By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
As the Senate today debates and votes on bills that won't go anywhere and the Wisconsin stalemate between the governor and unions looks like it may end — or not — both sides seem to be engaging in a kind of political kabuki theater.
Both of the dueling spending measures the Senate plans to vote on later today will go down in defeat, but as ABC’s Matthew Jaffe notes, that's sort of the point. Today’s action is only a gateway for lawmakers before they get back to business, which in this case means tough, closed-door negotiations on spending that started last week. Democrats have proposed $4.7 billion in cuts, compared to the GOP’s $57 billion. http://abcn.ws/dVuNTO
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, today plans to call for the White House and Congressional Republicans to “broaden the playing field” when it comes to deficit reduction and include mandatory spending cuts and tax code reforms as part of any final compromise. In a speech at the Center for American Progress, he will say that the GOP’s focus on domestic discretionary spending is too narrow.
The action on Capitol Hill comes as a new Bloomberg National Poll shows nearly “8 in 10 people say Republicans and Democrats should reach a compromise on a plan to reduce the federal budget deficit to keep the government running … At the same time, lopsided margins oppose cuts to Medicare, education, environmental protection, medical research and community-renewal programs.” http://bloom.bg/fideMW
Meanwhile in Wisconsin, national groups like the conservative outfit Crossroads GPS, an affiliate of powerful American Crossroads political action committee, see the battle between the GOP and labor unions as critical to win. After all, a labor victory in Wisconsin would be a repudiation of what many Republicans — especially Republican governors — saw as their mandate from the 2010 election.
Crossroads is hitting the airwaves today with a new ad taking on unions as well as President Obama. “Why are Democrats shutting down state capitals?” says a narrator in the spot. “To protect a system that pays unionized government workers 42 percent more than non-union workers, a system that collects hundreds of millions in mandatory dues to back liberals who support government unions.” (Watch the ad: http://bit.ly/fWGV1z)
So what do Americans, more broadly, think about the central issues at play in the Wisconsin tug-of-war? Fresh numbers from a March 3-6 Gallup Poll show that they are divided on the question of whether to "[change] state laws to limit the bargaining power of state employee unions." Half of Americans — 49 percent — say they would favor a move like this in their own state while 45 percent are opposed. http://bit.ly/fkrjQx
BOTTOM LINE: If these polls show anything it's that Americans are just as polarized on these budget battles as are the politicians in the states. But, when it comes to those all important swing voters, neither side can claim victory. Gallup also showed independents narrowly favoring the proposal to limit the bargaining power of state unions, but just 42 percent favored reducing state worker pay and benefits. Meanwhile, it's also clear that voters aren't interested in picking on labor unions. The latest Bloomberg survey also found that 72 percent of all voters viewed public employees favorably and 63 percent said corporations "wielded more political clout than unions."
CONGRESSMAN PETER KING ON MUSLIM ‘RADICALIZATION’ HEARINGS. Rep. Peter King, R-NY, the head of the House Homeland Security Committee, is set to begin a controversial series of hearings into radicalization in the American Muslim community, setting off a fierce debate among critics who say that the inquiry is akin to McCarthyism. “It might be politically correct but to me it makes no sense at all to be talking about other types of so-called extremism when the major threat to the United States today is coming from Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda’s attempts to recruit in this country,” King said in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” today. King said he would "run a good hearing. I will run an honest and fair hearing." Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim in Congress, accused King of setting "a tone of blame." “What we want to do is build cooperation and trust and open lines of communication," Ellison told ABC News. http://abcn.ws/fLKnsW (h/t ABC’s Amy Bingham). More from ABC’s Pierre Thomas and Lisa Jones: http://abcn.ws/fg4IdZ
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Rick Klein and Amy Walter interview former Louisiana governor and 2012 GOP presidential hopeful Buddy Roemer. Roemer launched a presidential exploratory committee last week and participated in a forum for potential candidates in Iowa Monday night. He has pledged not to take PAC or special interest money and to limit donations to his campaign to $100. Also on the program, Rep. Rush Holt, D-NJ, a former physicist who recently bested the IBM supercomputer, Watson, in an exhibition game of “Jeopardy!” in Washington. (Holt was a five-time “Jeopardy!” champion back in the 1970s.) Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
TOP LINE REPLAY: Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry praised President Obama’s role in the fight between organized labor and Republican governors, saying the administration “has stepped up” to offer the full weight of their support. “Our members in Wisconsin and Ohio were incredibly proud when the president spoke out about the real agenda in Wisconsin and Ohio being about eliminating workers' voice and busting unions,” Henry said on yesterday’s edition of “Top Line”. “And that was a huge step forward. We then saw the Secretary of Labor issue a statement and then an op-ed and then do a speech that said union is in her family — that we have to have a way to solve problems at the collective bargaining table.” http://abcn.ws/fdU37b
WHITE HOUSE WATCH. President Obama spends the day mostly in private meetings at the White House. Obama meets with Secretary of State Clinton in the Oval Office and then separately with Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander Richard Eubank. Tonight, the president will host a party to watch the Chicago Bulls vs. Charlotte Bobcats basketball game at the White House. Invited guests include a group of bipartisan members of Congress representing Chicago and Charlotte.
EXCLUSIVE — OBAMA USES THE ‘BULLY’ PLULPIT. “I’m not here to ask you to accept my friend request,” President Obama says in a video message released today by the White House on Facebook. Rather, as ABC’s Sunlen Miller reports, the video message from President Obama and the First Lady comes in advance of the White House conference on bullying prevention to be held at the White House on Thursday. Tomorrow, the Obamas will convene students, parents, teachers and others to the White House for the conference — which will “bring together communities from across the nation who have been affected by bullying as well as those who are taking action to address it,” the White House said in announcing the summit. http://abcn.ws/hArHXe Watch the video: http://abcn.ws/eu4Q0I
GIBBS SAYS ‘NO’ TO DNC’S TOP JOB. “Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is taking himself out of the running for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, telling CNN in an exclusive interview that if DNC chief Tim Kaine steps down to run for the U.S. Senate he will not be a candidate for the post, CNN’s Ed Henry reports “‘I had an opportunity to do that when my name got floated six months ago," Gibbs told CNN in a telephone interview. ‘I am not going to run the DNC.’ The decision by Gibbs comes as top Democratic officials privately say Kaine is now expected to announce, likely by the end of the week, that he will indeed run for the Senate and vacate his party post though officials stressed a final decision has not been made. With Gibbs pulling out of contention for the DNC job, top Democratic officials said that former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland seems to be emerging as the leading contender to replace Kaine as chairman. Other Democratic contenders for the post include former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) as well as party strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile.” http://bit.ly/dLHNzy
TIM KAINE SAYS… Not much about his decision on whether or not to run for Senate in Virginia. But as the Natinonal Journal’s Alex Roarty notes, “Recently departed Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Dick Cranwell thinks you can pencil in Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine as a Senate candidate. ‘I think he's going to run,’ Cranwell told Hotline On Call during an interview. ‘I think it's up in the 90th percentile.’ … Democrats ranging from outgoing Virginia Sen. Jim Webb (D) to President Obama have encouraged Kaine to enter the race, with most pegging him as by far the party's best Senate. Winning the Virginia race is critical if Democrats want to retain control of the Senate as they defend 22 other seats, and Kaine's presence on the ticket could boost Obama's chances in a key battleground state. ‘I just think, look, he and the president are very close friends,’ said Cranwell. ‘Holding Virginia is important to the president, important to Tim. Tim on the ticket helps the president in Virginia.’” http://bit.ly/eLbJpc
COMMERCE INTRIGUE SURROUNDS RON KIRK. “Speculation emerged Tuesday that U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the former Dallas mayor, could replace Commerce Secretary Gary Locke if Locke is named the next ambassador to China,” the Dallas Morning News’ Todd J. Gillman notes. “President Barack Obama is expected to send Locke to China to replace Ambassador Jon Huntsman, a former Utah governor eyeing a GOP run for president. … The Commerce Department handles trade, economic development, the U.S. census and weather forecasting. Kirk was interested two years ago when the job went to Locke. Other contenders this time may include former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt and other high-profile business leaders, several Democrats swept from Congress last fall, and midlevel officials from the Treasury Department , White House budget office and the Federal Communications Commission.” http://bit.ly/fdXSBc
HATCH COURTS THE TEA PARTY. Here's how you run for reelection if you're a powerful Republican senator from a state where powerful Republican activists want somebody new: First you make friends with the man who builds custom roadsters. Then you hire a midwife,” the Washington Post’s Phillip Rucker writes under a Logan, Utah dateline. “That's what Sen. Orrin G. Hatch has done in pursuit of a seventh term. The carmaker and the midwife are among the most influential of Utah's tea party organizers, who last year shocked the establishment by taking down veteran GOP Sen. Robert Bennett in favor of tea partyer Mike Lee. At the moment, they are two of the 3,500 voters who matter most to Hatch — the activists who are likely to select the GOP's 2012 Senate nominee at next year's state party convention. … Hatch is trying to appeal to tea party activists by sharpening his anti-Washington tone. He was one of just nine senators to vote against a budget deal last week to avert a government shutdown, because he said the cuts it contained weren't deep enough. And he has apologized repeatedly for his 2008 vote in favor of the federal bank bailouts, a pass-fail test for conservative activists.” http://wapo.st/epsem4
PATENT REFORM BILL MOVES FORWARD. With overwhelming support last night the Senate by a vote of 95-5 passed a bill to reform the US patent system, ABC’s Matthew Jaffe reports. In a case of strange bedfellows, the five senators voting against the measure were Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Maria Cantwell, D-Washington State, Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, John Ensign, R-Nev. and Jim Risch, R-Idaho. The bill, which marks the first sweeping overhaul of the patent system in over half a century, now moves on to the House. It implements a first-to-file patent application system, which is opposed by many individual inventors. “After six years of debate and discussion, the Senate has finally acted to make the first meaningful, comprehensive reforms to the nation’s patent system in nearly 60 years,” Sen. Pat Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in a paper statement. “Passage of the America Invents Act demonstrates what we can accomplish when we cast aside partisan rhetoric, and focus on working together for the American people and for our future.”
@BrianBolduc: Conn. voters disapprove of Gov. Malloy's performance 40 to 35 percent with 25 percent undecided, a new poll by Quinnipiac University finds
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