By RICK KLEIN Ready to come home yet? While you’ve been out of the country, Mr. President, the critical political battle of the moment has raged on without you — unless, of course, we’re misreading it. (Or misspelling it?) The fight is over the economy, more specifically jobs, and most specifically the stimulus package that passed with the promise of improving both of those outlooks. With Vice President Joe Biden heading to Ohio Thursday, and later to New York State, the battle is joined — with the urgent calls for action in January turning into pleas for patience in July. The pieces and the players are in place. Sagging unemployment figures. A trillion-dollar deficit. A stimulus that’s being defined by what it’s not doing (and, in a few questionable projects, by what it is doing) rather than by its accomplishments. Both parties are geared up for this one: Republicans who sense a powerful issue, and Democrats who’ve become more aggressive in pushing back at them. For this day — deliciously for the politics — it centers on Ohio. It’s a Cincinnati backdrop — the American Can Building (pun alert!) — for the vice president Thursday, with a 10:15 am ET event (followed by a 2:30 pm ET event in Saratoga County, N.Y.) At the Ohio stop: “The Factory Square development in Northside, which will turn a vacant factory into apartments and retail space, was suggested by the city for the vice president's stop because they say it is a good example of a how stimulus dollars can help rejuvenate a community,” per the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Jessica Brown. “Project developers Steve Bloomfield and Ken Schon of Cincinnati-based Boomfield/Schon+Partners will receive $1.6 million in Community Development Block Grant money through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.” And yet: “It is unclear how many jobs will be created,” Brown writes. The trip puts Biden “in the midst of a political showdown in Ohio over the effectiveness of the economic stimulus bill,” Jessica Wehrman writes in the Dayton Daily News. “Republicans, including House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-West Chester Twp., have grown increasingly critical of the bill’s effectiveness.” (And Boehner, R-Ohio — now very much a part of this battle, with the DNC saying he was “caught lying about the success of the economic recovery package” — will fire back with an early afternoon conference call with reporters.) Impatience: “It's been five months since the colossal $787 billion stimulus package was signed. With only about $56 billion of it having been distributed, there is growing concern that there is little economic payoff,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reported Thursday morning on “Good Morning America.” “The [vice president's] trip may show how sensitive the administration is to public dissatisfaction with the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act it pushed through Congress in February and to signs of voter unhappiness with Team Obama’s economic policies, especially in industrial states hardest hit by the recession,” Dave Cook writes in the Christian Science Monitor. Another type of backdrop: “The U.S. budget deficit climbed to an estimated $1.1 trillion during the first nine months of the 2009 fiscal year, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office said on Wednesday,” Reuters’ JoAnn Allen reports. The urgency (or not): “People know that problems of this seriousness cannot be turned around in six months or nine months,” Larry Summers tells The New York Times’ Edmund L. Andrews. (They do?) Writes Andrews: “But political pressures may not give the administration two years to show that its plan is working, especially if Democrats in Congress begin to conclude that continued bad economic news is putting them at risk of losing seats in the 2010 midterm elections. Mr. Obama has bought time by casting the struggling economy as the legacy of President George W. Bush, but as time passes it increasingly becomes his problem and his party’s.” About the backing (and a clue about the backdrop): “In a potentially alarming trend for the White House, independent voters are deserting President Barack Obama nationally and especially in key swing states, recent polls suggest,” Politico’s Ben Smith reports. “A source of the shift appears to be independent voters, who seem to be responding to Republican complaints of excessive spending and government control.” (And what might it say that, suddenly, Republicans have become the party scoring recruiting coups, while the White House doesn’t even gets its favored candidate for the president’s old Senate seat?) Fitting Karl Rove’s pattern: “The administration consistently pledges unrealistic results that it later distances itself from. It has gotten away with it because the media haven't asked many pointed questions. That may not last as the debate shifts to health care,” Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal column. And a tough column from Joe Klein, in the new Time: “Obama may be blowing a major opportunity for reform with his domestic-policy diffidence. He came to office faced with an unprecedented economic crisis, and he focused on it successfully during his first 100 days, giving two excellent speeches about the need for a stimulus plan and general economic reform. He has lost that focus as his other initiatives have come online; he has failed to speak with precision or clarity about the bills wandering through Congress.” A big voice for another stimulus: “I think that a second one may well be called for,” Warren Buffett told ABC’s Bianna Golodryga, on “GMA” Thursday. “You hope it doesn't get watered down in many ways. . . . Our first stimulus bill it seems to me was sort of like taking half a tablet of Viagra and having also a bunch of candy mixed in, you know, as if everybody was putting in enough for their own constituents.” Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa.: “I would like to see a second stimulus devoted solely to infrastructure.” At least it will be easier to see where the money’s going: “The General Services Administration sends word [late Wednesday] that $18 million in additional funds are being spent to redesign the Recovery.gov Web site,” per ABC News. “Armed with easy access to this information, taxpayers can make government more accountable for its decisions,” James A. Williams, commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, said in announcing the contract awarded to Maryland-based Smartronix Inc. Making the package easier to hate: “Counties that supported Obama last year have reaped twice as much money per person from the administration's $787 billion economic stimulus package as those that voted for his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, a USA TODAY analysis of government disclosure and accounting records shows,” USA Today’s Brad Heath writes. “That money includes aid to repair military bases, improve public housing and help students pay for college.” More digging in: “According to an analysis by The New York Times of 5,274 transportation projects approved so far — the most complete look yet at how states plan to spend their stimulus money — the 100 largest metropolitan areas are getting less than half the money from the biggest pot of transportation stimulus money,” The New York Times’ Michael Cooper and Griff Palmer report. “In many cases, they have lost a tug of war with state lawmakers that urban advocates say could hurt the nation’s economic engines.” Wasn’t this about jobs, jobs? For the $3.3 billion “smart grid” program, “the Obama administration is now saying it will not take the potential for job creation into account in ‘rating’ proposed projects for possible funding — after initially saying that would be a primary consideration,” per The Note blog. From a different bill, but equally fun to defend: “Sweeping healthcare legislation working its way through Congress is more than an effort to provide insurance to millions of Americans without coverage. Tucked within is a provision that could provide billions of dollars for walking paths, streetlights, jungle gyms, and even farmers’ markets,” The Boston Globe’s Michael Kranish reports. “The add-ons – characterized as part of a broad effort to improve the nation’s health ‘infrastructure’ — appear in House and Senate versions of the bill.” While we’re at it: “The House of Representatives has written a $123.8 billion farm spending bill that's loaded with congressional earmarks,” McClatchy’s Michael Doyle reports. “Brushing off conservative criticism, lawmakers are steering funds toward California pest detection, wine grape research and ‘asparagus production technologies,’ among other targeted projects.” From the air wars: The House Republican Conference is up with a new video focusing on President Obama’s claim that the stimulus “has done its job.” “Real solutions for a real recovery,” reads the tag. Some good GOP feelings for a change: “Public anxiety over the economy, stocks in decline, rising unemployment and a string of expensive Democratic initiatives are all encouraging high-caliber Republicans to compete in 2010,” The Hill’s Aaron Blake reports. “The GOP has seen candidate recruitment rise as joblessness continues to climb to new highs and Wall Street retreats after a brief respite in March, April and May.” In Lisa Madigan’s wake: “One fence sitter, North Shore U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, began calling top Republican colleagues soliciting support for a U.S. Senate bid,” per the Chicago Tribune. “A Republican source in Washington said Kirk told Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the Republican National Senatorial Committee, that he was in the race. Kirk later told the Tribune a Senate bid was ‘obviously more likely’ with Madigan out but he was ‘still talking to supporters and friends.’ “ “The gorilla has spoken,” Lynn Sweet reports in the Chicago Sun-Times. (Do these attempts to steer primaries in a particular direction ever work out for national parties? Could there have been a bigger mess — from the very start — over the president’s old Senate seat?) Plus — ready for another intelligence tussle? (Will this make the next set of Republican resolutions harder to block?) “The chairman of the House intelligence committee has accused the CIA of lying to the panel in a classified matter, the second time in less than two months that a top House Democrat has charged the spy agency of intentionally misleading Congress,” The Washington Post’s Paul Kane reports. “Rep. Silvestre Reyes (Tex.), in a letter sent Tuesday to House leadership, said that CIA officials ‘affirmatively lied’ to the intelligence committee when recently notifying the panel about a classified matter. Reyes wrote that it was one of several recent instances in which the CIA has not fully informed the committee on other classified notifications.” “The letter also contends that Mr. Panetta said CIA officials have misled Congress since 2001,” The Wall Street Journal’s Siobhan Gorman reports. “The public tussle . . . threatens to further undermine Congressional relations with the CIA.” From the CIA, per ABC’s Jonathan Karl: “Director Panetta stands by his May 15 statement. It is not the policy or practice of the CIA to mislead Congress. This Agency and this Director believe it is vital to keep the Congress fully and currently informed. Director Panetta's actions back that up. As the letter from these six representatives notes, it was the CIA itself that took the initiative to notify the oversight committees.” Meanwhile: “President Obama threatened to veto the Intelligence Authorization Act Wednesday, asserting that Congress was unconstitutionally pursuing information about executive branch deliberations,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. And what ever happened to health care month? “Little progress has been made in continuing negotiations on Capitol Hill over a bipartisan health care reform bill,” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reports. “As a fall back plan, Democrats on Capitol Hill are planning to go this alone. That will increase the chance that we'll see Obama's public option in the bill.” Just behind those flashy White House announcements: “The Obama administration, hoping to boost its health-care reform effort with financial concessions from the hospital and pharmaceutical industries, is instead confronting deep dissension on several fronts within Democratic ranks and possible defections among key constituencies,” Ceci Connolly and Michael D. Shear report in The Washington Post. “No single development appeared likely to kill Obama's signature domestic agenda item, but the relentless barrage of challenges that seemed to hit hourly served to demonstrate why no president since Lyndon B. Johnson has been able to enact large-scale health legislation.” “Off camera and quietly, business lobbyists have been stewing,” the AP’s Alan Fram reports. “Their concern: The many billions in savings health providers are promising will ultimately come from the pockets of the nation's employers, who are already drowning in medical costs.” Not there yet: “President Barack Obama has failed thus far to clinch the support of a handful of pivotal Democratic senators on two of his top priorities: extending health coverage to the uninsured and reducing greenhouse gases,” Bloomberg’s Catherine Dodge and James Rowley report. Taxing health benefits? That’s a no-go, per Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “Reid's move blows a gigantic hole in efforts to find $1 trillion to pay for health reform – and set off a scramble Wednesday to come up with a replacement for the suddenly missing $320 billion over 10 years,” Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown and Patrick O’Connor report. Sorting it out: “White House Budget Director Peter Orszag raised the stakes in the congressional debate over the issue by telling Democratic lawmakers a proposal they are considering ‘would perpetuate a system in which best practices are far from universal and costs are too high,’ ” Bloomberg’s Ryan J. Donmoyer and Nicole Gaouette report. Checking in on the G-8: “The leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations will issue a joint statement [Wednesday] evening expressing serious concerns about the post-election violence in Iran, as well as its continued pursuit of nuclear weapons, but the G-8 will not push for new economic sanctions or tougher enforcement of those that exist, an Obama administration source told ABC News this afternoon,” ABC’s Jake Tappers and Karen Travers report. What’s not getting done: “The Group of Eight leading nations agreed Wednesday to cut their emissions of heat-trapping gases 80% by 2050, but failed to reach an accord on shorter-term targets — a setback that could have repercussions for a major meeting on climate change in Copenhagen later this year,” The Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Weisman writes. “It’s a packed itinerary, but what is actually going to be accomplished?” Newsweek’s Holly Bailey asks. H1N1 news in Washington Thursday, per an HHS official: “Top White House Officials and top Cabinet officials including Secretaries [Janet] Napolitano, [Kathleen] Sebelius and [Arne] Duncan will gather this morning with delegations from more than 54 states, tribe and territories at NIH for the H1N1 Flu Preparedness Summit.” “The Administration will announce at the Summit that they are launching a new PSA campaign contest to encourage more Americans to get involved in the nation’s flu preparedness efforts by making a 15-second or 30-second PSA. . . . . The winning PSA will receive $2,500 in cash and will appear on national television. Contest details as well more information about the larger effort to plan and prepare for the flu season are available at www.flu.gov.” The country’s moved on to other scandals, but back in Nevada: “Doug Hampton spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday about the affair his wife had with Sen. John Ensign, alleging that the Nevada Republican engaged in a lengthy and calculated series of deceptions despite repeated attempts to get him to stop,” J. Patrick Coolican and Lisa Mascaro write in the Las Vegas Sun. “Hampton claimed that Ensign paid Cynthia Hampton considerably more than $25,000 in severance when she was told to leave her job with Ensign’s campaign committee in April 2008. Ensign did not report the payment, as required by law, according to a Washington watchdog group,” they write. A wider net: “Sen. Tom Coburn knew more than a year ago that his Republican colleague John Ensign was having an affair with a staffer — and he reportedly urged Ensign to end the relationship and pay a substantial sum of money to the staffer and her husband,” Politico’s John Bresnahan and Glenn Thrush report. Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, nabs the Time cover: “Palin's unconventional step speaks to an ingrained frontier skepticism of authority — even one's own. Given the plunging credibility of institutions and élites, that's a mood that fits the Palin brand,” Time’s David von Drehle and Jay Newton-Small report. Mike Murphy is done with her: “Gov. Sarah Palin is the political train wreck that keeps on giving,” he writes in a New York Daily News op-ed. “Yet even after she helped cost McCain the election, Palin's great charm endured, at least among many grass-roots Republicans. At least until her astonishing self-immolation during a hastily organized backyard press conference last week, where she gamely competed with honking geese to resign midterm as Alaska's rookie governor.” Watch out Obama World. From Bloomberg’s Al Hunt memo to colleagues: “John McCormick of the Chicago Tribune will be join Bloomberg News, based in Chicago. John will be covering a wide range of corporate and political news, including coverage of the Obama World in Chicago.”
The Kicker: “Next time we won't give up a 2-to-nothing lead.” — President Obama, turning from hockey to soccer when meeting with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, per ABC’s Jake Tapper and Karen Travers. “FOR THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Barak Obama.” — White House release on arms-reduction treaty, possibly giving spell check too much leeway.
Today on the “Top Line” political Webcast, at noon ET: Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee; and Politico’s Mike Allen. Follow The Note on Twitter: http://twitter.com/thenote For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day: