The Note: Oh, Somewhere in This Favored Land the Sun Is Shining Bright

WASHINGTON, March 17 --


Even The Note is not dumb enough to try to entice you into a Talmudic parsing of the President's words on Social Security from one of his now-routine second-term press conferences from yesterday. (Or why Rob Portman is leaving Congress to become the U.S. Trade Representative -- and maybe some day the governor of Ohio . . . )

All eyes turn to Capitol Hill's hearing-cum-mediafest concerning the (alleged) drug use of (over)grown men who hit and throw balls for a living.

With the restraint that comes from professional decorum and having seen this movie before, we implore every Member of the committee: before you speak, think about your motives and about the public interest.

(Whom are we kidding???)

As you get ready for the pipsqueak players to face off against those giant elected officials in their raised seats, read these:


New York Times: LINK


Washington Post: LINK

Los Angeles Times: LINK

The Wall Street Journal's lede is dismissive (of Congress): "When Congress takes up baseball's steroids issue, fans can likely expect the equivalent of a lot of dugout chatter but not many runs scored."

The hearings begin at 10:00 am ET and are expected to last all day. The House Government Reform Committee will hear from Baseball Hall of Famer and Sen. James Bunning (R-KY); former MLB players Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire; current MLB players Rafael Palmerio, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa and Frank Thomas; and Bud Selig, commissioner of Major League Baseball.

Also on the Thursday political schedule:

At 9:30 am ET, President Bush will announce Rep. Rob Portman (R-OH) as the new U.S. Trade Representative.

At 10:30 am ET, the President and First Lady Laura Bush meet with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and participate in the traditional "Shamrock Ceremony" in the Roosevelt Room. At 12:30 pm ET, the President attends a St. Patrick's Day luncheon, sponsored by House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

At 8:30 am ET, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted a discussion on "Insuring America's Economy Against Terrorism." Speakers include Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), Reps. Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Paul Kanjorski (D-PA).

At 9:30 am ET, the Senate Judiciary Committee meets to vote on President Bush's pending judicial nominations.

CIA Director Porter Goss and DIA Director Lowell Jacoby testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9:30 am ET.

Also at 9:30 am ET, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) delivers a "major speech" on the budget at a program hosted by the Center for National Policy. More on that below.

At 10:15 am ET, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) hold a news conference to discuss a proposed amendment to invest in programs to help prevent unintended pregnancy, as well as increase funding for contraceptives and emergency contraceptives, family planning services, and teen pregnancy programs.

At 11:30 am ET, Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) hold a news conference to discuss the President's Social Security plan.

At 1:30 pm ET, Sens. Sam Brownback and Mary Landrieu, and Reps. Dave Weldon and Bart Stupak hold a news conference to reintroduce a bill to ban all forms of human cloning.

At 7:00 pm ET, Sen. Barack Obama receives the Newsmaker of the Year Award from the National Newspapers Publishers Association foundation.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams attends the Friends of Sinn Fein St. Patrick's Day Breakfast at 8:00 am ET. The sisters and fiancée of Robert McCartney also attend.

McCartney's family also attends the National Press Club event on Northern Ireland where Adams delivers remarks at 3:00 pm ET, and they all meet with the Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs on Capitol Hill at 5:30 pm ET.

More on Adams' schedule -- which pointedly doesn't include meetings with President Bush or Sen. Kennedy. LINK

More on the sisters and fiancée of Robert McCartney: LINK

Social Security: the President speaks:

Having talked up a blue streak about his chief domestic priority, the President certainly left a lot of possible interpretations of his possible meanings.

The New York Times leads its Bush presser coverage with Tom DeLay, natch, but Notes that the President "said more explicitly than in the past that his plan to create individual investment accounts would not solve the long-term problems of Social Security, but that the accounts were worthwhile nonetheless." LINK

Which is exactly the opposite of what many conservatives have been urging him to say.

The Wall Street Journal's Jackie Calmes Noticed that Bush spoke highly of "progressive indexing" (presumably of the Bennett flavor) yesterday.

And she obtained this: "A White House official suggested it could 'jump-start' the Social Security debate when 'everyone is trying to write the obituary.'"

The Washington Post put foreign policy up top, Noting in the eighth paragraph that "Bush spent most of the time promoting his plan to restructure the 70-year-old Social Security program." It was the first time, Jim VandeHei writes, that talked about progressive indexing, and didn't demand that the final deal include personal accounts. LINK

(He also seemed to be in no hurry to get all this done . . . )

The Los Angeles Times' Peter Wallsten said Bush radiated confidence and serenity, and writes that on Social Security, the President "offered his familiar defense, waving off surveys showing that public support has slipped for his plan to let younger workers invest a portion of their payroll taxes in individual investment accounts." LINK

USA Today's Judy Keen focused on the President's confidence in the face of polls showing a lukewarm response to and questions about the efficacy of his plan, Noting that he acknowledged the personal accounts idea doesn't fix the solvency issue. LINK

The Chicago Tribune's Mark Silva and Jill Zuckman lead with President Bush urging members of Congress to convince their constituents to support the overhaul. LINK

Writes David Wessel in the Wall Street Journal: "If bickering between Democrats and Republicans blocks a Social Security compromise this year, will it be another 10 years before any politician tries again? That would be an unwelcome result. There are good reasons to act now."

Social Security: the politics:

USA Today's Andrea Stone -- in a must-read that Democrats will love and Republicans will surely try to walk back -- reports that the House Republican leadership is urging members to keep their Social Security "town hall" events over the recess lower key to avoid the protests they encountered during the last break. LINK

"This month, Republican leaders say they are chucking the open town-hall format. They plan to visit newspaper editorial boards and talk to constituents at Rotary Club lunches, senior citizen centers, chambers of commerce meetings and local businesses. In those settings, 'there isn't an opportunity for it to disintegrate into something that's less desirable,' says Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference."

"Republican leaders are urging their party's lawmakers to take the spotlight off themselves by convening panels of experts from the Social Security Administration, conservative think tanks, local colleges and like-minded interest groups to answer questions about the federal retirement program."

"The shift in venues and formats, Santorum says, is aimed at producing 'more of an erudite discussion' about Social Security's problems and possible solutions."

Cluck, cluck, cluck, go the Democrats over this one. We wonder if all those GOP Members' quotes were given with press secretaries in the room.

If the overhaul doesn't happen this year, it won't happen for many years, Sen. Grassley told The Hill. LINK

Bloomberg's Brendan Murray looks at the question of whether the trust fund is real or illusion, in the face of President Bush and Karl Rove (making a little-Noticed Cavuto appearance yesterday) educating the public on their view yesterday.

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank enjoyed the Republicans' 1935 Social Security event yesterday on Capitol Hill. LINK

Tomorrow at 10:00 am ET, Dr. Peter R. Orszag of the Brookings Institution, the Tax Policy Center, and Urban Institute, Gene Sperling, and Dr. Christian E. Weller join Sarah Rosen Wartell at the Center for American Progress to discuss the idea of personal accounts and the President's proposals to overhaul Social Security.

House of Labor meets Social Security:

The AFL-CIO plans to step up its campaign against financial services firms who're part of the coalition favoring private accounts by staging 50 demonstrations outside company headquarters and branches on March 31.

The protests will take place in San Francisco, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

Previous AFL-CIO protests led two firms, Waddell and Reed and Edwards Jones, to drop out of the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security, which is linked closely with the Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce's efforts to promote personal retirement accounts. AWRS is funded in part by the Security Industries Association.

This is to some extent of course a publicity stunt, but it will probably be somewhat effective because these companies don't like the publicity and take pains already to distance themselves from endorsing any particular Social Security reform legislation.

AFL-CIO's biggest targets are Wachovia, with its millions of every-day customers, and Charles Schwab with its legions of small investors. They hope that by linking Schwab's name with Social Security privatization in the press, Schwab will disaffiliate from AWRS. Same thing with Wachovia. The marches will also target the credit card company MBNA and insurances companies who aren't part of the coalition but who have expressed support for personal accounts, like Cigna, MetLife and Prudential.

Schwab has issued several public statements saying that its participation in AWRS is only informational and that it hasn't taken a position on Social Security legislation.

The AFL-CIO's clout here is somewhat unusual for an organization in decline, but the President's allies haven't found a way to combat this particular tactic yet.

Leader DeLay:

The Washington Post's James Grimaldi reports that the Senate Finance Committee, led by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Max Baucus (D-MT), opened an investigation yesterday into the activities of lobbyist Jack Abramoff and non-profit organizations, including paying for overseas trips for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay . The panel is also looking into whether contributions from Indian tribes were used to influence lawmakers. LINK

AP reports that there may be a conflict of interest if the House ethics panel investigates Leader DeLay, as Rep. Lamar Smith helped raise money for TRMPAC. He has not said whether he'd recuse himself. LINK

Roll Call's Jennifer Yachnin reports that House Ethics Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) is looking to expand his panel's outreach, staff, and budget.

Roll Call's Chris Cillizza and Erin Billings write that Democrats are wasting no time in trying to paint DeLay and the GOP as stewarding an era of corruption and special interests in Congress. DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel reportedly vowed to leave no "ethically challenged Republican" unattacked at Tuesday's leadership lunch.

And as such, the DCCC is looking for squeaky-clean candidates "to challenge prominent GOP incumbents who have been tainted by news reports of their allegedly unseemly connection to lobbyists" in 2006, The Hill's Hans Nichols writes. LINK

Bush agenda:

Gridironer Maureen Dowd thinks the confident, easy, wink-y, second-term President's attitude belies ominous Administration policies, like renditions, fake news, and more. LINK

The Senate voted 51-49 yesterday in favor of opening ANWR to oil drilling, giving the measure budget protection rules and keeping opponents of the bill from blocking it by filibuster. LINK; LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Julie Cart and Ralph Vartabedian look at the long-standing battle over ANWR. LINK

The Washington Post's John Mintz reports that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said yesterday he plans to make some changes. LINK

Included: a "disciplined" approach to publicizing information about terror threats, USA Today's Mimi Hall reports. LINK

The President nominated Kevin J. Martin, "one of the Federal Communication Commission's leaders in the crackdown on indecency," to succeed Michael Powell at the FCC yesterday. LINK

Wolfowitz and the World Bank:

Writes Todd S. Purdum in the New York Times: "Mr. Wolfowitz's career has hewed to . . . unshrinking precepts, and in nominating him for the presidency of the World Bank, President Bush simultaneously removed one of the most influential and contentious voices in his war cabinet and rewarded one of his administration's most dogged loyalists with an influential and contentious spot in a wholly new realm." LINK

The Washington Post's Paul Blustein and Peter Baker call President Bush's nomination of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz "an aggressive move to put the administration's stamp on the World Bank," Noting that it surprised many. LINK

We Note that it didn't surprise the Washington Post's Al Kamen, who touted it in yesterday's paper, pre-announcement. That Kamen is very much in the loop.

The Los Angeles Times' Paul Richter and John Hendren write that Wolfowitz is still a lightning rod in Europe over Iraq, and Note that "The Bush appointees' [Wolfowitz and UN ambassador-designate John Bolton] views on both institutions appeal to neoconservatives. Neoconservatives believe the World Bank, as well as development aid in general, should be more closely keyed to governance reform and promotion of democracy, not just targeted to alleviate poverty while leaving authoritarian regimes in place." LINK

An understatement, write the Washington Post's Keith Richburg and Glenn Frankel. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's editorial board just loves writing about international institutions it doesn't love.

"The World Bank is a dysfunctional bureaucracy that requires deep reform if it is to recover the trust of American taxpayers and survive as a relevant institution in the 21st century. That President Bush named as talented and senior a public servant as Mr. Wolfowitz is a sign he still takes the World Bank seriously -- something we sometimes find hard to do -- and that he means to reshape its cash-input-driven culture, which so far has produced negligible outputs for its ostensible clients, who are the world's poor."

Big casino budget politics:

The New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg Notes the victory for tax-cutters yesterday and the leadership concession that made Mike Pence happy: "As the House began its own budget debate, the Republican leadership on Wednesday smoothed over what appeared to be the last obstacle to passing a spending plan: a revolt among an alliance of conservatives and moderates who wanted to make it more difficult for the House to exceed its own budget limits. The leadership had opposed the effort, but after several days of negotiations, conservatives settled for the right to challenge any subsequent spending bill that exceeds the amount set in the budget. The objection could be overridden by a majority vote. Conservatives had pushed for a two-thirds vote." LINK

No go on paygo in the Senate, the Los Angeles Times' Joel Havemann reports. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's editorial board gives the "backbenchers'" revolt a hoo-rah.

Howard Fineman writes that these days the Republicans like to spend and spend and spend. LINK

The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray reports that the House passed an $81.4 billion emergency war spending bill yesterday to fund operations in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to help tsunami victims -- but not the requested $592 million request for a U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad. LINK

USA Today's William Welch takes a very good look at the bigger, more immediate problem of Medicare, which is stumping lawmakers and doesn't fit into the blueprint of winning over generations of younger voters like Social Security -- and there's not a solution in sight. LINK

The AP's Alan Fram writes of Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) and his pivotal role in the budget fight over Medicaid. LINK

The politics of gas prices:

Not a speck of light is showing, so the danger must be growing, for the rowers keep on rowing, and they're certainly not showing, any signs that they are slowing . . .

Oil prices topped $56 a barrel yesterday, and there's no sign that the climb will abate any time soon. LINK

The Schwarzenegger era:

The Los Angeles Times' Robert Salladay tallies up Gov. Schwarzenegger's considerable time on the road -- and a Republican state Senator is looking to change the law that gives the Lieutenant Governor CiC powers over the state when the Gov leaves its airspace. LINK

According to George Skelton's scathing assessment, no matter what the Governator says or how he sees himself, if you're in elective office, you're a politician. LINK

Dick Morris calls Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposals "one of the most astounding, imaginative and forward-thinking agendas in our recent history." LINK

Sen. John Kerry:

In his speech this morning, Sen. Kerry will say that Washington isn't operating in the interests of the American people -- shown by the budget he says violates three fundamental American values -- honesty, responsibility, and opportunity, an aide tells us, and will warn of the dangers to the economy of foreign-held debt. He'll also talk about his own Senate agenda, including his Military Family Bill of Rights and his Kids First health-care plan.

An excerpt:

"This week's debate on the federal budget should remind all Americans that Washington does not work for them."

"The votes this week weren't just ticks in the won-loss column, they were assaults on our nation's character. Honesty, opportunity and responsibility were all cut from this budget. And these cuts should give us all cause for concern, because in the end budgets are a statement of your priorities. They are your values backed up by dollars and cents."

". . . Hold this budget to those simple values: Is it honest? Responsible? Does it create opportunity for all Americans? By any standard this budget fails to measure up, and even sells out our most cherished values."

2008: Democrats:

It's not Joe-mentum, but it's apparently all things Wes -- Ret. Gen. Wes Clark is talking national security with his redesigned Web site -- -- complete with the WesBlog!

The New York Post's Eric Fettmann won't go as far as the boys on "Hardball" or Russert on "Imus" in saying Sen. Clinton is a lock for 2008 -- but Fettmann thinks she IS a lock for 2006. LINK

2008: Republicans:

The Boston Globe's Scott Greenberger writes that at a Michigan GOP fund-raiser last night, Gov. Romney seemed to soften his tone on gay marriage, talking about the need to respect modern families of all forms -- then talked about the need for children to have a mother and a father and praised Michigan for its same-sex marriage ban. LINK

In a separate story, Greenberger also reports definitely that Romney either is or isn't running for re-election in 2006, and he either has or has not backed off previous statements about this. LINK

The Boston Phoenix's Adam Reilly explores the political power of the LDS church and wonders whether it will mobilize its ranks to help elect Mitt Romney president. LINK

Gov. George Pataki proposes to cut $1 billion from Medicaid in New York by closing hospitals, but the two other men who run the state government with him object. LINK

But Jennifer Cunningham doesn't . . .

Two nuggets from John DiStaso's Granite Status: "Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, a possible '08 Presidential candidate, is tentatively planning a college tour in New Hampshire. Another Republican senator, Sam Brownback of Kansas, has made calls in these parts looking for speaking engagements." LINK


The New York Times Notes that Freddy Ferrer's insistence that his remarks on the Diallo case have been consistent is at least somewhat "justified," but in the miasma of racial and Democratic politics in New York City, a shift in emphasis means so much.

"The reaction to Mr. Ferrer's remarks highlighted the delicate task he faces as he tries to build a coalition of black and Hispanic voters and at the same time reach out to whites. Polls have shown him ahead of the other Democratic candidates and also having more support than Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. But the treacherous ethnic and racial politics that helped undo his last campaign for mayor in 2001, when he came in first in the Democratic primary but lost in the primary runoff to Mark Green, appear to be resurfacing." LINK

The New York Post calls it a "big-time blunder." LINK

Jim Rutenberg has an "expansive" and revealing interview with Mayor Mike Bloomberg on religion. LINK

The Washington Post's Chris Jenkins reports that as a gubernatorial candidate, Virginia Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine "will campaign as the candidate to uphold Warner's centrist legacy of 'fiscal responsibility,' a man who would protect taxpayers while maintaining state services." Or, as VCU's Robert Holsworth said, "'as Mark Warner's little brother.'" LINK


Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R-MD) announced yesterday that neither he nor his wife plan to run for Sen. Paul Sarbanes' Senate seat. LINK


The U.S. House got involved in the Schiavo case yesterday, passing by a voice vote a measure to delay the removal of the Florida woman's feeding tube. LINK

Bob Novak asks Jude Wanniski whether he still considers Mitch Daniels a faithful tax-cutter. LINK

The Washington Post's David Broder writes that the highly controversial Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 has been less than successful at reigning in spending on programs like No Child Left Behind, Medicaid, and overhauling the nation's voting equipment. LINK

The Seattle Times' David Postman reports that the Washington state GOP's list of felon voters may be way off because it includes people tried as juveniles who didn't lose their right to vote. LINK

AP reports that there's not much support for a new gubernatorial election in Washington. LINK

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft will be a part-time professor at Pat Robertson's Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA starting April 4, USA Today's Richard Willing reports. LINK


Elisabeth Bumiller tells USA Today: "it's not my job to be popular . . . " LINK

Bloomberg has smartly hired the impressive Ken Fireman to lead its Washington coverage of government from its well-positioned bureau near the White House. He will oversee a team of reporters and editors that is 33 strong. Fireman, of course, has been working for Newsday for the last 17 years, with eight in DC and time on the last two presidential campaigns and on the Casa Blanca beat. And, as anyone paying attention knows, he is a Wayne Stater!!! Congratulations.