By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
In the world of Washington politics, it’s often hard to keep score. At first glance, last night’s action on Capitol Hill and the remaining business of the lame duck Congress seems like it could amount to a draw for both President Obama and Congressional Republicans. Or is it?
The president came out on top when the House, just before midnight on Thursday, passed the tax cut deal that the White House and Republican leaders hashed out. The main components include a two-year extension on the Bush-era tax cuts at all income levels, a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits and an estate tax break.
“There probably is nobody on this floor who likes this bill, so judgment is, is it better than doing nothing?” House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer said just before the vote.
Whatever disappointment there may be, the White House managed to snuff out a fiery revolt among members of its own party and seal the deal. But the president paid a price too, angering his liberal base by pushing forward with the compromise — a development will no doubt be a factor heading into the next election cycle. The White House says the president will sign the tax bill this afternoon.
But on the other side of the Hill last night, Republicans forced Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid to jettison a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending measure that was loaded down with billions of dollars worth of earmarks. http://abcn.ws/dDZHWh
GOP leaders rejoiced: “This may be a seminal moment in the recent history of the United States Senate,” Arizona Sen. John McCain declared. “We stood up and said, ‘Enough. Stop!’” But some Republicans did emerge from the debate over the omnibus looking hypocritical since they too had inserted costly pork projects into the bill.
Members of Congress are working fast to get home before the holidays, and there will be more scores to tally in the coming days. It could end up working out well for President Obama.
The Senate today will continue debating the START arms reduction treaty with Russia, and the White House just might be able to muster the votes they need — 67 for ratification. The Senate is expected to work all weekend, wrapping up START early next week.
Another potential win for Obama could be the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It’s fate is also uncertain. Earlier this week the House voted to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military, and Sen. Reid has said the Senate will also push forward with it as well as START over the weekend.
BOTTOM LINE: Whatever happens between now and the end of the lame-duck session, the Obama-as-Comeback-Kid narrative is already beginning to take shape. As the Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer wrote today: “If Barack Obama wins reelection in 2012, as is now more likely than not, historians will mark his comeback as beginning on Dec. 6, the day of the Great Tax Cut Deal of 2010.” http://wapo.st/dQ3Lmw
Though come January the president will face a more muscular Republican caucus in both houses of Congress, he’s finishing out 2010 with significant momentum heading into the new year. And though White House officials are unlikely to admit it, they may also be getting an early Christmas gift in the form of an ABC News/Washington Post poll that show the president way out ahead of at least one potential GOP contender: Sarah Palin.
PALIN EXCLUSIVE: PRESIDENTIAL TIMELINE. In an exclusive interview with ABC “Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts in Alaska, Sarah Palin said she is engaging in “prayerful consideration” of a presidential run, but added that her decision is still “months down the road.” From the interview with Roberts: “My consideration is for my family, whether this would be good or not good for the family, whether it would be good or not good for the debate and the discourse in this country, and just trying to get the lay of the land and see who else is out there who would be willing to make those sacrifices.” Watch the interview and read more: http://abcn.ws/gOaZ5J
ON OBAMA’S TAX ‘FLIP FLOP.’ ABC’s Huma Khan notes Palin’s take on the tax cut deal just passed last night by the House and now headed to the president’s desk. “I think it's a lousy deal and we can do better for the American people," Palin told Roberts. The "new Congress is seated the first week of January," she said, "and it is better to wait until they are seated and get a good deal for the American public than to accept what I think is a lousy deal, because it creates a temporary economy with even more uncertainty for businesses and it does increase taxes." The former Alaska governor, however, praised Obama for "flip flopping" on his original promise not to extend tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 per year. "I would say that it is a flip-flop in his position on taxes because he was so adamant about not allowing the tax cut extension to take place for job creators, and then all of a sudden one day he was fine with it," Palin told Roberts.
PALIN POLL. “[Fifty-nine] percent of Americans in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll flatly rule out voting for Palin for president — substantially more than say there's no way they'd vote for Obama, or, for that matter, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. And Obama leads Palin by a wide margin in current vote preferences, factoring Bloomberg in or out,” according to Gary Langer’s analysis of the new poll. “In a two-way matchup, the first by ABC and the Post this cycle (and presumably not the last) 54 percent say they'd support Obama for president in 2012, vs. 39 percent for Palin. (It's essentially the same among registered voters, 53-40 percent.)” http://abcn.ws/eMl6TG
NOTED: Palin argued in the “Good Morning America” interview that it's too early to put too much weight into polling numbers. “A poll number like that, it's like, 'Oh yeah, that doesn't look really pretty today,' but a primary is months and months in the process, and there are thankfully many debates," she said. "And if I were to participate in that contested primary — you know, it — I would be in it to win it."
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Rick Klein and Amy Walter talk to Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., about the tax cut deal the House approved last night and the Democrats’ remaining priorities for the lame-duck session. For more insights on all the action this week on Capitol Hill, “Top Line” welcomes ABC News’ intrepid Senate Producer Matthew Jaffe. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
CORRECTION: An earlier version of The Note misidentified Rep. Joe Sestak as the "soon-to-be junior senator from Pennsylvania." That title, of course, goes to Republican Pat Toomey who defeated Sestak in the November general election.
WYDEN UPDATE. “Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR, announced that he will undergo surgery on Monday for prostate cancer and will not return to the Senate until January, an absence that could complicate Democratic efforts to pass an array of key issues,” ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports. ‘Thanks to routine screening, this was diagnosed early and I expect a full and speedy recovery,’ Wyden said in a statement. In a strictly – and callously – political sense, Wyden’s absence from the Senate for the remainder of this year could prove problematic for Democrats, who are set to take up a slew of high-profile measures where every vote will likely be crucial. In the Senate — where partisan rhetoric has escalated in recent days as the end of the lame-duck session approaches — Democrats are expected to need every vote they can get on the START treaty, the omnibus spending bill, the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal, and more.” http://abcn.ws/i7O1pV
FENCE MENDING. This afternoon the president will meet with approximately a dozen leaders from the country’s largest labor organizations to "discuss strengthening our economy, spurring growth, and creating good jobs for the American people, along with other issues of importance to working Americans," according to ABC White House reporter Sunlen Miller. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis will join the President as well as AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, United Food and Commercial Workers President Joe Hansen, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, among others.
END OF AN ERA. “Nightfall on the Kennedy era in Washington looks like this: Representative Patrick J. Kennedy’s office space surrendered to a Republican, his family memorabilia in boxes, and Mr. Kennedy yearning for a role away from the public eye,” The New York Times’ Abby Goodnough writes. “When the lame-duck session of Congress wraps up, Mr. Kennedy, 43, will return to Rhode Island, settling into his recently renovated farmhouse in Portsmouth. When his eighth term ends early next month, it will be the first time since 1947 — when John F. Kennedy became a congressman from Massachusetts — that no member of his family will hold a federal office.” http://nyti.ms/e15nQR
LIE OF THE YEAR. On Nightline last night ABC’s Jake Tapper helped unveil Politifact’s Lie of the Year. Find out what it was: http://abcn.ws/gpGKbs (Hint: think health care reform).
@jesspolitico: Charlie Crist spotted at DCA, rocking a peach hoodie and with a "Crist for Senate" sticker still on his carry-on
@thejointstaff: Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan region on track. Security gains unmistakable. Saw for myself in Helmand and Kandahar.
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