By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
The Tea Party has emerged as a bogeyman of budget negotiations on Capitol Hill with Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accusing its members of introducing “extreme demands” on spending and some Republican leaders unsure of how to treat the influential movement.
Despite what looks like the outlines of a tentative agreement on $33 billion in spending cuts, the grassroots group, the Tea Party Patriots, plans to hold a rally in Washington today to ask Congress to slash even more from this year’s budget.
Many Tea Party-affiliated GOP lawmakers are pushing for $100 billion in cuts, and as Patriots leader Mark Meckler told the National Journal, the group’s purpose is to “‘show that our support is behind’ those lawmakers who are ‘actually trying to make significant cuts,’ and send a message to other lawmakers that they ‘better get serious about it.’” http://bit.ly/dWxsP4
The National Journal's Billy House noted that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, "declined to even discuss the Tea Party Patriots rally on Wednesday, pursing his lips and refusing to speak when asked what its potential impact might be on the ongoing negotiations with Senate Democrats."
Today’s event, billed as the “Continuing Revolution Rally” will be held outside the U.S. Capitol building beginning at 12 noon and feature speeches by Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tex., Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa as well as Meckler and fellow Tea Party Patriots national coordinator Jenny Beth Martin. (Notably, none of the House Republicans are members of this year’s freshmen class.)
Meanwhile, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos hears that budget negotiators on Capitol Hill closed in on a deal last night that would trim $33 billion from this year’s budget — $23 billion more than Democrats previously agreed to in short-term continuing resolutions and $28 billion less than Republicans passed in the House. http://abcn.ws/efmmTC
Stephanopoulos notes, “The deal could still fall apart over the composition of the cuts, or policy ‘riders’ previously passed by the House. These include issues like de-funding Planned Parenthood and President Obama’s health care legislation. It’s also not clear that this compromise will fly with rank-and-file House Republicans, which means that the $33 billion goal could still climb by a few billion."
Kevin Smith, a spokesman for the House Speaker John Boehner cautioned, “There is no agreement on a number for the spending cuts. Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.”
Vice President Joe Biden, who was on Capitol Hill last night for the budget talks told reporters, “There's no reason why, with all that's going on in the world and with the state of the economy, that we can't avoid a government shutdown," but added, “There's no deal until there's a whole deal." Biden said negotiators will be "getting back meeting" around "8, 9, 10, whatever it is" this morning.
TEA PARTY WATCH: HYPOCRISY ON FARM SUBSIDIES? “The Tea Party swept into the 112th Congress with promises of cutting government spending. But according to a report out today, at least five lawmakers with Tea Party connections have been longtime recipients of federal agricultural subsidies,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl and Avery Miller write. “‘There's nothing too surprising about hypocrisy in Washington,’ Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group, told ABC News. ‘This particular group, you not only have to look at the hypocrisy but you need to watch your wallet.’ While the majority of American farmers receive no government money at all, at least 23 current members of congress or their families have received government money for their farms — combining for more than $12 million since 1995 according to a new report from the Environmental Working Group. The biggest recipient was Rep. Stephen Fincher, a Republican from Frog Jump, Tenn. While the self-described Tea Party patriot lists his occupation as ‘farmer’ and ‘gospel singer’ in the Congressional Directory, he doesn't mention that his family has received more than $3 million in farm subsidies from 1995 to 2009, according to the Environmental Working Group.” http://abcn.ws/fdi6IF Watch Jon’s “Good Morning America” report on the Tea Party hypocrisy: http://abcn.ws/eITwxl
LIBYA UPDATE: OBAMA AUTHORIZES COVERT OPS. “President Obama has a signed a secret presidential finding authorizing covert operations to aid the effort in Libya where rebels are in full retreat despite air support from U.S. and allied forces,” ABC News’ Jake Tapper, Jonathan Karl and Russell Goldman report. “The presidential finding discusses a number of ways to help the opposition to Moammar Gadhafi, authorizing some assistance now and setting up a legal framework for more robust activities in the future. The finding does not direct covert operatives to provide arms to the rebels immediately, although it does prepare for such a contingency and other contingencies should the president decide to go down that road in the future. Both the White House and the CIA declined comment.” http://abcn.ws/f2dDJ7
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE. ABC’s Rick Klein, Jonathan Karl and Amy Walter talk to Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, about ongoing budget negotiations on Capitol Hill. Also on the program, Jeff Zeleny from the New York Times. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
“TOP LINE” REPLAY: JOE WILSON. The South Carolina Congressman said on “Top Line” yesterday that while he welcomes a compromise on spending, Democrats need to be more willing to heed GOP demands. “We should be working together. But the conservatives won the election last year. The compromise should be to the conservative side,” Wilson said. “We should be negotiating — in good faith. But it was the conservative position that won last November.” “Why'd they push this to March? My view is they really are encouraging a shutdown thinking that let's relive” the last shutdown, Wilson said. http://abcn.ws/hbPSUn (h/t ABC’s Kristina Bergess)
WILL GOP BUDGET GIVE SOCIAL SECURITY A PASS? “House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will largely give Social Security a pass in his highly anticipated budget while proposing a significant overhaul of Medicare and Medicaid, according to sources briefed on the plan,” The Hill’s Eric Wasson reports. “The 2012 budget resolution, which committee Republicans are still finalizing, is scheduled to be unveiled on Tuesday. It will not back specific benefit cuts to Social Security or suggest raising the retirement age, sources said. Instead, it will lay out the problems with the program and suggest authorizing committees tackle the specifics. It also will propose ‘trigger’ thresholds for Social Security that, once reached, would ask the president to propose a way to fix the program. Ryan is also not planning to include a proposal that would allow recipients to invest their Social Security payroll taxes, something Democrats have attacked as a ‘privatization’ of Social Security. Such attacks doomed a 2005 effort by then-President George W. Bush to reform the system. By not proposing specific changes to Social Security, Ryan dodges expected arguments from Democrats who have repeatedly warned that the GOP intends to dramatically change a program popular with many voters and particularly senior citizens.” http://bit.ly/igmBNu
MARCO RUBIO TAKES HARD LINE ON LIBYA. The once low-profile freshman Florida Senator has burst out of his shell this week. First, with his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal yesterday saying he'd vote against raising the debt ceiling. And now he's sent a letter to Sens. Reid and McConnell asking for a vote in the Senate to "authorize the President's decision to participate in allied military action in Libya." That resolution, he adds, "should also state that removing Muammar Qaddafi from power is in our national interest and therefore should authorize the President to accomplish this goal." Rubio added, “As long as Qaddafi remains in power, he will be in a position to terrorize his own people and potentially the rest of the world. In fact he has vowed to turn rebel strongholds into ‘rivers of blood.’ If he succeeds, it will provide a blueprint to repressive regimes across the Middle East in the use of force against unarmed civilians. And unlike the conflicts in other nations in the region, the rebels in Libya have requested and welcome our support.” Read Rubio's full letter in the Weekly Standard: http://bit.ly/hLopBT
INSIDE OBAMA’S WAR CABINET. “Military leaders and President Obama’s civilian advisers are girding for battle over the size and pace of the planned pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan this summer, with the military seeking to limit a reduction in combat forces and the White House pressing for a withdrawal substantial enough to placate a war-weary electorate,” writes Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post. “Some senior officers and military planning documents have described the July pullout as small to insignificant, prompting deep concern within the White House. Obama expressed displeasure with such characterizations of the withdrawal, according to three senior officials. The divergent views about the withdrawal illustrate the unresolved tensions between Obama’s military and civilian advisers over the decision to send more troops to Afghanistan in a last-ditch attempt to salvage a failing war.” http://wapo.st/gWxgvw
MIKE PENCE BATTLES PLANNED PARENTHOOD. “On Feb. 18, 2011, with bipartisan support, the House of Representatives passed the Pence Amendment, which would end taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood,” writes Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., in the National Review. “In response, Planned Parenthood used its vast resources to launch slick Madison Avenue television ads portraying the group — the nation’s largest abortion provider — as an altruistic organization that provides health-care services to the poor and has only an incidental interest in abortion. Despite efforts to suggest otherwise, the Pence Amendment does not reduce funding for cancer screenings or eliminate one dime of funding for other important health services to women; the money that does not go to Planned Parenthood as a result of the Pence Amendment will go to other organizations that provide these services. This legislative battle is about Big Abortion vs. American taxpayers.” http://bit.ly/dHwsJ9
ARIZONA SENATE RACE WAITS FOR GIFFORDS. “Representative Gabrielle Giffords is still in the hospital, but some of her most ardent backers are so enamored of the idea of her running for the Senate that they describe the inevitable campaign commercials: the deep-voiced narrator recounting what happened to her, the images of her wounded, then recovering and speaking into the camera alongside her astronaut husband to call on Arizonans to unite,” The New York Times’ Marc Lacey. “These supporters say they do not want to get too far ahead of themselves, and make clear that Ms. Giffords, who was shot in the head, is still relearning basic tasks and might emerge from the hospital with neither the same political abilities nor aspirations that she had before. And publicly, her closest aides say the only thing they care about is her health. … Despite such protestations, several of Ms. Giffords’s longtime aides are whispering behind the scenes that she just might recover in time to run for the seat that Senator Jon Kyl, a Republican, is vacating next year. … Ever so quietly, Ms. Giffords’s political allies are laying the groundwork just in case. Friends and allies held a fund-raiser for her on March 15 in Washington — trying to supplement her Congressional campaign war chest, which totaled about $285,000 at year’s end and could be tapped for a Senate bid.” http://nyti.ms/i8rVfC
NOTABLE: BIG NIGHT FOR JON KARL. Congratulations to ABC’s senior political correspondent Jonathan Karl (and his team), winner of the Joan Shorenstein Barone Award for excellence in Congressional and Washington political reporting at last night’s 67th annual Congressional Correspondents’ Awards Dinner!
@markknoller: Nothing baseball-related on President's schedule today. He was so criticized for doing brackets, a "first pitch" would have brought more.
* Newt Gingrich will address the Congressional Healthcare Caucus Policy Forum in Washington, D.C. at 12:30 PM. Gingrich will have private meetings with members of the GOP freshman class in the morning.
* Rick Santorum will be in Amarillo, Texas to headline CareNet Pregnancy Centers Annual Fundraising Banquet. The former Pennsylvania senator speaks at 8 PM CT.
The Note Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV
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