The Note: The Long View

WASHINGTON, March 1 --


This might be the Internet -- and some might confuse The Note for a blog -- but, nevertheless, let us choose our words with particular care today.

We were going to type "The President's efforts to fundamentally reshape the Social Security system are not dead," but the mere act of saying that the patient lives could suggest to some that the patient is very, very sick and it is only a matter of time.

Certainly by the standard ways the Gang of 500 measures such things -- to continue the metaphor -- the patient is in a hospital bed, with all sorts of tubes inserted in every natural and human-made orifice, with CW doctors sweeping in and out of the room, speaking in hushed, knowing, and somber tones.

We would be fighting the obvious critical mass of this news cycle if we reported to you anything but that Republicans remain skittish and tactically divided; Democrats remain united and pumped up; and many Gang members are fundamentally skeptical that anything will happen.

What the White House would seem to need more than anything else would be some momentum on the matter.

Momentum at this point would be generated by a classic political "page turn."

Opening up a war room in the Treasury Department would not seem like the right thematic for a meaningful page turn, however.

Getting some unexpected Democratic support for personal accounts would be meaningful.

So would a new, splashy public poll demonstrating growing support for the President's ideas.

Even getting a previously squishy Republican to return from the congressional recess having heard from supportive constituents and getting all psyched up about passing something big (and soon!) would be a meaningful page turn.

But none of those seems to be happening; see below for some evidence of the opposite in each case.

Yes, the political world is talking about Social Security; yes, Republicans on the Hill are more open to hugging the third rail like a cute puppy (LINK) than ever before; yes it is far, far too early to count this White House out; yes, the President could switch to the long game and figure out a way to pass this in 2007 (teasing on that one, sort of . . . ) -- but, as of now, we still can't write the prospective, Schoolhouse Rock narrative of how a Social Security reform bill becomes a law.

But we are still watching and waiting.

President Bush delivers remarks at White House as part of a "Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Leadership Conference" in Washington, DC at 10:00 am ET.

The National Governors Association winter meeting wraps up today with an address to the morning plenary session by Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt about improving the quality of U.S. health care at 9:00 am ET. At 12:45 pm ET, NGA Chairman Gov. Mark Warner (D-VA), and Govs. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) and Tom Vilsack (D-IA), host the closing press conference of the NGA winter meeting.

At 10:45 am ET, Sens. Jon Corzine (D-NJ), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) headline a presser on Social Security.

House Democrats talk about their Social Security town meetings at noon ET.

At 9:00 am ET, the Retirement Security Project launches at the National Press Club with a roundtable discussion featuring CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin; Steve Moore of the Free Enterprise Fund; Rebecca Rimel of the Pew Charitable Trusts, and Peter Orszag, William Gale, and J. Mark Iwry of the Brookings Institution. The project is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute, and the Brookings Institution.

The Cato Institute released its fiscal policy report card on the nation's governors via a news conference at 9:30 am ET.

At 8:00 am ET, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) addressed the Jewish Council for Public Affairs in Washington, DC. At 8:45 am ET, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) spoke to the group. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks at 2:30 pm ET.

At 9:00 am ET, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) spoke to the National Treasury Employees Union's annual legislative conference.

At 3:00 pm ET at the AFL-CIO meeting in Las Vegas, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka, AFSCME President Gerald McEntee, and USWA President Leo Gerard hold a press conference on political mobilization and opposing the President's Social Security plan.

After addressing the AFL-CIO executive committee today, Gov. Howard Dean heads to Jackson, MS tonight for a dinner honoring the state's Democratic elected officials.

For more schedule stuff on this very busy day, see the end of The Note.

Social Security:

The Washington Post's Mike Allen has a must-read with the news on the Administration's (last-ditch?) six-week push for Social Security, its acknowledgement that the public's "tepid" view of reform proposals can't be sustained forever, the Pfeifle/Burkhart/Willis hirings, and more. LINK

White House communications czarina Nicolle Devenish is very upbeat in this story, but her words aren't necessarily backed up by metrics of which we know.

And/but Roll Call's Chris Cilizza writes that national Republicans are planning to paint the town meetings during last week's congressional recess as a success, as laid out in memos from the RNC, Progress for America, and Generations Together.

The New York Times' David Rosenbaum's Grassley-centered take on the day's events has the Senate Finance Committee chair saying that while he knows of Democrats who want to sit at the table and talk to Republicans, none of them want to talk private accounts. And Grassley's words betray to Rosenbaum an urgency of time as well. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Janet Hook and Richard Simon look at how the tough town meetings over the past week have affected the outlook of congressional Republicans toward the President's Social Security plan, causing them to move more slowly and cautiously -- and hope for a better head of steam after the April recess, or face potential consequence with voters if they push a plan that doesn't come to fruition. So for now it's keeping at the salt mines of convincing voters that the system is in trouble. LINK

Regarding timing and the long game, Note well the last two paragraphs (interesting on at least three levels):

"Some Republican strategists, fearing that no compromise will break the Democrats' solid wall of opposition, are plotting strategies for defeating moderate Democrats such as Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Bill Nelson of Florida in the 2006 elections and replacing them with Republicans who want to overhaul Social Security."

"'We're going to get this in the next five years,' Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, a leading backer of private accounts, said last month. 'We'll either get it now, or we'll knock out the two Nelsons . . . and come back and say: "Who wants to play again?"' "

USA Today's Jim Drinkard writes up his paper's poll with CNN and Gallup showing President Bush with his lowest approval marks on handling Social Security -- 35 percent -- since he took office. The survey found 56 percent of Americans disapprove. In addition, Democrats appear to be getting through to voters with their message that the system doesn't need to be overhauled just yet, Drinkard reports, as 59 percent of Americans now agree with them. LINK

And, as Ron Brownstein sagely pointed out awhile back, the President is still not talking much about the more unpopular aspects of an overall overhaul -- like benny cuts.

Poll results: LINK

Drinkard also looks at House Democrats' accusations yesterday that President Bush has politicized the Social Security Administration to promote his plan. LINK

Krugman's Krusade against private accounts Kontinues, this time aimed at Democrats who think that it's OK to think about add-on personal/private accounts. LINK

"The important thing to remember is why the right wants privatization. The drive to create private accounts isn't about finding a way to strengthen Social Security; it's about finding a way to phase out a system that conservatives have always regarded as illegitimate. And as long as that is what's at stake, there is no room for any genuine compromise. When it comes to privatization, just say no."

Sen. Lieberman is singled out for special warning.

The run of show is still being finalized, but we hear that at least 13 percent of the Democratic Caucus in the Senate (6 out of 45) will be at New York's Pace University this Friday for what's being billed as a Social Security Forum, hosted by New York's hometown Senators of Schumer (Sr.) and Clinton (Jr.), and will include the dynamic duo of Leader Reid and his #2 Dick Durbin (unclear if Durbin rides in a sidecar when they arrive to events together). The event kicks off a weekend of Democratic events in multiple states on Social Security. While we can't outline the full itinerary yet, we can give you this hint as to one of the subsequent stops: What Happens in ____, Stays in ____.

Jill Lawrence of USA Today writes that despite the Administration's efforts to win over African-Americans in particular, the plan isn't (yet) gaining much traction. LINK

Bush agenda meet governors' agenda:

The Washington Post duo of Balz and Baker assess the President's meeting with the nation's governors, suggesting that while Democrats are skeptical about a compromise on Medicaid, the Administration is not interested in a quick (and untidy) solution, and Mark Warner might agree with that. LINK

Key graphs:

"Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) said governors from both parties face the same problems, as rising enrollment and growing health care costs have forced state executives to squeeze the program in the past few years. But he said governors are divided over strategy. "

"'Do we move in the next couple of weeks with some proposed reforms to try and help in the short term or does that forestall the kind of fundamental reform that has been discussed?' he said. 'We're trying to decide what's the right strategy legislatively.'"

"New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said cuts in the Medicaid program are likely, noting that 'the Democratic governors are outnumbered.'"

Read the whole thing for more quotes from potential presidential hopefuls.

In Robert Pear's piece, Mississippi's Haley Barbour questions the Bush Administration's attempt to tighten rules that trigger federal transfers of money to states for the program. LINK

The Boston Globe's Alan Wirzbicki portrays the nation's governors as one unhappy band of campers over the President's proposed Medicaid cuts, taking their time at the White House yesterday to criticize that plan but support his call to overhaul the entitlement. Read all the way to the end for Gov. Romney's expression of inter-party unity on the issue. LINK

No one, apparently, pulled a Roy Romer at yesterday's meeting.

Donald Lambro of the Washington Times reports that Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) yesterday said his party needs to cultivate a more business friendly, pro-tax cut image. LINK

Bush agenda:

It certainly was a coincidence that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales delivered his first major public address on the day when a Bush-appointed judge dealt the Administration an unfavorable ruling on the Padilla case. It remains to be seen how the decision will effect Gonzales' push on strengthening the PATRIOT Act, which R. Jeffrey Smith in the Washington Post suggests is firm . . . but flexible. LINK

The Washington Times' Bill Sammon looks at President Bush's reaction to the resignation of Lebanon's pro-Syria government yesterday by saying that freedom is "on the march" in the Middle East -- and gets Dennis Ross to say that the tide in the region is beginning to turn. LINK

Doug Wead says he's given "the tapes" to the President's counsel but the White House says the tapes are in "private hands." So which outside Bush lawyer, we wonder, has them? LINK


The Boston Globe's Bryan Bender looks at how Democrats are gearing up to oppose Sen. Grassley's bankruptcy bill, or at least amend it to retain protection for people who declare bankruptcy as a result of medical costs, or military families left in financial straits as the result of a long deployment. Note well the noon presser with Sens. Kennedy and Schumer. LINK

Roll Call's Josh Kurtz looks at the plan for redistricting by 2007 that some New York Democrats are beginning to kick around.

Judicial politics:

The Los Angeles Times' Henry Weinstein previews today's appearance of William G. Myers III before the Senate Judiciary Committee to talk about his nomination to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the opposition of Native American and environmental groups that could make the road to it a little bumpier. LINK

The New York Times' Neil Lewis tries to decipher what Republicans are trying to do about judges and whether the confirmation of Myers will reduce tensions with Democrats (the Specter view) or heighten them (the view of most everyone else). LINK

More from the Washington Post's Chuck Babington. LINK

USA Today's Joan Biskupic looks at the behind-the-scenes gearing up by interest groups, Senators, and others who would be involved in the Supreme Court nomination process in anticipation of Chief Justice Rehnquist's retirement from the bench, and offers and excellent map of the landscape of political considerations and jockeying. LINK

House of Labor:

It is perhaps a sign of the state of organized labor that in Las Vegas for a pivotal conference on the future of the movement, the Associated Press does not, at this writing, have a full-time national labor reporter. Leigh Strope, who had the beat, now does strategic communications for the Teamsters.

The AP's reporter on scene is by all accounts more than able, and it's not like the Family Wire will miss much here. Truth is, many old labor hands don't think a lot will be accomplished in Las Vegas, if by "a lot" one mean a consensus for a new strategic direction or finding a candidate to take on John Sweeney as AFL president.

But still. One veteran journalist recalls that when George Meany would give press conferences in the 1970s, he'd get the full network scrum.

At a press conference late Monday afternoon, Sweeney acknowledged that the discussion in the AFL-CIO executive committee meetings that day had been "fierce" and spirited. ("Fierce" might be too lean a word, given what some witnesses said transpired.)

Progress, he said, was made. The union body, he said, was making progress on key issues like organizing, structural change, politics, and financial transparency. He used adjectives Andy Stern might like, such as "sweeping" and "substantial."

Sweeney's critics will say (and did say) that these words are more of the same; that Sweeney has no intention of moving the ball quickly; his supporters say that the biggest obstacle to full reform now is that no one knows what SEIU's Stern will do and that too many labor union presidents have grown wary of him to publicly and even privately support the thrust of his proposals.

The consensus even among some aides of Sweeney is that little headway will be made by Thursday, when the winter meeting disbands.

Then the betting begins on these questions: Will Stern leave the AFL-CIO? Will John Wilhelm of UNITEHERE run for AFL-CIO president? Which reform proposal gains support? Can opponents of Sweeney muster enough support for an alternative candidate? Does any of it really matter? Is organized labor lost for good in an age of corporate downsizing, Wal Mart, trade deficits, Republican political rule, and Grover Norquist?

Today, DNC chairman Howard Dean addresses the executive committee and is tentatively scheduled to chat with the press afterwards. At a reception last night, Dean said that "labor and the Democratic Party are together, whether we like it or not." (A wag in the crowd screamed out, "We like it!" but we're not sure that sentiment was universal.)

There's a midday press conference on the subject of Social Security but which we suspect will be dominated by questions about other subjects.


The Los Angeles Times' Michael Finnegan writes up his paper's new poll, which shows Los Angeles' Mayor James K. Hahn in a statistical tie with Bob Hertzberg and Antonio Villaraigosa in the race for the May mayoral runoff. Nearly two thirds of Los Angelinos say the city needs to move in a new direction, and Hahn's approval rating is at a mere 43 percent. And it's become a game of chicken with negative ads. LINK


The Associated Press's Albany guy Marc Humbert was apparently pulled off his long-time beat covering New York politics and now JUST covers Howard Wolfson. LINK

Humbert's running string of quotes from Wolfson (a state Democratic Party and Sen. Clinton mouth piece) mocking Gov. Pataki's poll standing and presidential hopes made it onto the wire yesterday, and the New York Daily News' Joe Mahoney was forced to slavishly follow the dog-bites-dog "story" of Democrat attacking a Republican. LINK

So was the New York Times' Ray Hernandez, whose comedic second paragraph says "The strategist, Howard Wolfson, made it clear that he was commenting only as a spokesman for the New York State Democratic Party and not as Mrs. Clinton's representative." LINK

The Hill's Hans Nichols takes a closer look at DCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel's pared-down (though not final) Frontline list of most vulnerable Democrats to just nine, after changing the criteria for who's in jeopardy and who would get financial assistance from fellow lawmakers. LINK

2008: Democrats:

With an oddly timed "RICHMOND, Va." dateline, the Wall Street Journal's John Harwood and Sarah Lueck turn in a must read raising the question of whether the next Democratic presidential candidate has a Perot-like opening to talk about Washington deficits and responsibility, and whether that person could/should be Virginia Governor Mark Warner.

Note well the muscular "Deputy Chief of Staff" quotable pushback from Mr. K. Rove.

Those looking for a negative clip for the Warner file will not find it here.

Elizabeth Edwards recently did an interview with the Center for American Progress' Campus Progress about her family, campus politics, chemical plant safety, and her love of the blogosphere. LINK

Rich Leiby's very excited about stopping by the Kerrys' home next Monday to talk about his PAC (Kerry's, not Leiby's). LINK

The Indianapolis Star tallies up the changes Sen. Evan Bayh is making to his PAC and staff. LINK

2008: Republicans:

The Boston Herald's Andrew Miga details Gov. Mitt Romney's slam against the Massachusetts (Democratic) congressional delegation, saying they have no clout and it represents a disadvantage to the Bay State. LINK

The Washington Times' Ralph Z. Hallow writes that Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee stopped by the paper for a meeting yesterday and said the country is in a big-government era -- but the trick is not to cut it, just make it more efficient. Huckabee also advocated offering workers wellness incentives and called No Child Left Behind the greatest overhaul of education by the federal government in his lifetime. LINK


The Wall Street Journal's ed board previews the Cato Institute ratings of the governors by fiscal responsibility and tax cutting, with Bill Richardson (and Arnold Schwarzenegger) a star and others less so.

Bush administration personality/strategy:

Michiko Kakutani dislikes Ari Fleischer's new book, calling it "tedious and tendentious." We do not think Mr. Fleischer will care. LINK

Lloyd Grove's Bush source says Fleischer was not, as he claims, reluctant to join the 2000 Bush campaign. LINK

"'Taking Heat' makes clear that Fleischer is a true believer who got a thrill from such things as playing catch with the President on the South Lawn," writes the Washington Post's Howard "Howie" Kurtz. LINK


David Brooks channels David Bach and Suze Orman for a column on love, marriage, society, politics, and joint checking accounts. LINK

Politics can be ugly, ugly, ugly, but even if it is ugly, it is a thing to behold when everything, including the most grotesque of extreme positions, is laid out for all to see and judge and think about for themselves. Which is why Jodi Wilgoren's take on the city council race in Topeka, KS is a story worth reading. LINK

The Washington Post's Roxanne Roberts checks in with the new White House Social Secretary, Lea Berman, who is well-liked by Debbie Dingell and adored by her husband, described herein as a "political junkie." LINK

The Washington Post's Sylvia Moreno curtain-raises the civil trial of TRMPAC treasurer Bill Ceverha. LINK

Paul Wolfowitz as the new head of the World Bank? LINK

Nothing gets the backs of publicity-seeking members of Congress up than stories that mix politics, academic standards, and NCAA sports action. LINK

Roll Call's Amy Keller looks at the hikes in civil penalties for violations of campaign finance law that could be coming this summer.

One of the most interesting reads you'll find today: The State's Lauren Markoe and John Monk go through the 600 pages of Sen. Strom Thurmond's FBI file released on Monday, and examine the relationship between the Senator and the FBI. LINK

More schedule stuff:

At 9:30 am ET, the Senate Armed Services Committee looks at the FY2006 defense budget, military strategy and field requirements. Gen. James Jones Jr., commander, U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; Gen. John Abizaid, commander, U.S. Central Command; Gen. Bryan Brown, commander, United States Special Operations Command, testify. The generals testify before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

Also at 9:30 am ET, the Senate Judiciary Committee meets to grill William Myers III on his re-nomination to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

At 10:00 am ET, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on science, state, justice, commerce, and related agencies hears testimony from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on the department's FY2006 appropriations.

At 10:00 am ET, the Senate Budget Committee hears testimony from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on the President's FY2006 budget.

At 11:30 am ET, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) hold a news conference to introduce the Democracy Bill.

At 11:55 am ET, House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX) holds a pen and pad briefing. At 5:00 pm ET, DeLay joins Rep. William Delahunt (D-MA) for a news conference to discuss legislation to establish a code of conduct for humanitarian aid workers.

At noon ET, Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) hold a news conference to discuss the impact of the bankruptcy bill upon consumers.

At 2:30 pm ET, Gov. Schwarzenegger holds a press conference in Sacramento to talk about the state of his reforms -- and likely to complain about the legislature's response to them.

Speaking at the American Legion's Washington Conference today: Rep. Lane Evans (D-IL) at 10:00 am ET; Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN) at 10:15 am ET; Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson at 10:30 am ET; Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) at 11:05 am ET.

Speaking at the Credit Union National Association's Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington, DC: Rep. John Linder (R-GA) at 9:30 am ET; Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) at 9:50 am ET; Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) at 10:20 am ET; Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) at 11:00 am ET; Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-OH) at 1:00 pm ET; Rep. Edward Royce (R-CA) at 1:30 pm ET; Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-PA) at 2:00 pm ET; and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) at 2:30 pm ET.

Speaking at the Federation of American Hospitals' Public Policy Conference in Washington, DC: Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt at 8:00 am ET; Rep. Jim McCrery (R-LA) at 9:30 am ET; and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) at 10:15 am ET.

Democrats pay tribute to former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle at 6:30 pm ET at the National Building Museum.