The Note: And the Benny Goes to . . .

WASHINGTON, March 11 --


Today, the Presidential road show stops at the Cannon Center in Memphis, TN at 10:25 am ET for a Social Security event. Then, they fly to Shreveport, LA for another one at 3:05 pm ET.

Hecklers will be warded off; Democratic bracketing will be done; the old will be reassured and the young will be incentified; reporters will look for fresh leads; Sunday show researchers will realize that they can't think of anything new to say to characterize the status of the debate; Republicans MOCs will say they want/need more information; and much powder will be kept dry.

Vice President Cheney is reportedly doing an interview with Fox News White House correspondent Carl Cameron today, and we betcha Carl will ask a Q or two about Social Security. It'll reportedly air on Brit Hume's show at 6:00 pm ET. Sounds like a pre-taper to us, and we look forward to the excerpts (and the cutaways!!).

Sure, there's the trade deficit too, and those comments from the Japanese PM that has some of us freaking out about the dollar, but The Note's healthy obsession with Social Security continues unabated today, and for good reason.

With the battle in full swing, it's time again for our bi-monthly Benny Awards, given in various categories for excellence related to America's national debate over retirement security.

The latest nominees were announced last week at a festive Oval Room lunch hosted by Art Linkletter, and, without further ado, here are the first March winners:

Best (and fastest) learners in the woodshed (tie): Sen./Leader/Dr. Frist, Sen. Grassley, Rep. McCrery.

Best bad slogan sure to have no effect whatsoever on the debate: The Democrats' cheesy "Fix It, Don't Nix It."

Best hope of the pro-reform strategists: To somehow make this fight about the Democratic Party as do-nothing tax raisers.

Best unwitting ally of pro-reform strategists in the above regard: Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Best state for Republicans to find a Democratic Senator most likely to embrace a compromise on Social Security and who is open to personal accounts that won't increase the deficit or reduce benefits: Nebraska.

Best behind-the-scenes strategist working to actually get the President something to sign: Rep. Roy Blunt.

Best examples of outlying rhetorical points (or "Best Freudian slips") (tie): The President's calling his plan for accounts "add-ons" one week ago today, and Vice President Cheney's acknowledgement that personal accounts will cost "trillions of dollars."

Best grasstops lobbying campaign: AFL-CIO efforts to chip away at the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security.

Best Democratic consultants in the eyes of Republican strategists: Jim Carville and Stan Greenberg.

Best alternative proposal received with surprising praise by conservatives: Sen. Chuck Hagel's.

Best approximation of Grover Norquist's worst nightmare: High level of public support for lifting payroll tax caps.

Best Harry Reid investment: Frank Luntz.

Best media enabler: Wolf Blitzer (interviewing Hagel).

Best chance of ulcers before 2006: Rep. Rob Simmons.

Best evasion of leadership on Social Security: House Republicans, kicking it over to the Senate.

Best attempt to pin the lame duck pin on Bush prematurely: Congressional Democrats and the MSM.

Best mocking rhetoric (tie): Conservatives regarding those Republicans open to the huge tax increase embodied by raising the cap, and Democrats regarding those (other) Democrats who think it's time to offer a plan of their own for saving Social Security.

ABC News' Jonathan Karl reports that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will release a statement today announcing a US agreement with Europe to offer Iran incentives to cooperate with outside bodies on its nuclear program. The US will also hint of countermeasures if they don't cooperate. (Read more in the New York Times: LINK)

Senators in town will take up budget room on the Hill, but little action of interest is expected.

President Clinton continues to recover from surgery, and the Washington Post's David Brown has all of Clinton's post-op details. LINK, as does Dr. Altman in the New York Times. LINK.

Rest up, sir.

After his travel today, the President high tails it back to the White House for the weekend, and tomorrow night's Gridiron Dinner.

Tomorrow, the Democratic National Committee's commission on the nomination calendar meets in Washington, D.C. Sen. John Kerry travels to Florida from closed-press political events.

On "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Jose Canesco.

Social Security: the politics:

The Washington Post's Chuck Babington and Jim VandeHei conclude from a shoe-leathery survey of the Senate that opposition to the President's Social Security plan is so strong that it may not even come to a vote. The key to the coalition, numbering between 42 and 44, is the opposition to private accounts, to borrowing to set them up, and the benefit cuts or higher taxes needed to replace the diverted money. LINK

"Unlike recent battles over tax cuts, the threat of Bush campaigning for their defeat does not appear to be scaring Democratic senators, White House officials concede. Some aides are surprised at the unified and stubborn opposition of Democrats and, in a tone that sounds more pessimistic than a few weeks ago, talk of how a defeat of the Bush plan this year could lead to GOP congressional and gubernatorial losses in 2006."

(Note that that is the opposite view expressed by some Bush supporters -- who claim a Bush defeat on the issue would lead to punishment of balky Democrats . . . )

USA Today linguist Judy Keen Notes the President's "safety net" rhetoric, a move away from his "crisis" rhetoric. "Bush's strategy, modeled on his campaign tactics, is to repeat a few simple arguments that will stick in people's minds and maybe prompt them to act," she writes. LINK

And there's a must-clip chart of what Bush said then, and what he says now.

The Los Angeles Times' Peter Wallsten and Warren Vieth write the closest thing to a déjà vu campaign story we remember, complete with carefully screened audiences and a couple of protesters sneaking in to President Bush's Social Security stops aimed as seniors in the South. LINK

The Memphis Commercial Appeal curtain-raises President Bush's visit today. LINK

And the paper analyzes the local-media strategy as he continues the road show. LINK

The Shreveport Times looks at local Democrats who aren't interested in the President's visit. LINK

Unlike the President's December 2002 visit, this time Shreveport's Democratic mayor, Keith Hightower, has been invited to be at the President's event today. LINK

Rep. Harold Ford gets several paragraphs in Dick Stevenson's New York Times write-up of the Bush blitz. LINK

Knight Ridder's Tim Funk previews Vice President Cheney's own Social Security town hall meetings and media blitz, and offers second-day treatment of a Cheney interview with the Charlotte Observer, Noting that "The Vice President's office offered the interview to The Charlotte Observer in what appears to be part of a strategy to avoid the national media and speak more directly to voters through local and regional media outlets." LINK

(Note the clever use of the word "appears.")

Funk's Observer interview with Cheney: LINK The Washington Post's Robert Samuelson is so unimpressed with making the Social Security system a major investor in Wall Street. LINK

Paul Krugman fears the upcoming trustees' report will be slanted. LINK

Bush agenda:

We are thoroughly mystified as to why the Washington Post buried Peter Baker's story on the return of Karen Hughes to the White House (!!!) to "take on a specific and particularly important assignment involving international affairs" on page A21. LINK

Reward yourself and read to the end for this kicker: "But some advisers said there will be no turf war. 'She's just going to take a role that only Karen can take on because of her particular history,' said one. 'That's not the sort of thing that gets into territorial things.'"

The Washington Post's Rick Weiss explains the details of the EPA's Clean Air Interstate Rule LINK

Which the New York Times' Michael Janofsky calls "one of the most ambitious efforts to control soot and ground-level ozone." LINK

Karl Rove's speech to Chester County, PA GOPers last night sounds similar to the speech he made at CPAC. From the write-up, it's hard to detect any news. LINK

A Financial Times op-ed says: "Thanks to Karl Rove and his fellow disciplinarians, the number of Republicans willing to criticize President George W. Bush or his policies in public can usually be counted on one hand. But every now and then, someone breaks the code of omertà, thus qualifying for Observer's Profile in Courage award. The latest winner is John Whitehead, the former top Goldman Sachs banker, deputy secretary of state in the Reagan administration and currently chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which is responsible for rebuilding in New York after the September 11 attacks." LINK

"Whitehead was honoured on Wednesday at the New York Democracy Forum dinner, organized by the Foreign Policy Association and the National Endowment for Democracy." His speech was eloquent and gracious but the sting came in the tail. After lamenting the loss of respect for the US in the rest of the world in the first Bush term, Whitehead said he admired the president's inaugural speech promoting democracy and combating tyranny. He then turned to the nomination of John Bolton, the hard-boiled rightwinger, for US ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton, declared Whitehead, was not the right person for the job."

Big casino budget politics:

The Washington Post's hard-charging Shailagh Murray details the transportation bill the House passed yesterday, Noting that many lawmakers wanted a bigger bill than the $284 million measure, and the White House veto threat unless a provision allowing Congress to reconsider state funds before 2009, when it expires. LINK

More from the Los Angeles Times' Richard Simon. LINK

On the House-passed transportation bill yesterday, Notes the Wall Street Journal's Sarah Leuck: "The House bill still contains a provision that drew a White House veto threat: a clause that would allow Congress to reopen the bill. The provision could open the way for lawmakers to insert more special projects, and would require Congress to revisit the issue of how federal Highway Trust Fund dollars are distributed between states or risk delaying fiscal 2006 highway funding until after the construction season begins."

The vote on this was 417 to 9, so we guess the ranks of hard-core budget-cutters in the Congress is less than a baker's dozen . . . what, with the 4128 earmarks and all. Rep. Flake, call your office. LINK

We don't quite understand how the veto threat will play out.

And on the Senate side, reports Joel Havemann of the Los Angeles Times, a $2.6 billion budget that preserves tax cuts and puts the deficit at $362 billion made it thought the Budget Committee. Meanwhile, fiscal conservatives in the House are squeaky-wheeling it, demanding a new procedure to keep spending bills from busting the budget. LINK

The New York Times' Stolberg and Kirkpatrick on GOP Senators divided over Medicaid cuts, and the passage of Sen. Corzine's non-binding amendment that expresses the desire to not increase a state's Medicaid burden. LINK

Judd Gregg has ice water in his veins.

The Wall Street Journal's Greg Ip on Chairman Greenspan's latest deficit warnings: "Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, continuing his warnings over the federal deficit, said the budget shortfall is a larger risk to the U.S. economy than the gaping trade deficit or large household-debt burdens."

"'Our fiscal prospects are . . . a significant obstacle to long-term stability, because the budget deficit is not readily subject to correction by market forces that stabilize other imbalances,' Mr. Greenspan said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York."

The Congress:

The New York Times perky Carl Hulse looks at the divide on the other side of the aisle over bankruptcy, with Sen. Carper and John Podesta (and Tom Harkin) at loggerheads about substance and symbolism. LINK

Jennifer Brooks of Gannett News Service details the bankruptcy bill that made it through the Senate last night. LINK

If you hadn't noticed it, a coalition of center-left, libertarian, and even some conservative blogs waged an unsuccessful campaign to block the bill.

John Harwood's Washington Wire in the Wall Street Journal Notes: "After success on bankruptcy and class-action legislation, business lobbyists want to maintain momentum with progress on Central American trade expansion, energy incentives, extension of capital gains and dividend-tax relief. Quick work is seen as vital before budget issues draw lawmakers' attention. One potential casualty: the asbestos bill. Pennsylvania's Specter cancels Senate Judiciary Committee vote after consensus eludes fellow Republicans. If Republicans exercise "nuclear option" against judicial filibusters, Democrats have threatened to halt floor action."

The National Association of Evangelicals released their lobbying plan of action yesterday, with props to the environment, fighting sex trafficking, AIDS relief, and reducing poverty, as well as abortion and marriage. Check out this Thomas Frankian quote from an unnamed evangelical in the Washington Times: "'don't want to be a grouchy evangelical,' said one of the 153 evangelical leaders who attended the statement's release at the Hart Senate Office building. 'But over 25 years, I've seen us getting co-opted over and over again.'" LINK

The Washington Post's Mike Allen looks at the move by Democrats to deadlock the House Ethics Committee by refusing to accept rule changes Republicans instituted in January that would not allow an investigation unless a Republican member of the panel agreed. LINK

We're glad you're feeling better, Leader DeLay. LINK

The Boston Globe's Rick Klein writes up Rep. Tom Davis' threat to hold Major League Baseball players and officials in contempt of Congress if they don't testify today about steroid use. LINK


The New York Sun's Josh Gerstein weighs in with the must-read political story of the day, with news of Harold Ickes' intense lobbying on behalf of 527s and Gerstein's observation that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has not yet taken a position on the 527 bill. Even more amazing to us: Gerstein gets Morton Blackwell on the record! (And then lets him analyze Democratic politics!!) LINK

Clinton Spokesman Philippe Reines declined to answer our question on this as well.

A Quinnipiac poll shows that Rudy Giuliani/Sen. Clinton are roughly tied in their hypothetical match up. Giuliani is more popular than Clinton, but Clinton gets more female support. LINK

The Boston Globe's Frank Phillips writes up the paper's new poll showing Massachusetts voters less than enamored with the idea of Gov. Romney running for president -- 28 percent said he should seek the job, 53 percent said he shouldn't, and 48 percent said he wouldn't make a good president if elected. In addition, his prospects for re-election in 2006 aren't all that sunny either, according to the survey -- 32 percent said he should be re-elected, and 50 percent said someone else should be voted in. Tough numbers, even with the small sample size. LINK

The Boston Globe's Scot Lehigh calls Romney "clumsy" of late, saying that it's hard for the legislature to take you seriously if you've all but made it clear you're a short-timer, but gets John Sass to put him on the short list of serious Republican contenders for 2008. LINK


Linda Feldman and David Cook of the Christian Science Monitor profile DCCC chairman Rahm Emanuel. LINK

A very early poll has good news for Bob Casey and J.B. Poersch. LINK


The Washington Times surveys the "consensus" on the two governors' races this year; New Jersey will probably stay Democratic; Virginia may flip. Or it may not. LINK

OK, now we've interacted with Chad Clanton dozens and dozens of times, and while his Southern accent is certainly pronounced, it's not cartoonish . . . as an endearing but a tad unreal and over-the-top profile in today's New York Times makes it out to be. LINK

"DOUBLE doggone it. Chad Clanton left his signature Tony Lama cowboy boots back at his bachelor pad near Union Square, so the only proof that he's a terminal Texan toiling as a temporary New York City political operative for the mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer hails from his barbed-wire body -- he's a tad bowlegged inside those broken-in blue jeans -- and hard-wired twang. Yep, he says git for get. Repeatedly. Endearingly. As in, 'We need a mayor who gits it, and Mayor Bloomberg just doesn't git it.'"

We aren't entirely sure whether Chad actually says "git," but the rest of the profile, aside from the first fish-out-of-war grafs, is pretty cool.

Wouldn't you like to be a Pepper, too!!!!

Clanton is quoted in another New York Times story about a non-aggression pact between Democratic mayoral candidates Fields and Ferrer. LINK

Now Hahn and Villaraigosa are duking it out for endorsements, report the Los Angeles Times' Jessica Garrison and Noam Levey. LINK


The Wall Street Journal ed board cheers Gov. Schwarzenegger's anti-gerrymander efforts in California. "Governor Schwarzenegger's proposal is especially notable because it may not even be in his own party's self-interest. California is a Democratic-leaning state, and the gerrymander arguably locks in more Republican Congressional seats than the GOP could obtain in genuinely competitive races," the Journal Notes.

John DiStaso of the Manchester Union Leader reports that former New Hampshire Republican Party executive director Charles "Chuck" McGee pleaded guilty to a felony charge for orchestrating a scheme to jam Democratic GOTV phone lines in 2002. Despite a plea for leniency by Democratic Party chair Kathleen Sullivan, McGee was sentenced to seven months in a federal minimum security prison, was fined $2,000 and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service. LINK

DiStaso's editors gave him tons of room, and he does his usual balance of excellent writing and reporting.

The Georgia House passed a newly drawn map of congressional districts yesterday afternoon, Roll Call's Lauren Whittington reports, and the state Senate is expected to take it up next week.

John Judis' long-awaited take on the AFL-CIO in Vegas finally makes it online. LINK

The Nixon Library's cancellation of a planned conference on Vietnam and the Nixon years gets Paper of Record treatment. LINK

Our best wishes for a speedy recovery, Mrs. Elizabeth Edwards. LINK