By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
THAT DIDN’T LAST LONG. With Republicans vowing to put a stop to any legislation in the Senate if both parties cannot reach an agreement on extending the Bush-era tax cuts, the period of bipartisanship that began with a White House summit on Tuesday appears to have come to a screeching halt less than a day later. On Wednesday the president acknowledged that “there are going to be ups and downs” on the road to compromise. “Nobody wants to see taxes on middle-class families go up starting January 1st, and so there’s going to be some lingering politics that have to work themselves out in all the caucuses,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I think that people of good will can come together and recognize that given where the economy is at right now, given the struggles that a lot of families are still going through right now, that we’re going to be able to solve this problem.”
Meanwhile, as ABC’s Matthew Jaffe reports, Republican leaders in Congress lashed out at House Democrats for their plans to hold a vote today on extending the Bush tax cuts for middle-class Americans but letting them expire for the wealthy at year’s end. “I think it’s wrong,” said House Speaker-to be John Boehner. “It does undercut the conversations we had just yesterday to continue to play political games. The American people said on Election Day, ‘Stop the games. Stop the spending. Stop the looming tax hikes.’” http://abcn.ws/fCNllv
THE TAXMEN. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. — two of the top Congressional negotiators on the tax issue — gave no indication of progress on a compromise in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” today. “Well, we’ve really just begun our discussions and we’re really trying to set the parameters of the debate and the issues that we are going to face,” Camp said. And Van Hollen’s take: “We are working very hard to [reach a deal] but the first thing we need to do is work through the process.” Camp said it is about "preventing a tax hike" and while Van Hollen accused Republicans of a double standard, saying the GOP demands a payment plan for the approximately $13 billion in unemployment benefits but not the $700 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. George’s take: “So no give in public, but does that really mean they won’t come together in private? Not necessarily. I still believe there will be a deal because there has to be a deal. The consequences of failure are just too severe. But both sides want to send the message that they won’t go down without a fight.” http://abcn.ws/e6yJk2
BOTTOM LINE: Most of the fighting is taking place in the House. But in the Senate, where the real deals happen, it seems like both sides agree that a final bill will include a temporary extension of the tax cuts for even those making over $200K. Meanwhile, we wonder how many Democrats will vote against the Pelosi package?
PRESIDENTIAL PUSHBACK. But on another key administration priority — an extension of unemployment benefits to jobless Americans — the White House is signaling it’s gearing up for a fight. ABC’s Ann Compton previews a new report showing a state-by-state breakdown of the economic ripple effect of allowing 2 million Americans to go without long term benefits. From a senior administration official: “The President’s Council of Economic Advisers will release a report showing the consequences that inaction on extending unemployment benefits would have on American families. In December alone, more than two million Americans will lose the temporary support that helps them keep food on the table and make ends meet while they fight to find a job if Congress doesn’t act. The White House will release state by state numbers showing how failure to act would affect families across the country. The White House will also illustrate how letting millions more Americans fall into hardship will hurt our economy at this critical point in our recovery and cut off an important source of demand in our economy.”
ENTER THE GOVS. The Council of Economic Advisers report on unemployment benefits comes on the same day that President Obama is scheduled to meet with newly-elected governors at the Blair House. The president will also sit down privately with outgoing Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland in the Oval Office. Per the Columbus Dispatch: “Strickland and Obama spoke after the Nov. 2 election and agreed to get together when there was an opportunity, and Strickland is in Washington this week attending a meeting of the Democratic Governors Association, the governor's office said. The White House said the meeting is about ‘ways to continue economic progress’ in Ohio…” http://bit.ly/e14m67
JUMPSTARTING START. Five former secretaries of State — Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger and Colin Powell — penned an Op-Ed in the Washington Post today laying out the “Republican case” for ratifying the new START treaty. “The world is safer today because of the decades-long effort to reduce its supply of nuclear weapons. … As a result, we urge the Senate to ratify the New START treaty signed by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. It is a modest and appropriate continuation of the START I treaty that expired almost a year ago. … Although each of us had initial questions about New START, administration officials have provided reasonable answers. We believe there are compelling reasons Republicans should support ratification.” http://wapo.st/gzDRoK
WIKI WORLD. Politico’s Josh Gerstein asks: Will Wikileaks face justice? “By Wednesday, the self-proclaimed whistleblower website and its eccentric founder, Julian Assange, were the subjects of bellicose threats from politicians and world leaders, but to this day have faced fewer immediate legal consequences than those selling fake Coach handbags and unauthorized Disney DVDs. The dichotomy was not lost on some members of Congress, who demanded the administration shut down WikiLeaks once and for all. But as Holder and the Justice Department are finding out, it’s not that easy. … Assange, an Australian national, is thought to be living in Europe, but his exact whereabouts are unknown. But lawyers say most European governments would be either unwilling or legally unable to turn him over to the U.S. for publishing classified information. … Even if US officials could arrest Assange, he has created in Wikileaks an elaborate network able to survive without him.” http://politi.co/h55X02
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Amy Walter and Jonathan Karl Anchors sit down with Former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the chairwoman of a new Democratic group called American Bridge that plans to be a liberal fundraising counterweight to conservative organizations that spent heavily on the 2010 elections — and plan to do so again in 2012. Also on “Top Line” today: Maryland Sen. Benjamin Cardin live from Capitol Hill. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
SCOTT SAYS ‘NO.’ Rep.-elect Tim Scott, R-S.C., said on Wednesday he would not be joining the Congressional Black Caucus. “While I recognize the efforts of the CBC and appreciate their invitation for me to caucus with them, I will not be joining at this time,” Scott said in a statement. “My campaign was never about race.” ABC’s Cullen Dirner has more details: “Scott and Rep.-elect Allen West, R-Fl., are the only two African Americans who were elected to Congress in November. However, West’s staff told ABC News Wednesday evening that ‘he is planning on joining’ the Caucus this coming January.” http://abcn.ws/idgNqI
ENSIGN CLEARED, BUT STILL IN TROUBLE. The Justice Department on Wednesday said that embattled Nevada Sen. John Ensign would not face federal charges from its investigation of Ensign’s affair and dealings with a former campaign staffer. But Roll Call’s Kyle Trygstad reports that the senator is still facing troubles back at home, particularly with his 2012 re-election prospects: “Some activists have already set up political action committees targeting Ensign and that some ‘big-money groups’ are strategizing against him. … The Republican most often mentioned as a strong challenger to Ensign is Rep. Dean Heller, who has been perhaps Ensign’s most vocal critic since the news of his affair broke last year. Heller was courted to challenge Reid by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He opted against it, and some insiders thought Heller saw a clearer shot at the Senate in 2012. Heller isn’t expected to announce his intentions until July, but insiders say that if Heller decides to run, there will be pressure on Ensign to retire.” http://bit.ly/gsRaDW
PAWLENTY ON DEFENSE. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a potential future Republican presidential candidate, has become embroiled in a controversy over 2008 pardon. From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Pat Doyle: “Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Wednesday defended the vote he and two other officials made in 2008 to pardon a man convicted of having sex with his underage girlfriend more than a decade earlier, saying there was no hint the man might be sexually assaulting another girl. Jeremy Giefer, 36, of Vernon Center in Blue Earth County, was charged in November with sexually assaulting a girl hundreds of times over the past seven years. She is now 17. … ‘Had this new information been available to the Board at the time of the pardon request, the pardon should not and would not have been granted,’ Pawlenty said in a statement.” http://bit.ly/hgunVC
@DalaiLama: Looking at various means of developing compassion, I think empathy is an important factor: the ability to appreciate others' suffering.
MARK PUTNAM STARTS NEW FIRM. Mark Putnam, the Democratic consultant who created Barack Obama’s 2008 30-minute television special as well as a host of other well-known political advertisements is leaving Murphy Putnam Media to create a new strategic media firm — Putnam Partners, LLC. Putnam’s work this year included ads for Alaska Senate candidate Scott McAdams (http://bit.ly/dBqQGN) and for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (http://bit.ly/aSmHOp), among others. "I will continue to work on state-wide, congressional and local elections,” Putnam said in a statement, “as well as provide strategic communications and advertising services for businesses and issue-oriented clients. Steve Murphy and I had a great firm for many years, but it was time for me to act on the challenge of building a new firm that will offer a broader array of services in traditional and new media.” Joining Putnam as partners will be Philip de Vellis, former Senior Associate and Vice President for New Media at Murphy Putnam Media, and Jim Duffy, a former partner at Murphy Putnam Media.
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