Morning Political Note: Jan. 21

Enron continues to dominate the business sections, but as a political story, barring any unforeseen major developments, we expect it to take a back seat this week to the inexorable build-up toward two huge Big Casino events: the State of the Union, just eight days away; and the release of the White House budget in early February, the contours of which Administration sources are beginning to sketch out in the print media.

News Summary

According to the Washington Post, the budget went to the printer last night.

Setting the stage for these events, the Congressional Budget Office will release its revised estimates this week, with the CBO director testifying before the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday. Fed chief Alan Greenspan will testify before the committee on Thursday.

Still unclear are details on whatever separate economic address(es) the President may intend to give, per the earlier ideas being "kicked around" by the White House for him not to talk about the economy in detail in the State of the Union. Bush will give an economic speech tomorrow in West Virginia, but whether or not he plans to escalate his usual rhetoric remains TBD.

The Washington Post yesterday had this key point about the forthcoming White House budget: "The cost of fighting terrorism at home and abroad will require so much money in 2003 that President Bush plans to propose a budget with little or no growth in most other areas of government, according to administration officials. The budget, which goes to the printer tonight and will be released Feb. 4, is being submitted to Congress at a time when the economy is contracting, leading to heightened demand for social services."

"The White House plans to sell the lean budget as part of a process of bringing rationality to government by eliminating duplication and demanding results."

We wonder when, if ever, Concord Coalition types will start arguing that the Administration should be making harder and more precise choices on program and spending cuts. And of course, as more details leak out on what social programs aren't seeing increased funding, they'll get hit from the other side.

By simultaneously running a deficit, dipping into the Social Security and Medicare trust funds, failing to make substantial cuts in spending programs, and (yet) significantly restraining the rate of growth in spending on many programs beloved by members of both parties — all in one budget! — the White House is just asking to be smacked around.

They clearly are hoping that the President's wartime image will insulate him from this unusual budget vise.

One group who will be watching the budget battle closely and directly incorporating what happens there into their decisions on how to vote will be the elderly — who, as you know, tend to vote in higher numbers than other demographic groups. The New York Times ' Robin Toner gives both parties a front-page reminder that off-year elections see older votes turn out in even greater percentages, and that retirement income security is going to be big this cycle.

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