The Note, 3/26/09: Crowd Wisdom — Obama’s outside-inside game will need a new talking point

By Caitlin Taylor

Mar 26, 2009 8:08am

By RICK KLEIN One way to measure success: Everyone’s talking about President Obama’s budget. Another way to measure success: Everyone’s talking about how Democrats are ignoring big portions of President Obama’s budget. One way to frame an argument: Republicans don’t have a budget of their own. A way to unframe an argument: They will have a budget of their own by lunchtime Thursday. One way to count progress: 100,000 people have signed up to fight for President Obama’s budget. A slightly different way to count progress: That’s after an e-mail was sent to 14 million people, and tens of thousands of volunteers knocked on a million doors over the weekend. There’s an outside-inside balance going on now for the president’s budget — that droll document that only once every few years becomes the vehicle for not just legislation but an agenda. As the president found out at lunch with Senate Democrats — and would hear from the many House Democrats he hasn’t sat down with yet — the inside game is only going to get Team Obama so far. Here comes the next play for the outside crowd — inviting the public in for questioning on Thursday. (You know it’s serious when the presidential Twitter feed kicks back into action.) “Thursday’s ‘virtual town hall,’ where President Obama will discuss the economy with regular Americans at the White House and field questions submitted online and through YouTube, is just one part of a multilayered, tech-savvy effort to create support for his ambitious agenda at the grass-roots level,” Jon Ward writes in the Washington Times.  White House aides “are deeming this forum an ‘experiment’ where Americans can send questions and vote for the submissions they like,” per ABC’s Karen Travers. “The president will be standing at a podium in front of an audience made up of ‘real Americans,’ the White House said. An administration official will moderate the event and pose the most popular questions submitted on the Web site to the president.”  “So far, questions about Obama’s NCAA bracket picks are sorting toward the bottom of the list, along with those about what kind of dog the first family will choose. Instead, visitors are giving high ratings to questions about the economy — the stated purpose of the virtual town hall — and the president’s plans to fix it,” Christi Parsons writes in the Los Angeles Times.  Macon Phillips, director of new media for the White House, said the president was soliciting the “wisdom of the crowd.” (Let that phrase marinate for a while.) As of 8 am ET, more than 81,000 questions had been voted on more than 3 million times, per ABC’s Ann Compton. Voting cuts off at 9:30. The next moving piece involves TV, too. The DNC’s Organizing for America on Thursday is launching a national and DC cable ad campaign to build on the weekend door-knocking. (America — get excited about budget reconciliation!) “Thousands are going door to door as part of Organizing for America — gathering support for President Obama’s plan to invest in America’s future.  You can help too,” the ad says, over footage of some of that very canvassing. “Call Congress and tell them to support President Obama’s budget plan to get our economy moving again.”     One Democratic rallying cry may have to go. “Show me your budget,” the president challenged Republicans at Wednesday night’s DNC fundraiser, per The Hill’s Betsy Rothstein.  That’s sorta kinda happening on Thursday. Three’s an 11:45 am ET press conference at the Capitol “to unveil House Republicans’ better budget solution.” (Somebody get Dag Vega — we’re going to need to rewrite the talking points.) “We’ve offered a lot of comprehensive proposals on this stimulus, on the omnibus, but we’re gonna also have a complete budget that, unlike [the president's], does not use funny money, does not have tax increases,” Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said on ABC NewsNOW’s “Politics Live” Wednesday.  Party of “no,” no longer? “The entire House GOP elected leadership will join Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the ranking member of the Budget Committee, for Thursday’s event,” per Politico’s Mike Allen and Victoria McGrane. “It’s the old ‘I want to see it in writing,’” said a top House Republican official. “They’re going to see it in writing.”  The GOP budget, naturally, has no chance of passing. But this is a marker in the broader political argument. President Obama has repeatedly challenged Republicans to come up with their own ideas — and so, here we go. (But the Senate GOP is still planning the “rifle-shot” amendment approach.) 

Maybe Republicans don’t need a brand-new message — if the president helps them find an old one: “Suddenly, though, it doesn’t seem like a time of new politics and new concerns,” Karl Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal column. “Many Americans are anxious — and in some cases angry — about a set of old issues: deficits, taxes and the national debt. Mr. Obama’s radical budget, his administration’s slapdash operating manner, and events such as the AIG bonuses have revived animosity over government’s size and cost.”  Rove continues: “Mr. Obama has put front and center a set of issues — spending and taxation — that brought Republicans to power in the past and may bring them back again. It looks as if we may be heading back to the future.” The Democrats were easy to hold together — when they were in the minority: “As a party expands its ideological and geographic reach, as the Democrats have in the last two elections, it becomes harder to hold together, forcing its leaders to spend time papering over internal differences even as they confront a smaller but more unified opposition,” Jeff Zeleny writes in The New York Times. “Faced with just such a challenge, the White House unleashed a broad offensive on Wednesday, a mix of muscle and negotiation, in an effort to contain the varying viewpoints within the Democratic Party, split the difference and move forward.”  “Well, I think we are on the same page,” said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. “We may not agree as to what the page says.” What the page says: “Notably, Democratic leaders in both chambers are pushing packages that call for narrower deficits and less spending than proposed by the White House. And those levels could go lower, especially in the Senate, where moderate Democrats from conservative states will be an important factor in the debate on the floor next week,” Greg Hitt and Naftali Bendavid write in The Wall Street Journal.  “Congress scaled back Obama’s budget by resorting to the same kinds of accounting gimmicks that the President had prided himself on avoiding, a fact that Republicans were quick to point out,” Time’s Jay Newton-Small writes.  “Democrats downplayed the adjustments and said that they felt only harmony with the president,” McClatchy’s David Lightman reports.  (And reporters played up the adjustments and will continue to look for discord.) “Congressional Democrats’ changes could be seen two ways: As the work of lawmakers gently asserting their independence from the president, or as members of Congress smoothing the legislative path for Obama by making the budget more palatable to moderates and thus easier to pass,” Lightman writes. Think he’ll miss this? “President Obama’s budget chief hinted Wednesday that the president’s signature campaign issue — a middle-class tax cut — will not likely survive a budget battle with Democrats on Capitol Hill,” per ABC’s Jake Tapper, Karen Travers, and Sunlen Miller. “Obama’s middle-class tax cut is locked in place for the next two years as part of the stimulus package he signed into law last month, but [Peter] Orszag told reporters today that the White House will have to use those two years to figure out how to keep that tax cut in place for middle-class families beyond 2010.”  Easygoing: “In negotiations, he assumes a bend-but-don’t-break posture. He will compromise on certain details when necessary but not on the heart of his main proposals,” the AP’s Charles Babington writes. “Rather than confront, chide or cajole those senators, the president minimized his differences with [Senate Democrats], several participants said. Turning necessity into a virtue, he breezily agreed they can find different ways to achieve his overarching goals.”  Too easygoing? “Centrist Democrats who have complained that Obama’s spending plan would drive the annual budget deficit to unacceptable levels held their tongues during the 45-minute lunchtime meeting. They asked no questions about deficits or about the administration’s controversial push to force its signature investments in health care and education through the Senate without Republican votes,” Lori Montgomery writes in The Washington Post.  Who would you rather be? Writes Gail Collins, in her New York Times column: “There appears to be only two constants in our ever-changing world. One is that Barack Obama is going to be on television every day forever. No venue is too strange. Soon, he’ll be on ‘Dancing With the Stars’ (‘And now, doing the Health Care, Energy and Education tango …’) or delivering the weather report. (‘Here we see a wave of systemic change, moving across the nation …’) The other immutable truth is that we always need to have somebody we can be really, really angry at.”  Over on the left: “Liberal House Democrats are stewing that they have yet to get face time with President Barack Obama, despite his whirlwind charm offensive that has ushered every other major faction of the Caucus into the White House for private meetings,” Roll Call’s Tory Newmyer writes.  “Members are either taking it as a slight, or that we’re irrelevant in the planning process,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Callf., the other co-chairman: “Maybe they think that they can take us for granted, but they can’t.” Another voice that matters: “For people who felt that Obama was going to bring change, a real difference, it somehow feels quite a lot as if we’ve got the same old gang still making the policy decisions, despite how discredited they are in the eyes of the public,” Paul Krugman tells ABC’s Scott Mayerowitz.  Amid all that liberal crossfire, with ads popping up back home . . . “The liberal groups need to understand that we are not elected to represent the president,” Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., tells Politico’s Patrick O’Connor and Manu Raju. “How can they be threatened by a group that has taken no policy positions?” said Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind.  Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is back on the Hill Thursday — and on his own terms, mostly, this time. From Treasury: “In his opening statement, Secretary Geithner will lay out a broad framework to establish the rules of the road needed to restore faith in the financial system. The comprehensive framework will encompass four broad areas — systemic risk, consumer and investor protection, eliminating gaps in our regulatory structure and international coordination. Because financial stability is critical to economic recovery and growth and measures to reduce risks to global financial stability are expected to be the primary focus of discussions on regulatory reform at the G20 Leaders’ Meeting in London next week, Secretary Geithner will focus Thursday on details of the Administration’s plan to address systemic risk, with additional details on the other three areas to follow in the coming weeks.” Geithner grabs the lead of The Washington Post: “The Obama administration’s plan, described by several sources, would extend federal regulation for the first time to all trading in financial derivatives and to companies including large hedge funds and major insurers such as American International Group. The administration also will seek to impose uniform standards on all large financial firms, including banks, an unprecedented step that would place significant limits on the scope and risk of their activities,” Binyamin Appelbaum and David Cho write.  (Geithner’s troubles being what they are — is there a press operation anywhere in Washington that’s running with the efficiency and efficacy of Treasury?) Some Hill intrigue — think anyone would take this job off his hands? (Here’s guessing there’s a few ambitious pols who wouldn’t mind a chairmanship.) “As the AIG bonus mess swirled, the House Financial Services Committee hauled the firm’s CEO, Edward Liddy, in for questioning. The House Judiciary Committee rushed a bill to a vote allowing the Justice Department to claw back the payments,” The Hill’s Mike Soraghan writes. “But one committee was conspicuously absent — House Oversight and Government Reform. It’s the same committee, under the leadership of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), that dug up a $440,000 AIG retreat to a posh resort, and raked the firm’s executives over the coals. Now, under Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), the message is: We’ll get to it.”  Alex Conant moves from blasting out e-mails to reporters form his perch at the RNC, to blasting out blog postings from, well, wherever. He sees a mistake in the way questions were doled out to a struggling press corps Tuesday: “President Obama’s decision to pass over national print media was a serious mistake. As much as conservatives attack the news coverage of the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, those reporters work for news organizations that are bleeding money, yet pouring resources into their White House coverage. Obama’s intentional omissions at Tuesday’s press-conference was not just insulting to the reporters whom show up at every Robert Gibbs’ briefing, but also to the editors whom fight tooth-and-nail to justify their correspondents’ travel on every Presidential trip.” takes on the presidential presser: “He said his budget projections are based on economic assumptions that ‘are perfectly consistent with what Blue Chip forecasters out there are saying.’ Not true. The average projection by leading private economists is now for substantially less economic growth than the administration’s forecast assumes.”  More: “He said he is reducing ‘nondefense discretionary spending’ to less than it was under the past four presidents. Not true. His own forecast for the final budget of his four-year term puts this figure higher than in many years under Reagan, Clinton or either Bush.” Just what the GOP needs? Michael Steele for president? “If that’s part of the plan, it’ll be the plan,” the RNC chairman told CNN Wednesday. “[If I run] it’ll be because that’s where God wants me to be at that time.”  The Kicker: “Even if it may look like a mistake, a gaffe, there is a rational, there is a logic behind it. . . . It’s all strategic.” — RNC Chairman Michael Steele, infallibly, on CNN, explaining that he really picked a fight with Rush Limbaugh to see who his friends are. Follow The Note on Twitter: For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day:

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