The Note: Budgeting Time


With the Social Security debate humming along and Howard Dean's ascendancy imminent, the first budget of President Bush's second term takes center stage today, with all the normal Washington hoo-hah.

The budget hits Congress at 8:30 am ET, the boxes are opened at about 10:00 am ET, and the President meets with his second-term cabinet this morning at the White House to tout it.

There are numerous departmental briefings all day: Ag, Labor, Interior, NASA at 1:00 pm ET, DOD, DOT, DHS and the Army Corps of Engineers at 2:00 pm ET.

The $2.5 trillion budget faces opposition from Congress and from many interest groups, and probably a slew of "Bush is cutting programs for the poor" coverage from less discerning media outlets.

The weekend and morning coverage emphasizes the farm cuts (and Republican opposition to them) and the overall DOA perception from some on the Hill.

The reality is that if you took the current budget plan and the current Social Security plan and put them in a business-as-usual case study of how Washington works, you would find deep skepticism that the President can get what he wants on either.

And indeed the tone of the press coverage and the Gang of 500 implicitly questions whether any of this will happen.

The ONLY two reasons that "DOA" is not being sung from every Beltway rooftop are:

A. The President's record of CW-defying legislative accomplishment.

B. The sheer political strength and savvy of the President's team (as contrasted with the still-organizing opposing team).

Can the fight over the budget (which, as we have said, will cause at least some intra-GOP tensions) in any way HELP the President with the Social Security battle? We don't see how, but we are open to be persuaded.

So while we still look for reliable measures of the how the Social Security roll-out went last week (Surely, Casa Blanca cannot be completely thrilled with the free media coverage -- even if it wasn't as bad as it might have been . . . ), today at least is all about some figures and programs that completely ignore those transition costs!!!

See below for more on the budget and Social Security fights.

At 2:00 pm ET, President Bush grips and grins with the 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup champion. The U.S. Senate convenes at 2:00 pm ET and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee questions DHS nominee Michael Chertoff at 6:00 pm ET. The National Association of Secretaries of State ends its winter meeting in Washington with a discussion with Election Assistance Commission officials.

If you're interested in the recent Iraqi codel, you can watch Sen. John Thune make the rounds; he appears on "IP" at 4:00 pm ET and "Hardball" at 7:00 pm ET.

Tuesday, President Bush speaks to the Detroit Economic Club in the morning and returns to the White House to make remarks to the Council and Scholarly Committee of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Also tomorrow, the New Hampshire Presidential Primary Democratic Task Force meets in Concord, NH.

On Wednesday, the President meets with the president of Poland and then rallies the class action reform lobbyists at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Postal Service is expected to release a stamp honoring Ronald Reagan. In South Carolina. former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani attends a fundraiser for tsunami victims. And the AFL-CIO's organizing committee meetings.

Thursday, Bill Clinton and John Kerry headline a thank-you dinner for DNC chair Terry McAuliffe. And the Democratic National Committee begins three days of meeting, culminating Saturday with the expected election of Howard Dean to be DNC chair.

On Friday, President Bush spends the day in Washington, swearing in his new HHS Secretary Mike Johanns and then peaking at a performance of "Lincoln: Seen and Heard." We presume he will not mention the recent scholarly controversy over Mr. Lincoln's intimate ways, but you never know.

On Saturday, the National Religious Broadcasters convention meets in Anaheim, Calif.

Budget '06: overview:

The Washington Post's Mike Allen and Peter Baker offer up a day-of curtain-raiser for President Bush's budget, Noting that 150 programs would be cut or eliminated, foreshadowing a tough fight from Congress, and that money for neither Iraq and Afghanistan nor the Social Security plan are included. LINK

In the same paper, John Harris looks at the return of deficit politics to public debate. LINK

On Sunday, the Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman curtain-raised the fights forthcoming between the President and Congress over domestic programs. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's White House team digs in to the rationales for some of the budget cuts, including the Administration's insistence that government programs, well, work. And this final paragraph does not sound overwhelmingly optimistic: "Administration aides say they believe that because of the deficit and an increase in the number of conservatives in Congress the mood on Capitol Hill is changing, and more lawmakers are willing to vote against certain programs."

The New York Times' Edmund Andrews on how difficult it will be to cut the deficit in half over five years. LINK

Budget '06: line items:

Reports Scott Kilman in the Wall Street Journal: "The Bush administration wants to cut federal payments to the nation's biggest farms to help trim agriculture subsidies by $5.74 billion over the next 10 years."

The Washington Post's Paul Bluestein on Sunday looked at the boost in foreign aid in the budget -- $9.5 billion for humanitarian and development ventures, and doubling the spending by the Millennium Challenge Corp., which directs aid to poor countries. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's Sarah Lueck has a must-read front-pager on Medicaid's, well, crisis.

"Forty years ago, Congress, as an afterthought to the Medicare program for the elderly, created Medicaid to help pay for the medical needs of about four million low-income people. Today, the program covers 53 million people -- nearly one in every six Americans -- and costs $300 billion a year in federal and state funds, recently surpassing spending on the federal Medicare program. In some states, Medicaid accounts for one-third of the budget."

"The benefits offered by Medicaid have steadily expanded over the decades. The program now pays for 60% of the nation's nursing-home bill. It covers eight million disabled people and 25 million children. At many hospitals that cater to indigent people, Medicaid accounts for more than 40% of the revenue."

In Mississippi, "In the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, Medicaid is projected to cost $268 million more than the state budgeted. Officials are now warning that the program will run out of money by the end of this month unless the legislature passes an emergency appropriation. To open up funds for Medicaid, the state has slashed road construction and may delay plans to raise the salaries of public-school teachers who earn an average of about $35,000 a year."

And that has put Haley Barbour in a pickle, as it has for just about every GOP governor in any state with significant Medicaid spending. Phil Bredesen's TennCare struggles get a cameo.

The news these past few days have probably been like manna from heaven for Robert Pear.

He and Carl Hulse report this morning that "President Bush's budget would more than double the co-payment charged to many veterans for prescription drugs and would require some to pay a new fee of $250 a year for the privilege of using government health care . . ." LINK

"The president would increase the co-payment for a month's supply of a prescription drug to $15, from the current $7. The co-payment and the $250 'user fee' would apply mainly to veterans in lower-priority categories, who have higher incomes and do not have service-related disabilities. The government had no immediate estimate of how many veterans would be affected if the user fee and co-payment proposals were adopted. But veterans' groups said that hundreds of thousands of people would end up paying more and that many would be affected by both changes. The proposals to increase charges to veterans face stiff opposition from veterans organizations, Democratic members of Congress and some Republicans."

Saturday, Pear wrote of cuts to obesity programs, the CDC and more. LINK

Sunday, he tapped his Ag sources. LINK

Social Security:

Howard Fineman in Newseek gets at the legislative strategy that is still in formation, writing about President Bush's political gamble and concluding thusly:

" . . . Bush's GOP allies are moving cautiously. They won't even try, Hill sources tell NEWSWEEK, to unify behind a particular bill until the fall -- hoping to lure Democrats to make a counterproposal first. That will leave plenty of time for more talk, more campaigning, more blogging -- and rock concerts." LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Ron Brownstein writes that money and trust are two ingredients that President Bush needs more of in abundance if he wants to successfully sell his Social Security plan, even despite his success in the past of uniting Republicans behind a common agenda. LINK

Joe Klein of Time, who memorably opined after a Democratic candidates debate last year that the Democrats were the "stupidest $@#(ing party" he'd ever seen, read about, or imagined, castigates the Democrats for heckling during SOTU and being generally obstructionist on Medicare and Social Security reform. LINK

The New York Times' Nicholas Confessore wrote Sunday on the prospects for Social Security given President Bush's prediliction for breaking the rules (of politics, that is). LINK

USA Today's Oren Dorell looks at the ad war accompanying President Bush's Social Security plan, and breaks down the groups with spots on the air supporting the overhaul, and those opposing it. LINK

The Washington Post's Christopher Lee writes up Vice President Cheney's Foxy acknowledgement yesterday that the Social Security plan will involve borrowing trillions of dollars in the coming decades. LINK

Allan Sloan of Newsweek examines the fine print and attempts a blissful numbers-and-economics-only look at Social Security. LINK

Newsweek's new poll shows that 26 percent of Americans support President Bush's plan, 36 oppose it, and 30 percent say they aren't familiar with it. Loads of interesting stuff in here on generational splits and differences in how people view the role of government. LINK

"The only age group that believes the potential returns outweigh the risk is 18- to 34-year-olds, and even they are divided (48 percent says it's a necessary risk, 46 percent says it's too big a risk.) More mature Americans betray no such uncertainty: Of those 55 years old and older, 65 percent say investing in the market is too risky; only 25 percent say it's a necessary risk."

The President has 90 days to sell his vision, says Sen. Chuck Grassley. LINK

More GOP doubters. LINK

Rep. Mike Pence and the House Republican Study Conference want the President to go further and "said the members' objections to new or increased taxes to pay for the president's plan was deafening. Mr. Pence said the group also called for allowing workers to set aside 6 percent, instead of the president's proposed 4 percent, of their wages, roughly all of their Social Security payroll tax, for individual accounts." LINK

But National Review senses optimism in the House. LINK

Jeff Birnbaum senses the renewed power of the Chamber of Commerce, and we'd Note that Bush himself plans a visit to the chamber HQ on Wednesday to tout class action. LINK

Also: "The chamber has hired the Swiss Guard of paid consultants from both political parties. Several showed up at a recent dinner hosted by Donohue at the chamber, including Al From, chief executive of the Democratic Leadership Council . . . "

E-mail us, please, Mr. From, and explain that.

Bush agenda:

At least in terms of image, Secretary Rice's global tour has been an incredible success. The press corps wasn't quite sure.. They had a few doubts . . . LINK

The Wall Street Journal's James Haggerty reports that the Bush Administration may seek a tighter rein over GSEs like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Today on Air America Radio:

Jose Canseco says he did steroids while on the Texas Rangers, and, per the New York Daily News, "claims the team's general managing partner at the time -- an aspiring politician named George W. Bush -- had to have been aware that his players were using performance-enhancing drugs but did nothing about it." LINK

"White House spokesman Ken Lisaius declined to comment on the allegations, but he noted that President Bush called on players and owners during his 2004 State of the Union address to get rid of steroids and applauded the beefed-up drug policy Major League Baseball and the Players Association agreed to in December."

"'This President's position on steroids has been clear for some time,' Lisaius said." The President is a fan of Tom Wolfe's, and therefore, of his latest: "I Am Charlotte Simmons." LINK

We'd like to remind everyone that Richard Wolffe of Newsweek had the "Charlotte Simmons" tidbit weeks ago.

DNC chair's race:

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean has assured party leaders that if he's elected to head the Democratic National Committee next week, he will focus aggressively on raising money and winning elections, party officials, and Dean advisers have told ABC News.

Dean has also said he'd allow members of Congress and Democratic governors to set the party's policy agenda, the sources said.

Dean has started planning a transition that would make his mark on party operations, but he is also trying to calm a chorus of Democrats who believe his polarizing image will hurt the party. Dean has assured Democratic strategists and supporters he will choose deputies they will find credible.

If elected, Dean plans to embark on a national tour to rally supporters and meet with his detractors in an attempt to get them on board for his four-year chairmanship.

His first orders of business will be to unify the party and communicate to Democrats that he views his tenure as a partnership with them, Democrats said.

The Republican National Committee has an extensive file of Dean's colorful quotations and a Republican official said GOP officials will work to brand Democrats nationwide as temperamental and cultural allies of Dean's.

Read more exclusve details on here. LINK

The New York Times' Todd Purdum on Dean's re-re-invention. LINK

New York magazine makes the case that Howard Dean will be (could be?) a successful chair, despite all the concern. LINK

Bob Novak's Sunday column speculates about the "Dean file"-- see our article above -- (and also says the GOP will go nuclear, re: a filibuster of Judge Janice Rogers Brown; says that the House may not wait for the Senate on Social Security, and knocks Mitch Daniels). LINK


The New York Times' James Rutenberg Notes that Mayor Bloomberg's decision to affirm his support for gay marriage while appealing a ruling that promoted it straddles the partisan divide, makes his supporters and enemies crazy, but gives him more time to maneuver. LINK

New York Post headline: MAYOR IS 'BI' ON GAY NUPS: CRITICS


Reports Fred Dicker in the New York Post: "Add the names of Port Authority Commissioner Bruce Blakeman and former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer to the small group of "B" team Republicans interested in challenging U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton next year. Blakeman, the former presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature, was the GOP's losing candidate in 1998 against then-incumbent Comptroller Carl McCall. Spencer was courted by Pataki to take on U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer in last November's election, but said 'no' after realizing he didn't have a chance." LINK


Ron Fournier on 2008, including Bayh's almost-open striving, Richardson's declaration, a Vilsack meeting later in the month, and Allen's staffing up. LINK

Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) argued Sunday in a Washington Post op-ed that the goal of training Iraqis to take control of their own security should be the standards of training, not just the number of people who've gone through it. LINK

New York magazine has an item about a purported $10 million Arthur Finklestein campaign to "swift boat" Sen. Clinton. We would ask Mr. Finkelstein to e-mail us about that, but we think the chances we would get an answer are de minimus.

The Des Moines Register's Tom Beaumont on Saturday wrote up the new Iowa Poll that shows 55 percent of Iowans say it's a bad idea for Gov. Tom Vilsack to run for President. LINK

Vice President Cheney said Sunday he's not launching his own presidential bid in 2008. LINK

It's stories like these that make some Republicans nervous about Mayor Giuliani and 2008: LINK

Dana Milbank runs up the middle and catalogues Sen. George Allen's penchant for football metpahors. LINK

Whoever succeeds Jason Miner at the DNC will want to put this in their Romney clip file. LINK

John Edwards in New Hampshire:

What's new in New Hampshire?

There's a new governor (John Lynch) with a new state education plan (to be unveiled tomorrow) that just might end the state's long-running crisis/political sideshow; there's a newly remodeled Courtyard by Marriott near the airport (don't get too excited); there's a new riverside minor league ballpark down the street from WMUR; and there are some new ethnic restaurants on Elm Street in Manchester.

But the newest things in New Hampshire this weekend were John Edwards' stump speech and his missing mole.

First, the speech.

It got good in-state coverage and we are here to tell you that it is the finest 2008 Democratic presidential stump speech in the nation today (although mostly by default) .

The text (as written and delivered) is a clever extension of Edwards' 2003/4 speech, updated to implicitly include "lessons learned" from that race -- which makes it optimistic, issue oriented, and forward looking. It's progressive, but in a DLCish kind of way, and the guy could give a honed version of it for a long, long time.

As for the mole, the North Carolina papers give it proper play. LINK

In short, Edwards' doctor wanted to test it and removed it and it is (thankfully) benign.

Far be it for us to say that looks matter in politics, but we believe that one of the four most disqualifying barriers to John Edwards ever becoming president of the United States has now been removed.

Also, Edwards and Elizabeth Edwards are now represented by the Harry Walker Agency for speeches. Note the grouping on the Walker Web site homepage with John Ashcroft!!! LINK

On Sunday, the Washington Post's Dan Balz wrote up his time with Sen. Edwards in New Hampshire this weekend, where, Diet Coke-free, Edwards said that Democrats don't need to change their positions to be successful, they just need to stand up for what they actually believe in. Among his post-public life ventures is a focus on foreign policy and speeches in the U.S. and abroad. And we're glad to hear that Mrs. Edwards is doing well. LINK

Note that Edwards has not (and will not!) take a Lieberman-like pledge not to run if ticketmate Sen. Kerry decides to.

Newsweek's Melinda Henneberger sat down Edwards for a look at what else he's up to -- and discovers, among other things, that he and Sen. Kerry stay in close touch. LINK

Note how interesting it is that Newsweek's photographer just happened to tag along when the Senator took in a high school basketball game in the Granite State Friday night with those adorable tykes of his.

Overall, we would say the full-page spread in Newsweek is favorable to the Senator.

Other clips from the Weekend in New England:

Fournier: LINK

Raleigh News and Observer: LINK

Charlotte: LINK

Sen. John Kerry:

As we have said many times, the worst thing that can happen to people who want to be president is that they lose control of their public image.

Some have argued convincingly that the reason John Kerry lost the election is that the Bush campaign, the Swift Boat Veterans for Whatever, and other opponents snatched Kerry's image from him and never let him have it back.

Since the election, Kerry and those advising him have clearly aimed to address that.

The Internet doesn't have enough space for us to analyze whether Kerry has made progress in that project in the last 24 hours -- with a major Boston Globe interview and an appearance on Imus so endless that the show's eponymous host made fun of one of the Bay Stater's long-winded answers.

Let's say this, though: the portrait of Kerry that emerged organically from those two sessions is one that Ken Mehlman would recognize.

Imus had the Senator talk about Form 180, the Newsweek portrait of Mrs. Heinz (Kerry), and whether the world is safer because of America's action in Iraq (surely by now one of Kerry's favorite topics).

In fact in Sunday's Globe interview -- which Peter Canellos wrote up for his colleagues Easton, Kranish, and Milligan -- Kerry comes up with another narrative tale of the famous Grand Canyon moment, which many Note readers will want to read in full themselves. LINK

During the interview, Kerry also mulled over the reasons his presidential campaign was unsuccessful, and said the lessons he learned could put him in a better place should he seek to be the party's standard-bearer in the future. Key among those lessons: a desire to lead the party in integrating religion into its message and to work with Howard Dean to improve its grassroots operations.

The Globe interview ends thusly:

"Asked what hurt him the most during the campaign, Kerry mused about how 'all of us are flawed as human beings' and 'I think I have a strong record' before raising his voice and declaring: 'One thing I know is that I didn't flip-flop on anything.'"


"Despite the contentious nature of the campaign, Kerry expressed no resentment toward the president, but revealed a simmering bitterness toward some of the president's staunch backers. Kerry demanded that the swift boat veterans who had criticized his military record agree to open up their own files because he knows 'one guy was busted' and another 'has a letter of reprimand.'"

". . . The furor over military credentials hasn't ended with the campaign. Kerry pledged to sign Form 180, releasing all of his military records, but challenged his critics, including Bush, to do the same."

". . . Kerry's intentions to stay viable as a party leader and potential 2008 presidential candidate will be girded by a new political action committee that will be run by his longtime strategist John Giesser of Newton, who will also oversee a 3-million-person e-mail list at Meanwhile, Kerry said, he is working on a book, but will not reveal the subject. He said it is 'premature' to think of another presidential run but acknowledged that he believes he's become a much better politician over the past year."


The New York Times' Adam Nagourney overviews the "largely uncoordinated campaigns stretching from California to Massachusetts [that] are pushing to end, or at least minimize, a time-honored staple of American politics: lawmakers drawing Congressional and legislative district maps in geographically convoluted ways to ensure the re-election of an incumbent or the dominance of a party." LINK

Whither environmentalism? The New York Times' Felicity Barringer on a movement to collapse that category of liberal activism and simply go full-hog bonkers to elect liberals to office. LINK

The Washington Post's Blaine Harden took a fascinating look on Sunday at evangelicals and environmental activism -- a.k.a. "creation care." LINK

Roll Call's Chris Cillizza and Mark Preston look at the RNC's full court press against Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), looking to hobble him both nationally and in his home state -- and/but it looks to be a tougher job than the offensive against Tom Daschle.

Speaking of Reid, George Will takes him on about Social Security in Newsweek. LINK

Speaking of Daschle, Roll Call's Paul Kane looks at the former Senate minority leader's PAC, and his efforts to raise cash for congressional, state, and local candidates.