagon's cash crunch, which surely will factor into the President's next budget. There's also a story by Shailagh Murray about GOP opposition to proposals to cut "marquee" weapons programs.

To read about an ad you might not see tomorrow night, click here: LINK


The New York Times David Sanger and Steven Weisman on politics and diplomacy post Iraqi election, the cautious White House, and an even more cautious Europe. LINK

The Washington Post's Peter Baker and Robin Wright look at the White House's relatively understated optimism over the Iraqi elections and the seeming validation of the Administration's policy in Iraq, as well as the plan for the future of Iraq that he's working on (in his 13th draft!) in tomorrow night's speech. The question remains how much good news is coming to turn around public opinion and Democratic critics? LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Mary Curtius looks at the (fine?) line Democrats are finding themselves walking in criticizing the President on his Iraq policy while supporting the troops and looking (cautiously) optimistically at the Iraqi elections, Noting that while many Democrats agree that the President needs to come up with a definition of U.S. success in the region to determine the extent and length of American involvement in Iraq, Sen. Kennedy may be out there alone in his call for a timetable to pull troops out. LINK

John Yaukey of Gannett News Service writes that President Bush's major challenge is convincing people he has a detailed plan for Iraq, and spelling it out. LINK

As we Noted above, the Pentagon is proposing increasing the benefits to families of U.S. troops killed in war zones. LINK and LINK

ABC News' Ann Compton reports that President Bush will raise the one-time, tax-free death payment to families from $12,400 to $100,000, will raise the maximum life insurance payment from $250,000 to $400,000, and also emphasizes continuing support including Veterans Affairs tax-free monthly payments of $993 to surviving widows, Uniformed Service benefits to families, free medical care at VA hospitals, education benefits, and Social Security.

Celebrate the vote -- cautiously, warn both George Will and E.J. Dionne . LINK and LINK

A message from former Iowa Republican Party chair Chuck Larson: "Our higher headquarters has scheduled a welcome home ceremony on February 10th or 11th, 10:00 a.m. at the Hotel Ft. Des Moines, located at 10th and Walnut Ave in Des Moines."

"During this year, I have met Iraqis who have been tortured and had their entire families killed by Saddam's regime. This is why freedom, democracy, and the elections tomorrow are so important to the people of Iraq."

"In addition to my legal responsibilities, I spearheaded our command's humanitarian mission and supervised the construction of 12 new schools, 3 city halls, 2 water treatment facilities, a veterinarian clinic, and the renovation of a rural community's electrical infrastructure. No longer will the children we helped attend school in a windowless, mud brick building. Other units have built hundreds of schools, health clinics, water-treatment systems to improve the quality of life in Iraq."

Welcome home, Chuck.

Social Security:

Seven Democratic Senators represent states where Bush will visit this week. All but Ben Nelson oppose his Social Security policies, the New York Times found by asking them. LINK

But Bob Kerrey in a Wall Street Journal op-ed warns fellow liberals that parts of the Social System are in crisis and that simply saying "no" is not politically adept.

"If liberals joined this debate they would insist that the guaranteed transfer payment of Social Security remain intact. With the evidence that trade, technology and immigration are putting downward pressure on unskilled wages, they might even be able to succeed in changing the current benefit formula so that more than 50% of the first $900 of income was replaced. Perhaps they could even convince their Republican colleagues to eliminate penalties that affect stay-at-home women."

"Liberals would fight to make certain that contributions to private accounts were progressive in order to benefit lower-wage workers. They might even argue that accounts be opened at birth, thus giving Americans the longest possible time to accumulate wealth. No doubt they would insist that investment options be carefully regulated to keep administrative costs and risks as low as possible. And since liberals oftentimes understand the good that markets can do even more than some of their conservative colleagues, they could see the wisdom of changing the tax code so that no income taxes were levied on income that went into these savings accounts. All of these would practically guarantee a muscular market response that would give future Americans larger amounts of insured non-employment income to add to the $800 per month on average they receive from Social Security."

Paul Krugman continues his laser-like focus on Social Security. Today, he writes that the claims of "privitizers" about higher returns don't add up. LINK

The Hill's Alexander Bolton writes that an ACT-style coalition is coming together among 30 groups to defeat the President's Social Security plan, and according to organizers, they're planning to raise $30 million to buy TV ads and campaign door to door. LINK

Note: "The Media Fund, headed by former Clinton adviser Harold Ickes, is temporarily shut down, according to a former spokeswoman who recently conferred with Ickes. And America Coming Together, which managed most of the party's get-out-the-vote operation in 2004, will make its plans for this year in a board meeting Feb. 14."

Speaking of the outside efforts, hits the airwaves today with an ad called "Working Retirement," calling on members of Congress to oppose the President's Social Security plan. The spot targets three House members -- Allen Boyd (D-FL), Chris Chocola (R-IN), and Jim Gerlach (R-PA), and will run on cable TV in New York and Washington, DC as well. The $200,000 buy is scheduled to run for one week, with 800 gross ratings points per district.


VO: First, someone thought up the working lunch.

Then, we discovered the working vacation.

And now, thanks to George Bush's planned Social Security benefit cuts of up to 46% to pay for private accounts, it won't be long before America introduces the world to . . .

The working retirement.

Call Congressman [Allen Boyd/ Chris Chocola/ Jim Gerlach] today [local phone number] and tell him: no, George Bush can't cut Social Security.

MoveOn's also dropping $70,000 to run a full-page ad in tomorrow's New York Times.

Bush agenda:

USA Today's Jill Lawrence and Susan Page examine the factors that turned Blue counties Red in 2004, interviewing voters in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, and New Jersey and Noting that "153 counties that voted Democratic for president in 1996 and 2000 chose Bush in 2004; only 11 chose Democrat John Kerry after voting Republican in 1996 and 2000." LINK

Why the change? War -- in Iraq and on terrorism; image of strength; values; demographics; and sheer will and boots on the ground in terms of Republican campaigning.

The Los Angeles Times' Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten take a really interesting must-read look at how black religious leaders who tend to be conservative on moral and social issues are turning toward the Republican Party. Today in Los Angeles, more than 100 African-American ministers are gathering in the first of several regional meetings to band together in support of banning same-sex marriages. The meeting is being sponsored by the Traditional Values Coalition, led by Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, "a white evangelical Christian with close ties to White House political strategist Karl Rove, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman and other senior Bush administration officials." LINK

"In the last seven presidential elections, the GOP's share of the black vote ranged from 8% to 11% nationwide," the duo Note.

"But by courting conservative blacks in battleground states -- reaching out through programs such as the president's faith-based initiative -- GOP organizers believe they made the difference that secured Bush's victory in 2004. In Ohio, for instance, a concerted effort increased black support for Bush from 9% in 2000 to 16% in 2004, providing a cushion that allowed the president to win the pivotal state outright on election night. The Black Contract With America will be unveiled by Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., a registered Democrat from suburban Washington who backed Bush in 2004 after voting against him four years earlier. He was drawn, he said, to the GOP's social conservatism that he thought reflected the true values of black churches."

DNC chair's race:

The Washington Post's Dan Balz describes Gov. Dean as being in the driver's seat after his endorsement yesterday by the Association of State Democratic Chairs and former rival Wellington Webb, but Notes that "Dean still has several potential hurdles in his path, including a meeting today of the AFL-CIO's political committee. Frost has been working hard to win the AFL endorsement, but other Democrats said labor could easily decide not to make a group endorsement, leaving individual unions and their members free to vote as they wish." LINK

Ron Brownstein quotes Art Torres as saying "It's over." LINK

But hey -- if Dean doesn't get a majority on the first ballot Feb. 12, it's not necessarily over.

Still, a top aide to one of Dean's top rivals admits that "an anti-Dean movement will have to coalesce" around one candidate before next week.

And Adam Nagourney in the New York Times quotes Rubin Pulido, a spokesman for Tim Roemer: "All of those who are dreading a Howard Dean chairmanship must speak up now or forever hold their peace. The fact is, a majority of the 447 members are still up for grabs. Until these people vote, we're going to keep fighting." LINK

Nagourney quotes an AFT spokeswoman as saying that Dean has won the support of a majority of the AFT's 13 members who can cast DNC votes.

Today, the AFL-CIO political committee meets to consider whether to endorse in the race. The more likely result is that they will simply allow individual unions to endorse on their own, which some would like. That probably means another net boost for Howard Dean, and perhaps a boost for Martin Frost.

Deborah Orin has this quote: "'Republicans couldn't have a better opponent than Howard Dean. He's a symbol of outdated liberalism, he's strident, he's negative, he's out of step,' said GOP pollster John McLaughlin." LINK

Dawson Bell of the Detroit Free Press has the best accounting so far of what happened between Michigan and the DNC on election eve. LINK

"People who said they were familiar with the situation told the Free Press that national party activist Donnie Fowler and Michigan campaign officials notified national party leaders they needed an extra $2.5 million on the last weekend before the Nov. 2 vote They said they would have to curtail the state campaign if the money wasn't forthcoming, used lax accounting practices and were so disorganized that several campaign vans turned up missing, said the Democrats, who spoke on condition of anonymity."

"Fowler and Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer vigorously disputed those charges Monday, which they said were part of an effort by party rivals to undermine Fowler's DNC candidacy."

Donna Brazile urges Howard Dean to stay the course in Roll Call: "The bigger fish in the Democratic pond (the party is still swimming upstream) are truly bottom feeders eating away their young, casting aside callously their base and ignorant of the sharks circling our old coalitions. They have dismissed an entire generation of potential leaders when they held power by failing to lift up those who were coming behind. With you, some of the people who have been kept down found their voice. No matter what happens next week, keep fighting for them."

The Christian Science Monitor's editorial board warns that Democrats are about to make a big mistake by picking Dean. LINK

Roll Call's Chris Cillizza and Erin Billings report that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has spurned the efforts of Rep. Martin Frost, including three meetings, to try to gain her support, leaving Steny Hoyer as the only member of the Democratic House leadership supporting Frost. "For his part, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) has been sounding out labor leaders about the possibility of unifying behind either Frost or political operative Donnie Fowler."

Dems regroup:

The Washington Post's dashing Tom Edsall profiles Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), looking at the pragmatic streak that keeps works to keep mining and gaming interests, as well as those of his party, happy. LINK

The cabinet: Alberto Gonzales:

Sen. Kennedy has reiterated his request for White House documents linking Alberto Gonzales to the U.S.' policy on the torture of detainees suspected of terrorism, suggesting that the Administration is stonewalling, Roll Call's Emily Pierce reports.

National security:

Robert Gates will not be the next (first) DNI, which had been (apparently) the White House preference. LINK


Lew Fidler switches allegiances from Miller to Ferrer. LINK

A parade of '06 hopefuls took turns addressing the Conservative Party convention last night, and Patrick Healy has the blow-by-blow. D.A. Pirro was a crowd favorite. LINK

Michael Cooper plays catch up to the New York Post. LINK

. . . as the Post does some shoe leather to figure out what that aide to Ms. Pataki actually does all day. LINK

The RNC is giving the NRSC $1 million to get rid of its debt, Roll Call's Chris Cillizza reports -- which should also be made easier by the $4 million the NRSC reportedly raised in January.


The Boston Globe's Raphael Lewis and Janette Neuwahl take an in-depth look at Gov. Mitt Romney's PAC munificence, in South Carolina, Michigan, and other key states. LINK

As does the AP. LINK

The New York Times' Raymond Hernandez on the evolution (or something else) of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton:

"In a recent series of public appearances, Mrs. Clinton has generated considerable attention -- and, in some cases, scorn -- by imbuing her remarks with mentions of God, faith, prayer and the need to be more tolerant of people who are opposed to abortion and gay marriage because of their beliefs." LINK

"Recently, for example, Mrs. Clinton drew attention to her own spirituality as she discussed the major role that values played in the November elections. 'I have spent a lot of time over the course of my lifetime wrestling with and dealing with questions of my faith,' she told an audience at Tufts University in November."

"That faith, they say, has sustained her throughout a public life that has made her an object of painful scrutiny, particularly during her days in the White House dealing with issues like her husband's infidelity . . . A churchgoer for years, Mrs. Clinton also joined a prayer group led by Republicans when she took office in the Senate in 2001, her associates and aides note."

"Those who know her say one of the most influential figures in her life was Donald Jones, her youth minister in Park Ridge, Ill., who remained so close to her through the years that he sometimes accompanied her on the campaign trail to offer moral support during her 2000 Senate bid in New York."

Glad you're feeling better after yesterday's brief fainting spell, Sen. Clinton. We wish you and all the illish Clinton staff a speedy recovery. LINK

Michiko Kakutani unfavorably reviews Newt Gingrich's latest book. LINK

Sen. George Allen heads to New York on Thursday to address a gathering of Conservative Party leaders in Brooklyn.

It's not a primary state (yet) but corporate real estate types are excited about their mid-April conference in Toronto, where guest speaker Rudy Giuliani will entertain them. LINK

The Washington Post's Michael Shear reports that Virginia Gov. Mark Warner announced that Virginia will reap $265 million more in tax revenue than he estimated in his budget last month -- a total of nearly $1.2 billion for the two-year budget approved last year. Part of the windfall comes from a 78-percent hike in corporate taxes since the previous fiscal year, and critics are questioning the financial picture Warner painted in order to get his budget passed. LINK

Eliot Spitzer reiterated his "four-year promise" to remain as governor of New York if he's elected. LINK


The Los Angeles Times' Dan Morain reports that Gov. Schwarzenegger raised more than $23 million in contributions last year, spending money to raise money, travel, and fund initiative campaigns. He also spent more than $300,000 on lawyers "to defend him against libel suits stemming from allegations of groping made against him in the final days of the 2003 recall campaign." LINK

They say politics are a-changin' but Jesse Helms is still using Bill Clinton to raise money. LINK

From a news release:

"Senior White House official Matt Schlapp will become Koch Industries, Inc.'s executive director of federal government affairs beginning Feb. 20. Schlapp currently serves as deputy assistant to the President and political director. He previously worked as a regional political director on the President's 2000 campaign and joined the administration on its first day."