The Note: Searching For Light



President Bush heads to the Motor City to sell his budget Notions at the country's most prestigious economic forum. He speaks at 12:15 ET, and our Carnac the Magnificent prediction is that it will get cable news roadblock coverage.

The President will be speaking about the budget, Social Security, and policy priorities at the Detroit Economic Club, but we bet he will also be listening.

Because George W. Bush is a man who knows that there is lot of common-sense Midwestern wisdom to be gleaned from the good folks he will meet during his visit.

In the meantime, while we wait for that, we have some (seeming) wisdom of our own to parcel out to a few readers:

FOR POLITICAL REPORTERS AND HERITAGE/CATO BUDGET ANALYSTS WHO WANT THE PRESIDENT TO VETO A BILL -- ANY BILL -- TO SHOW HE'LL BE TOUGH ON SPENDING: Get real, and think this through -- given the close coordination between the White House and the GOP congressional leadership, how could the budget process yield a bill on Mr. Bush's desk that he isn't prepared to sign?

FOR WHITE HOUSE BUDGET STRATEGISTS: The fact that almost no Democrats are reacting to your budget by calling for a repeal of the income tax cuts for upper income Americans is a victory of sorts, but Note well what David Brooks writes in the New York Times today about how to pass some sort of retirement savings accounts (" . . . (I)t would be smart for Republicans to forgo making the Bush tax cuts permanent in exchange for these kinds of accounts."), and Pete Domenici (R-NM) is said by the Los Angeles Times to be having "second thoughts" about making the tax cuts permanent. Watch out to see if this Brownsteinian attitude grows inside the party -- danger, Will Robinson.

FOR SEN. HARRY REID: Many Democrats are still taking your measure as one of their leaders; if you think that "asking" the White House in high moral dudgeon to call off the incessant, cookie cutter attacks on your alleged Blue State tendencies will achieve anything but making you look a bit naïve, you have another thing coming.

FOR GOV. HOWARD DEAN: If you haven't asked several smart people if your icky favorable/unfavorable ratings matter, and, if they do, what is to be done about them, a case could be made that you are even less prepared for your new job than those who are most worried about the words "DNC Chairman Howard Dean" fear.

After his Motown gig, the President flies back to the White House to participate in a celebration of Black History Month at 3:15 pm ET.

The Senate takes up class action reform legislation at 9:30 am ET, and Sen. Frist is scheduled to come to cameras following his party's policy lunch at about 2:00 pm ET.

Treasury Secretary John Snow talks about the budget with the House Ways and Means Committee at 10:30 am ET and the Senate budget committee later; Budget director Josh Bolten also makes the rounds.

First Lady Laura Bush continues her post-SOTU tour at a school in Baltimore this morning.

Also today, the New Hampshire Presidential Primary Democratic Task Force meets in Concord, NH, and Gov. Granholm of Michigan (D) gives her State of the State speech.

Bush agenda and a visit to Detroit:

USA Today's Jill Lawrence reports that the USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll conducted this past weekend shows President Bush with a 57 percent job approval rating, and majorities saying that the war in Iraq was worth it, things are going well, and democracy will succeed there. The outlook for Social Security is slightly less sunny; 44 percent say they approve of the President's plan, while 50 percent say they disapprove. LINK

Poll results: LINK

Chris Christoff of the Detroit Free Press frames President Bush's visit to the Detroit Economic Club to talk Social Security as a sort of split screen with Gov. Jennifer Granholm's state of the state address, where she'll talk about the state economy and education. LINK

Coverage of President Bush's budget and what it means to Michigan as he heads to Detroit today focuses largely on the cuts in programs that the state would face.

The Free Press' Ruby Bailey writes that the state could lose more than $1 billion in Medicaid money over a decade, and Detroit and other cities would lose public housing money under President Bush's budget. LINK

So does Deb Price of the Detroit News, who Notes the "unexpected bright spot" of the possibility of more money for road construction and repairs among the other effects on the state. LINK

Bush vs. Reid:

We realize that the White House began its "let's stick it to Harry Reid" campaign in earnest yesterday, but we wonder if it's just a tad too early for the Senate Minority Leader to be so publicly offended. It's a long congressional session, this stuff has only just begun, both sides are just starting to throw down on the budget and Social Security, and, well, we can't think of an instance in which crying foul has ever called off the dogs before. Is this being done to prod Reid to react, thereby forcing/allowing Frist to use the nuclear option on judges?

That said, perhaps this is a feint, because Reid is a fighter. Literally, the guy is an ex-boxer. And you might have known this, but he has a closer relationship with Karl Rove than most Democrats. (Or, at least, he did). The two men have even broken bread together. Anyway, we've read enough Nevada history to know what happens to folks when Harry Reid gets pissed off.

This threatens to spill from an inside baseball into a real test for both parties -- and the President. If nothing intervenes, this could leave permanent marks and impact the President's second term in a major way. It might be good politics to attack Reid so personally, but it does not accord with the President's vow to restore civility. And we g-g-guarantee it won't help him with tax reform, on which he and the minority leader might have found some common ground.

We await a read-out from last night's White House dinner.

Tony Batt of the Las Vegas Review-Journal writes that Reid angrily denounced the attacks against him, Noting that among the points listed is a criticism against Reid's family for benefitting from lobbying -- his son-in-law is a lobbyist. The White House, Batt writes, doesn't deny the similarities between the Daschle and Reid strategies. LINK

Reuters has Reid on the Senate floor reading from the 13-page e-mail "hit piece" that RNC sent out about him, asking why the President isn't putting his money where his mouth has been in terms of political civility. LINK

The Washington Post's Chuck Babington envisions a less-than-sparkling atmosphere at the White House dinner with Reid, Sens. Dodd (D-CT), Shelby (R-AL), and Smith (R-OR) and their wives. LINK

FY06 Budget:

Typical Democratic and Republican governor reaction to the budget:

"As Governor of ____(state), I've successfully balanced budgets for ____(number of years), so I'm happy to find ways to work with this Administration to help reduce costs that burden us both. But the Administration needs to find some way to ________(reduce the growth/cost of Medicaid / reduce higher education costs / keep our farmers employed gainfully / fully fund special education ) without putting that burden on the state."

Typical congressional Democratic reaction to the budget:

"If the President were serious about cutting the deficit, he would have offered an honest budget, one that took into account the growth of entitlements, the AMT, and the costs of war. Instead, he tries to balance it on the backs of the poor and vulnerable."

Typical public congressional Republican reaction to the budget:

"I applaud President Bush's budget, which calls for putting the government's house in order within the next several years. But I must protest his proposed cuts to the ______ (insert expensive program here). Cutting that program will hurt _____(state)'s _______(families/busiensses/children)."

Typical private GOP/GOP lobbyist reaction to the budget:

"No chance in _____ (hot, sinful place) of this passing without big changes, except for the cuts in _____ (program not favorered by lobbyist/program that helps Blue staters more than Red Staters)."

Typical House Republican Study Conference reaction to the budget:

"Who needs the Department of Labor anyway? We'll take your home heating oil cuts . . . and raise you the Federal Railroad Administration."

Typical smart analyst reaction to the budget:

As Brian Reidl says in the Wall Street Journal, the White House has, at the very least, framed the debate: it's where to cut, not where to spend. That said, we expect Congress to pass the budget…probably with a little higher spending levels than requested… and then also restore lots of goodies during appropriations.

The lede of the Wall Street Journal must make Grover Norquist (who always seems to be on the opposite side of the country -- he's in California today -- when budgets are introduced) quiver with delight. The budget cuts, write Jackie Calmes and John McKinnon, are the "broadest domestic spending cuts since the Reagan era

The final two paragraphs, on we at The Note call "a related topic," are worth reading in full:

"The year's budget writing will be complicated by the parallel debate over Social Security. While Mr. Bush last week acknowledged that private accounts, by themselves, wouldn't help Social Security's long-term financial outlook, now the Social Security Administration's chief actuary has informed the White House that its plan would hasten to 2012 from 2018 the date when Social Security will begin taking in less in payroll-tax revenues than it is paying out in benefits."

"The actuary, Stephen Goss, wrote White House adviser Charles Blahous that the costs to Social Security of workers diverting some payroll taxes to their personal accounts will exceed the amounts by which the government would reduce payments from the accounts to retired workers or their survivors to offset the initial payroll-tax diversion. 'Annual cash-flow deficits (negative annual balances) appear in 2012, or six years earlier than under current law,' Mr. Goss wrote.

Will Democrats give the President credit for cutting the Pentagon procurement budget?

As crafty Shailagh Murray in the Wall Street Journal reports, Bolten's Budget is Bipartisan in its austerity.

"Many of the savings that Mr. Bush is proposing are recycled ideas included in budgets year after year to show a lower projected deficit, even though their enactment is doubtful. Mr. Bush proposed substantially cutting or eliminating 65 programs last year, for a total proposed saving of $4.9 billion, but Congress eliminated fewer than a half dozen of them, for a total saving of less than $200 million," the New York Times' Andrews and Rosenbaum report. LINK

More from the Los Angeles Times. LINK

And USA Today. LINK

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wades through the happy talk of the White House's budget briefing. LINK

FY 06 Budget: analysis and politics:

The Washington Post's Peter Baker writes that despite the cuts, war costs may make it difficult at best for the Bush Administration to cut the deficit. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Janet Hook declares, "[t]he era of big government is back." Now it's just an argument over what kind of big government there should be. LINK

"Republicans' commitment to eliminating the deficit, a cornerstone of the Contract With America, also seems a thing of the past. Party members now argue that the deficit -- although it is a record in absolute numbers -- is manageable because, when measured as a share of the economy, it is not as large as Reagan's 1983 deficit."

The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman writes that despite all the fanfare and low-level panic about the President's budget, it's unlikely that members of Congress will sign on for all of the changes he's proposing. LINK

Writes Elisabeth Bumiller: ". . . some prominent conservatives said that the 2006 budget showed Mr. Bush to be a 'big-government conservative' who was not interested in limiting the size of Washington's bureaucracy and that the political reality was that many of the cuts to popular programs would be restored by Congress in the budget battles that are likely to rage on Capitol Hill for the rest of the year." LINK

More: "Although conservative critics have long annoyed the White House with complaints about what they call the president's free spending, economists said the administration was far more concerned about the effects of the deficit on foreign investment in the United States. The fear is that foreigners will grow less confident in investing in American capital markets, in part because of their concerns over the deficit. Those concerns could force the United States to increase interest rates to attract foreign investors, which could slow down American economic growth."

The New York Times' Robert Stevenson Notes the Hill's doubts about the budget but then reports that " . . . there are factors working in the White House's favor. The Republican leadership on Capitol Hill has tightened its control over the appropriations process by installing committee and subcommittee chairmen who are more inclined to support leaner budgets than were their predecessors." LINK

Carl Hulse quotes Judd Gregg as saying there will be "angst," Robert Bennett as saying there will be "anguish" and Denny Hastert calling the budget a "starting point." LINK

The Wall Street Journal's editorial board says "hooray" -- for deficits. "It is taboo to say this. And every editorial writer and politician in America will spend the next week denouncing federal red ink. But that's all the more reason for someone to point out that the much-loathed budget "deficit" is the main, and perhaps the only, reason we may finally get some federal spending restraint."

"That's the real news in yesterday's Fiscal Year 2006 budget proposal, the first of the Bush Presidency that seeks to restrain the growth of non-defense federal spending. At $2.57 trillion in new outlays, we are not exactly talking Beltway hardship. But any restraint will shock a political class that for the last several years has spent more on everything."

The New York Times' editorial board likes a few of the cuts, dislikes many others, and suggests that if President Bush was honest about cutting the deficit, his budget would reflect it more precisely. LINK

The Washington Post's editorial board gives the budget a big thumbs-down, calling President Bush's priorities out of whack. LINK

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), in a Washington Post op-ed, writes that some serious advocacy on behalf of education, health care, and worker safety is going to be needed in the face of this budget, which is why he's staying chairman of the subcommittee on labor, health and human services, and education. LINK

Re: the above: Yeeeeeeeeeeouch. Over to you, NRO's Corner. LINK

FY06 Budget: defense:

Weird: in Shailagh Murray's article cited above, she writes: "For Republicans, some of the toughest cuts to swallow are those hitting Pentagon procurement." But in an article on the DOD, two writers report that "Weapons procurement remains steady at $78 billion for fiscal 2006 but is projected to leap by 17% and 11% a year in 2007 and 2008, respectively."

Per the Wall Street Journal: "Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is pressing ahead with the modernization of American military forces in the face of White House pressure to curb spending, but those goals face considerable challenges within the Defense Department and in the U.S. Congress."

"The $419.3 billion defense budget announced yesterday hews to Mr. Rumsfeld's vision of faster, more-flexible fighting forces and high-tech weaponry at the expense of traditional aircraft and ship programs that were designed to fight conventional military forces, not guerrillas."

FY06 Budget: social programs:

Sarah Lueck in the Wall Street Journal outlines the President's Medicaid reform bill, which says it would save about $60 billion.

"The administration's proposal to close Medicaid 'loopholes' pressures governors to accept bigger changes in financing rules. Governors also like proposals that would let them reconfigure benefits without federal permission. That would be allowed for some Medicaid recipients under the administration's proposal, said Mark McClellan, administrator of the agency that runs Medicaid. But the elderly and disabled still should get a 'comprehensive' benefits package, he said. 'We can get more coverage and more assistance for the dollars we're spending and also relieve the burden on the states . . . This is not about saving money.'"

More, from the New York Times:



(Ouchie headline: "Subject to Bush's Knife: Aid for Food and Heating.") LINK

LINK (Vets)

LINK ($2 billion for the Pataki-sponsored railway to Kennedy).

The Congress:

Didn't Bob Novak tell us that the GOP had already decided to use the nuclear option?

The Washington Times suggests that Sen. Specter is having doubts. LINK

Stephen Labaton on the beginning of debate of the class action reform legislation in the Senate and six amendments, several of them contentious. LINK

AP's Lara Jakes Jordan reads Judge Chertoff's opinions on immigration -- less hard-line than some would have guessed -- for a sense of how he might run it from his post at the Department of Homeland Security. LINK

The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne accuses Republicans of playing the race card on Alberto Gonzales, painting a vote against him by Democrats as about race, rather than about his work in the White House counsel's office. LINK

Social Security:

The Boston Globe's Peter Canellos writes that Democrats can learn a lot from the criticisms of President Bush's Social Security plan by social conservatives including Dobson, Wildmon, Falwell, and Bauer, who ask whether the President is turning away from the voters who elected him on the same-sex marriage issue. LINK

Paul Krugman predicts no compromise. LINK

David Brooks predicts that personal accounts will be hard to pass and offers his own idea about how to make retirement security a bipartisan issue. LINK

DNC chair's race:

The Fat Lady has sung. A sampling of news and opinion articles: LINK




Roll Call's John Bresnahan and Erin Billings write that one of Howard Dean's priorities is to repair his relationship with the Hill -- particularly Senate Minority Leader Reid and House Minority Leader Pelosi, both of whom will address the DNC on Friday.

"In a series of phone calls with Reid and Pelosi last week, Dean has promised to help rebuild a Democratic Party that was beaten soundly at the polls in November, losing not only the battle for the White House but also ceding four seats in the Senate and another two seats in the House."

"Dean has also promised party leaders that he won't meddle in efforts to set Democratic policy. Instead, he has said he will focus on raising money and building the party infrastructure, hoping to boost the party's prospects in campaigns beginning this fall with gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia."

Roll Call's Chris Cillizza looks at the consultants who are approaching a Dean-headed Democratic Party with trepidation. We can only speak for ourselves, but we love it when Jim Jordan compares political professionals to livestock.


The New York Times' editorial board applauds Mayor B on gay marriage. LINK


Sen. Sam Brownback and other members of Congress host a tusnami fundraiser sponsored by the conservative Leadership Institute tonight in Arlington, VA.

Rep. Mike Pence gets such a nice write-up from Paul Weyrich that it pushed this item into this section. LINK

James Dao channels Sarah Leuck and profiles Haley Barbour's brand of budget cuttin'. LINK

Marc Humbert apparently confirms details of Arthur Finklestein's "Stop Her Now" PAC. LINK

As does the New York Post. LINK

Siena College has good news for Sen. Clinton, and bad news for George Pataki. LINK

John Kerry does not blame himself for losing, which he tells Roger Simon along with other stuff. LINK

Simon's take on the state of the Democratic Party (with quotes from Anita Dunn, David Axelrod, and other smarty-pants types) is a must-read work.

Washington governor's race:

David Postman of the Seattle Times writes that Republican Dino Rossi is feeling good that a judge ruled his challenge to the election of Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) can go forward -- and he's telling everyone about it. Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges denied Democrats' motions to dismiss the case, saying that if Republicans could prove their allegations of illegal votes and errors, the November election could be nullified. However, Bridges also said if the election were nullified, he doesn't have the power to call for a new election. The trial date has not been set. LINK

Neil Modie of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes that Rossi got a little ahead of himself, however, in explaining what he'd do if the election were overturned, first saying he wouldn't accept the governorship by court order, then saying his first act as governor would be to ask the legislature for a re-vote. LINK


Republicans in Washington are urging Gov. Schwarzenegger to stick with redistricting the state legislature, and save redrawing congressional districts, fearing that new boundaries could threaten Republicans' control of the House, the Los Angeles Times' Peter Nicholas writes. LINK

Jane Norman of the Des Moines Register looks at a Drake University report that says Iowa Democrats' emphasis on absentee votes helped John Kerry lose Iowa to President Bush. Republicans better targeted their supporters who would show up to the polls, writes Prof. Arthur Sanders. John Norris, Kerry's national field director, argued it was the air war. Gordon Fischer said they're both right. LINK

States are scrambling to meet election improvements for the midterm elections, AP reports. LINK

President Bush disavowed knowledge of Jose Canseco's p.e.d. charges, the New York Daily News reports. LINK

He did not disavow a public and endearing display of affection for his wife in church, however. LINK

Stick with Luke, Lorelai:

For any reader who feels The Note has not paid sufficient obeisance to the myriad joys of Charlie Rose, C-SPAN, Jon Stewart, Johnny Apple, Belinda Carlisle, pie, campaign high jinks, Howard Deanesque Easter Egg hunts, and the complete works of Sy Hersh, we direct you to the Gilmore Girls, which also bests us in whiplash repartee, love triangles, and the prominent display of a lavish Marc Jacobs wardrobe. Plus, Rory and Paris should seriously consider reading The Note. 100th episode tonight, 8:00 pm ET on the WB. LINK