By Rick Klein Who’s in charge of framing around here? Maybe it’s Neil Armstrong, or maybe it’s Grover Norquist (it’s Tax Day, after all). Or maybe that old frame — the one we saw loosen at the joints over the past year — still works. (And maybe it’s the most comfortable one to use for all involved, anyway.) Already, in the absence of another frame, this one takes shape: It’s health care, all over again, just a little more obscure and maybe a little harder to lampoon, but just as politically volatile. Financial regulatory reform may wind up being a political winner for whoever is seen as getting something done. But the key, again, is getting something done. Saying no has worked for one party so far — does it look like time to say something new? The answer: Just maybe. Republicans aren’t going into this discussion quite as unified as they were last time around. Perhaps no one can afford another fight that tracks the health care battle. So the race is on, all over again, to define the stakes. “The legislation could stall amid a gathering Capitol Hill firefight similar to the bitter health care battle,” Tribune Co.’s Janet Hook and Jim Puzzanghera write. “Hopes are fading for a bipartisan deal necessary in the Senate to advance the legislation. … Senate Republicans are rallying against the measure — and are working to seize the anti-Wall Street high ground to avoid any political fallout.” Plug in the magic words we used so often over the past year… “In the face of stiff opposition from Senate Republicans, President Obama urged leaders of both parties in Congress to spend the next few weeks coming to terms on a financial regulation bill that would head off the need for bailouts in the future and bring the trading of complex financial instruments out of the shadows,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg and David M. Herszenhorn report in The New York Times. “Mr. Obama is fresh off his big health-care victory, and the financial reform measure will be a test of how much clout he now has on Capitol Hill. But while the president expressed confidence at the outset of the session that the two parties could work together to produce ‘an effective bipartisan package that assures we never have too-big-to-fail again,’ the leaders did not sound nearly as confident after the nearly hour-long session.” But — blurring the sides … “There are some loopholes, George, that have been created. The fact is, though, I think we could solve those in about five minutes,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos Thursday on “Good Morning America.” “Let’s tone down the rhetoric a little bit … My sense is Republicans do want to see a regulatory bill of this type come to fruition.” “I will be stunned if we do not reach a bipartisan agreement,” Corker said. Another way to find company: “Administration officials are trying to splinter Republican opposition by courting individual senators, including Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Christopher ‘Kit’ Bond of Missouri,” The Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta and Victoria McGrane report. (Or, not so much: “I can’t support it,” Brown, R-Mass., tells The Boston Globe’s Matt Viser.) Going it alone, if necessary: “Lawmakers appeared to be headed for a sequel to the battle over health care as President Obama and Democratic leaders on Wednesday demanded swift action on a financial overhaul bill that Republicans argue would perpetuate Wall Street bailouts,” Kara Rowland writes in the Washington Times. “Senate Republicans are trying to reprise the strategy they used to oppose the health-care overhaul as they work to block Democrats from rewriting the rules of Wall Street. They face more political risk this time,” Bloomberg’s Patrick O’Connor reports. ”Democrats are so emboldened that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is prepared to bring the Banking Committee bill to the floor with no major concessions to Republicans and essentially dare them to vote against the measure,” Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown and Glenn Thrush report. “At a time when Wall Street is as reviled as government, Democrats are willing to gamble that at least one Republican — and maybe as many as a half-dozen — will break ranks. At the same time, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is betting he can hold his caucus together to deny Democrats even a single vote.” ”Republicans are already blasting the bill as another Wall Street bailout,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl reported on “Good Morning America” Thursday. ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf: “Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell used variations on the term ‘bailout’ to describe Democrats’ proposal no less than 20 times in remarks on the floor of the Senate [Wednesday] morning.” Playing out the politics: “This is a defining issue,” DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said on ABC’s “Top Line” Wednesday. “This is a question of whose side are you on.” (Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, in October, making the GOP case quite well: “A standing fund would create expectations that the government would step in to protect shareholders and creditors from losses.”) Escalating the fight: “A Democratic senator who chairs a key committee is advocating new rules that would force the nation’s largest banks to stop trading nearly all kinds of derivatives — a move that would dramatically reshape several critical markets and deprive the firms of a major source of revenue,” The Washington Post’s David Cho, Brady Dennis and Scott Wilson report. “The proposal by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who chairs the Agriculture Committee, sent shudders through Wall Street.” (Lincoln will be our guest on ABC’s “Top Line” Thursday, livestreaming at noon ET at ABCNews.com.) Checking the standings: “President Barack Obama’s national standing has slipped to a new low after his victory on the historic health care overhaul, even in the face of growing signs of economic revival, according to the latest Associated Press-GfK poll,” the AP’s Liz Sidoti reports. “Just 49 percent of people now approve of the job Obama’s doing overall, and less than that — 44 percent — like the way he’s handled health care and the economy,” she writes. “The news is worse for other Democrats. For the first time this year, about as many Americans approve of congressional Republicans as Democrats — 38 percent to 41 percent — and neither has an edge when it comes to the party voters want controlling Congress.” Tracking what’s been done… “Opposition to President Barack Obama’s health care law jumped after he signed it — a clear indication his victory could become a liability for Democrats in this fall’s elections,” the AP’s Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar reports. “A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds Americans oppose the health care remake 50 percent to 39 percent. Before a divided Congress finally passed the bill and Obama signed it at a jubilant White House ceremony last month, public opinion was about evenly split. … Disapproval for Obama’s handling of health care also increased from 46 percent in early March before he signed the bill, to 52 percent currently — a level not seen since last summer’s angry town hall meetings.” Patience for this? “We are beginning to learn that the Obama presidency will be an era of substantial but deferred accomplishments — perhaps always to be accompanied by a sense of continuing crisis,” David Broder writes in his column. “His vaunted ‘cool’ allows him to wait without impatience and to endure without visible despair. It asks the same of his constituents.” First Lady Michelle Obama, looking comfortable abroad, in Mexico: “I have to be honest — I haven’t seen changes in him personally,” she told ABC’s Yunji de Nies, referring to her husband (who gets homework duty with the girls while she’s traveling). “He’s always been someone who’s drawn to challenges.” And it wouldn’t be Tax Day without a Tea Party, or a few hundred of them … The Tea Party Express tour comes to an end at Washington’s Freedom Plaza Thursday, with an 11 a.m. ET rally. Sarah Palin, at the Tea Party rally in Boston Wednesday: “I’m not calling anyone un-American, but the unintended consequences of these actions — the results — are un-American.” (As for base covering … The New York Times/CBS poll, of self-identified Tea Partiers, found 40 percent believe Palin would “have the ability to be an effective President”; 47 percent said no.) Achievement gaps? “The tea party movement has held countless rallies across the country — with another 800 expected on Thursday as taxes once again come due. But even some leaders acknowledge the protests may have waning impact,” the Los Angeles Times’ Kathleen Hennessey writes. “They’ve raised money – largely online – but the amount is hard to track and dispersed across many organizations. They’ve prompted hundreds of hours and thousands of words in news coverage, although the scrutiny often has shone light on the fringe elements. Their vigorous grassroots opposition to health care reform put lawmakers’ feet to the fire – but the bill still passed.” Meet the Contract From America, to be unveiled at 11 am ET at the Washington Monument: “You are going to be held accountable to us,” conservative activist Ryan Hecker tells ABC’s Teddy Davis. “We have a plan – a proactive reform plan – for you to follow, and not the other way around.” Over on the Hill, meanwhile: “House Republicans are launching a new effort to craft an election-year mission statement that appears to be part ‘Contract With America’ and part ‘American Idol,’ ” Roll Call’s Jackie Kucinich reports. “GOP Members said the ideas that will eventually become the basis for their initiative — the working title is the ‘Commitment to America’ — will come largely from outside Washington and largely online, but they pledged that reforming the legislative process would be a top priority.” On the White House schedule: At 10:15 am ET, the president will meet with Secretary of Labor Solis and Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joe Main to receive a preliminary report on the West Virginia Mine tragedy. Per ABC’s Jake Tapper: “Secretary Solis and Administrator Main will report that the safety record at the Massey Upper Big Branch mine was deeply troubling, and that while there are many responsible companies, there are far too many mines where safety is inadequate. Among other steps going forward, this morning the president will order MSHA to go back and take another look at those mines with troubling safety records.” Then, it’s Cape Canaveral, Fla., where President Obama lays out his plans for NASA. And the night is capped with a pair of DNC fundraisers in Miami. NASA stakes: “After dominating space for a half century, the U.S. is mired in a political fight that threatens its leadership role and ambitions for manned exploration,” Andy Pasztor writes for The Wall Street Journal. “President Barack Obama travels Thursday to the Kennedy Space Center to try to salvage his plans to re-energize the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, but experts say U.S. manned space travel will likely be grounded for years longer than previously expected. The Florida summit comes amid an escalating battle between the White House and Congress over the fastest and least expensive way to revitalize the space program.” Still on the hook … RNC Chairman Michael Steele: “Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele, under fire recently from members of his party for what they view as his shortcomings in management and communication, has also made little headway in another area: winning over minority voters to the GOP cause,” The Washington Post’s Perry Bacon Jr. and Krissah Thompson report. “Beyond a handful of speeches by Steele before minority audiences, there is little evidence the GOP has launched an ‘off the hook’ public relations offensive that would take the party to ‘urban-suburban hip-hop settings,’ as Steele promised in an interview with the Washington Times shortly after taking the RNC reins.” And who might this be, Mr. Chairman? “I work every day in this job, as I like to put it, to turn the elephant … Now, I don’t know if you ever had to turn an elephant, but the end you have to start with is not necessarily the best place to start,” Steele said Wednesday in New York, per the New York Daily News’ David Saltonstall. In Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla., could end the speculation about a run as an independent, but isn’t: “Florida Gov. Charlie Crist sidestepped a question Wednesday about whether he would abandon his Republican primary bid for U.S. Senate and instead appear on the November ballot with no party affiliation,” The Wall Street Journal’s Peter Wallsten reports. “Mr. Crist told reporters in Tallahassee, Fla., that he was too ‘consumed’ with his job to discuss the matter, according to the Associated Press.
Just maybe making the decision easier: “Marco Rubio has opened up an elephant-sized 56 — 33 percent lead over Gov. Charlie Crist in Florida’s U.S. Senate Republican primary, but in a three-way general election with Rubio on the GOP line, Crist as an independent and Democratic U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, Crist has a razor-thin edge, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.” It could all be figured out by Friday, Crist’s deadline for signing or vetoing a sweeping education bill that Republicans favor: The governor’s office has been so flooded with constituent communications on SB 6 that his staff has yet to read 48,678 e-mail messages received about it. By late Wednesday, Crist had received a total of 109,176 messages, of which 57,927 had been identified as being in opposition and 2,572 in support,” Catherine Whittenberg writes for the Tampa Tribune. “The pressure from conservative leaders on Crist to sign the bill — and his serious consideration of a veto — has even raised speculation that he may abandon his Republican primary contest for U.S. Senate and run as an independent.” In Wisconsin, announcement day for former Gov. Tommy Thompson regarding the Senate race — and it’s looking like a no: “Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson is expected to announce Thursday that he’ll pass on a run for U.S. Senate, putting an end to mounting speculation that has hovered heavily over the Republican campaign to upend Sen. Russ Feingold,” Politico’s David Catanese reports. “Thompson will officially lay out his intentions during a noon speech at a Tax Day Tea Party rally in Madison, but two Republicans tell POLITICO that barring a last-minute change of heart, he’ll forgo a Senate bid.” “Bill McCoshen, Thompson’s former chief of staff and campaign manager, said it’s ‘unlikely’ that Thompson will join the race, but didn’t rule it out when he spoke to the Wisconsin State Journal on Wednesday afternoon,” Mary Spicuzza reports. Different kinds of transitions: “Mike Huckabee, who as governor for more than a decade was the Republican standard bearer in Arkansas, is now a registered voter in Florida,” Alex Daniels reports in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Says Huckabee: “This was a personal decision not a political one … I think it’s foolish for political pundits to assume residency in Florida is an indication on my political intentions. As I have repeatedly said, no decision has been made about my political future – and none will be made until after the mid-term elections. Only the Lord knows what my future holds and He hasn’t told me yet – so I’m positive He hasn’t told any political reporters.”
The Kicker: ”You can’t please everyone … but you can certainly make them all mad at you at the same time. Apparently, I am pretty good at that.” — RNC Chairman Michael Steele. “We can see November from our House.” — Sign at the Tea Party rally in Boston featuring Sarah Palin.
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