The Note: Early Action Would Be Prudent

WASHINGTON, March 10 --


The Note knows better than to try to pre-frame any political day in which Bill Clinton is in the news.

After arriving at the hospital this morning around 5:00 am ET, President Clinton is in surgery this morning and we expect a statement from his doctors soon after it's completed.

Until then, keep yourself busy reading about Social Security.

The current President stumps for his proposed changes in the retirement program in Louisville, KY at noon ET and in Montgomery, Alabama at 4:50 pm ET. He'll be proceeded/chased by a variety of local and national bracketing events.

Local curtain-raising newspaper coverage of the Bush tour is genuflectory and security-conscious: LINK ; LINK ; LINK

Mr. Bush remains overnight in Memphis.

Treasury Secretary John Snow pitches Social Security in Albuquerque, NM at noon ET.

DNC Chairman Howard Dean breakfasts with Democratic lobbyists and ends the day by joining a MoveOn conference call at 8:05 pm ET. (Sen. Harry Reid will also be on the call.)

Karl Rove thanks Chester County, PA Republicans tonight at their annual dinner.

The Senate meets this morning for regular business and takes up the bankruptcy reform legislation at 11:30 ET. The House is in session at 10:00 am ET, and the highway bill will be on the floor.

At 10:00 am ET, two subcommittees of House Energy and Commerce hold a hearing on steroid abuse in baseball. The House Armed Services committee hears from Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers at 3:00 pm ET. And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi briefs reporters at 10:45 am ET.

Leader DeLay:

Although the facts are a bit murky still, the Washington Post's Mike Allen and R. Jeffrey Smith advance the macro DeLay story with a detailed look through travel reports showing that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and two other Republican House members accepted an expense-paid trip to South Korea in 2001, even though such trips provided by foreign agents are prohibited under House rules. The Korea-U.S. Exchange Council hosted another trip in 2003 with another group of lawmakers -- three Democrats and one Republican. LINK

Read it all carefully, and expect there to be some follow up.

Back on the "old" story, the New York Times' Phil Shenon and David Kirkpatrick: "Representative Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, said Wednesday that he was aware of how accounts for corporate donations had been set up at a political action committee that is under criminal investigation by a Texas grand jury and that the committee's lawyers closely monitored all fund-raising activities." LINK

"Mr. DeLay's comments, made at his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill, were his most detailed public remarks to date on his involvement in the creation and fund-raising activities of the committee, Texans for a Republican Majority."

Social Security: the politics:

Among most lobbyists, most reporters, and many Democrats, the question is: when will the President be forced to make a major compromise on Social Security?

Reports Bob Novak, giving voice to all this: "Sen. Robert Bennett, the chief deputy majority whip and one of the wisest Republican heads in Washington, has quietly entered the Social Security maelstrom with a thoughtful compromise that puts his party at a crossroads. The GOP faces this choice: Pass a bill that is a pallid version of the original proposal, or concede defeat and fight out the battle in the 2006 campaign." LINK

"Bennett's plan would attack the unmistakable Social Security funding deficit by cutting benefits, graduated to hit hardest in upper income brackets. There would be no tax increase. President Bush's proposed voluntary personal accounts as part of Social Security would be written into law but would not go into effect for five years, when George W. Bush would no longer be president. Hardly a month ago, it was inconceivable that Bush would accept such a watered-down proposal. But now, it is probably the most that can be hoped for. Whether the Republicans declare victory, such a proposal will shape partisan politics into the future."

Among many conservatives, this kind of surrender is totally unacceptable.

And/but the Wall Street Journal's Jackie Calmes writes that "fretful Republicans are increasingly critical of White House strategy but divided on how to proceed."

Here's one view, per excerpts from the latest Steve Moore/Larry Hunter memo to conservatives, which takes the Administration to task for TOO MUCH accommodation:

"The campaign to allow workers to invest part of their payroll tax contributions in real private assets through personal retirement accounts has been hijacked. It has morphed from a debate about personal ownership and control for young workers into a tax-increasing, benefit-cutting, retirement-age-raising monster, devouring the very idea of an ownership society."

"Now is the time to recapture the debate on personal accounts that will snag Democrats on the horns of a dilemma. So we would suggest a plan with the slogan: 'Stop the raid; start the accounts.'"

"Because the campaign for personal retirement accounts has gotten off on the wrong foot, the Democrat phalanx of opposition is holding firm despite a rumor here and a leak there that a handful of 'moderates' may be willing to break ranks and compromise. In reality, these tinkling chimes of compromise are being carefully orchestrated pianissimo in the overture of the graceful ballet of tag-team negotiation."

The Washington Times reports that President Bush is in "shore up the base mode" today, and Notes that the White House and Congressional supporters are punching up their rhetoric on personal accounts as a key part of the solution, not simply an extra feature. LINK

The Washington Post's Peter Baker writes that wherever the President goes and whatever the message of the day, all roads lead back to selling Social Security -- and the message that there's a problem, even if people are still lukewarm to his solution, is beginning to take hold. And seniors remain a big focus for persuasion. LINK

USA Today's Susan Page and Andrea Stone write that in terms of the bipartisan calls to put aside personal accounts, the White House's top economic adviser, Allan Hubbard, ain't buyin'. But raising the cap isn't off the table. LINK

The Washington Post's Mike Allen looks at the first day of the House's work on Social Security and the testimony by U.S. comptroller general David M. Walker, who said private accounts won't help the program's solvency. LINK

Walker also said Social Security doesn't face an immediate crisis, AP reports. LINK

The New York Times' Robin Toner summarizes the data GOPers have seen about senior anxiety about personal accounts and says that "[p]olitical strategists offer various explanations for the resistance of older voters to the president's plan. They say older voters are generally risk averse, are intimately familiar with the current Social Security system and know how important it is in their lives. In polls for the Pew center, older voters also cited their fears that many people were not up to the task of managing these accounts. " LINK

The Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman writes that Democrats (quite rightly) are "refusing to declare victory," and outlines their plans to keep going after President Bush's Social Security efforts -- complete with the grenades lobbed by Rep. Emanuel's DCCC. But, as Marshall Wittmann says, a Democratic plan is going to need to come somewhere down the road. LINK

USA Today's Susan Page profiles six top players in the Social Security debate. LINK

A gay couple filed a $25 million suit in federal court Wednesday against USA Next and its consulting firm for allegedly using their wedding photo in that provocative American Spectator Web ad. The men, Rick Raymen and Steve Hansen, say they were libeled and their privacy was violated by the ad. They claim that USA Next stole the ad from a newspaper Web site, which held its copyright, and misled them about whether they had purchased it. USA Next's representatives said their lawyers were reviewing the complaint and would have no comment. A judge is expected to rule today on the men's request for a temporary restraining order.

Bush agenda:

The Washington Post's Justin Blum and Jim VandeHei look at the latest push by the Bush Administration and Senate Republicans to allow oil drilling in ANWR, pushed into the headlines by high oil and gas prices. Republicans are talking up their budget plan that would allow for the drilling, and predicting that after the 2004 elections, their chances of passing it have improved. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Edwin Chen and Richard Simon look at Sen. Gregg's strategy to try to move the bill. LINK

Clear Skies seems dead for now, but Sen. Max Baucus predicts in the Wall Street Journal that it will rise again, perhaps as a rider on the energy bill.

In a follow-up to the government regulation story he first reported yesterday, the Wall Street Journal's John McKinnon Notes that "While most of the rules [proposed for review] were nominated by business associations or individual manufacturers, a few were put forward by consumer groups such as Public Citizen, which suggested strengthening rules on door locks and other vehicle equipment to better protect passengers in the event of a crash."

The Washington Post's Ceci Connolly details a study of malpractice claims in Texas over 15 years that doesn't find the "broken medical liability system" that President Bush rails against. LINK

Big casino budget politics:

The Wall Street Journal's David Rogers summarizes how the budget resolutions differ from the White House proposal:

"After years of resistance from environmentalists, the Senate budget seeks to short-cut debate and open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, yielding $2.5 billion in royalties. Meanwhile, cotton growers appear to have been spared some of the biggest changes in commodity payments proposed by the White House. And the Senate budget plan assumes significantly smaller premium increases than Mr. Bush proposed to shore up the financially troubled Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the agency that backs-up defined-benefit pension plans offered by private employers."

The New York Times focus on the fact that President Bush asked for $100 billion of tax cuts but the Senate budget resolution only calls for $70 billion.

"The fight over taxes and spending, which will occupy Congress at least through next week, will be a crucial test of President Bush's strength on Capitol Hill. Though the budget resolution is nonbinding, it serves as an important blueprint for federal tax and spending policy. Yet Congress has failed to adopt a budget for two of the last three years; at a time when Mr. Bush is emphasizing fiscal responsibility, failure to do so this year would be an embarrassment for both the White House and the Republican leadership." LINK

The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman looks at the Senate and House budget plans that make cuts for veterans, agriculture, education, and health care, and do indeed include tax cuts. The House is looking to save $69 billion in entitlements over five years, looking to cut the budget deficit to $203 billion in 2010, and the Senate $32 billion and cut the deficit to $208 billion in five years. Community and regional development programs would be cut from $22.7 billion to $13.7 billion LINK

Given that, this made us laugh: "'People will feel some real pain,' said Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), 'but I don't know how you get a deficit down without people taking some medicine.'"

As long as tax cuts don't get (overly) sacrificed.

The Los Angeles Times' Joel Havemann has more detail on the House Budget Committee's fiscal proposal. LINK

The Congress:

Constance Mitchell Ford gets bankruptcy on the front page of the Wall Street Journal by looking at the part of the country least friendly to debtors: the South.

Steve Labaton of the New York Times Notices how the climate in Congress is much less hostile to big business that it was not two years ago. LINK

"The new mood has emboldened corporate lobbyists to ask for and receive more from lawmakers, who no longer seem to be concerned about recrimination at the polls. At the same time, business interests have picked up new allies in the Senate, giving them significantly more influence over its proceedings."

Major League Baseball isn't going quietly to the Hill, promising to fight the subpoenas for seven former and current players to go before the House committee investigating steroid use. LINK

Mike Lupica calls the steroid subpoenas "grandstanding." LINK

The Washington Post's David Broder looks favorably at Sen. Trent Lott, 527 reformer, and his proposal to limit contributions to the outside groups, and the complex legislation that Lott and others are trying to draft to regulate the money and the activity -- constitutionally. LINK


Seen at the People for the American Way Foundation dinner in New York Tuesday night: Gov. Tom Vilsack and wife Christie, collecting business cards and working the room.

Writes Deb Orin in her column: "Oval Office love fest between Bill Clinton and President Bush showed Clinton masterfully doing his trademark triangulating -- in a manner that could boost his wife, the presumptive 2008 presidential contender." LINK

"When Bill Clinton snuggles up to Bush, he makes himself look like a centrist at the expense of fellow Democrats -- who look more extremist by comparison in a new spin on the strategy known as triangulation when Clinton was president. That automatically and conveniently makes Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) look more centrist too."

Weird Web site misspelling aside, the New York Post Notes Sen. Clinton's sponsorship a bill to study effects of media on kids with Sens. Brownback, Santorum and Lieberman. LINK

The New York Times covers it too, with this boilerplate graph: "But her advisers said that there was nothing new about what Mrs. Clinton said on Wednesday, pointing out that she talked about violence and sex in children's entertainment during her Senate campaign in 2000." LINK

Correction of the day: "Because of an editing error, an article yesterday about the influence of interest groups in elections referred incorrectly to the campaign in which Jonathan Prince served as deputy campaign manager for Senator John Edwards before taking over as head of Citizens for a Strong Senate. Mr. Edwards was seeking the presidency, not the vice presidency." LINK

The Boston Globe's Rick Klein reports that in his press conference yesterday on his universal health care plan for children, Sen. Kerry engaged in a little tough talk, saying that if Republicans try to take down the bill, he'll activate his network of grassroots activists to campaign against Republican incumbents. The NRSC and NRCC scoffed tough right back. 2005:

It's a Hahn v. Villaraigosa rematch -- but no sequel, writes the Los Angeles Times' Matea Gold. This time Hahn's going in as the underdog, and his major task is trying to turn the anti-incumbent voters who cast their ballots for Hertzberg and Parks his way. And Villaraigosa has to cast himself as a centrist -- or at least collaborative. LINK

And the tough talk began right away. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Mark Barabak analyzes the exit polls. LINK

The New York Times' Diane Cardwell big-thinks Freddy Ferrer and his nationalized campaign. LINK

Drop-out rates in NYC fall: LINK

Dean and the Democrats:

DNC Chair/Gov. Howard Dean meets with the Democratic caucus in the House today.

This interesting article by Al From and Bruce Reed in the next issue of Blueprint is worth a read, if only for the psychological undertones. It congratulates Gov. Dean, wishes him well, and then proceeds to criticize almost every single argument Dean has made about the state of the party and its future (without, of course, identifying Dean with the argument). LINK

As if to make their point . . .

Seen on a cool best of the blogs segment . . . The "Bill Frist killed kitties" story, from we don't know, ages ago . . . the microwaving of an Ann Coulter doll . . . Secretary Rice compared to a dominatrix . . . comparisons of Bush's Social Security town hall meetings to the Munich Beer Hall in 1936 . . . and a panelist who'd love to live in an enlightened, fenced-off America that separates Jesusland. LINK

DemsTV is no Off the Record, although we're not certain which is more entertaining. (We should point out that DemsTV has no official connection to the party.)

The return of Mudcat!!!! USA Today's Jill Lawrence writes that Steve Jarding and Dave "Mudcat" Saunders have a contract with Simon & Schuster to write "Foxs in the Henhouse," a blueprint telling Democrats how to win back the South and the Midwest -- coming to a bookstore near you in spring 2006. LINK (Make sure you read the sidebar!!)

Will Gov. Warner get to read the page proofs?


A victory for Stern/Hoffa/O'Sullivan/Hansen/Raynor? The AFL-CIO plans to lay off a good chunk of its staff, the Washington Times reports. LINK

The New York Times treats the story of evangelical Christians waking up to environmentalism as something new, but the policy statement by the National Association of Evangelicals was first circulated (and widely reported) in the fall of 2004. See: LINK

That said, as the Times reports, the NAE is quite influential in terms of conservative grass-roots lobbying, and they do have a direct line to Karl Rove and policy makers at the White House, which cannot be said of any of the liberal environmental groups.

DCoS/SMIP Rove says thank you Chester County, PA. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Peter Wallsten has details on the Republican Party's new committee of African-American leaders, including former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-OK) to put together a strategy to attract African-American voters. The Congressional Black Caucus has announced its own effort focusing on black ministers. LINK

Roll Call's Lauren Whittington and Erin Billings report that the idea of redistricting in Illinois has sputtered out.

Roll Call's Suzanne Nelson reports: "Leading what is likely to be one of many efforts to unravel part or all of campaign finance legislation enacted in 2002, Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Albert Wynn (D-Md.) plan to introduce legislation today that would once again allow the national party committees to raise and spend soft money."

If you didn't watch last night's "West Wing," you missed one of the best pieces of filmed entertainment ever capturing the mood and dynamics of nomination politics -- complete with oranges in the aisles of the campaign plane. Eli Attie=genius.


Wonkette v. Ron Hutcheson on tight jeans and White House pool reports leads the Wall Street Journal's Chris Cooper's article about, ah, bloggers making fun of White House pool reports.

"A January pool report observed that Mr. Bush kissed the first lady during church service and casually patted her behind. When Mr. Bush took a spill on his mountain bike last year, a pooler with a telephoto lens chronicled his visible injuries, right down to the five puncture marks on his right hand.Once duplicated on a White House copier and distributed by hand, the dispatches are now e-mailed by White House staff to about a thousand reporters and government officials. The sheer number of recipients and the electronic distribution practically assures that these once closely guarded documents end up online."

"Purists in the White House press corps say this public airing is beginning to change the tenor of the pool report, as writers pull punches in acknowledgment of a larger audience. 'It's 'Wheels up at 6:32, trip uneventful,' ' says the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, describing the kind of report he says is becoming more commonplace. He thinks the added scrutiny has "stamped all the fun out of it.'"