By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
UPDATED Despite all the chaos in Libya and on Capitol Hill this week, the issue that remains the dominate determinate of Obama's re-election chances is the economy.
Today's unemployment reports shows that employers added 216,000 jobs during the month of March, slightly better than economists’ expectations, and the nation’s unemployment rate inched downward from 8.9 percent to 8.8 percent. (Excluding government layoffs, the private sector added 230,000 workers to payrolls, according to the ABC News Business Unit.)
What does it mean? While 8.8 percent is still high, political strategists we talk to argue that the downward trend is more important than the baseline number. The unemployment rate is at its lowest level since March 2009.
But Republican leaders on Capitol Hill did not miss a beat, using the latest numbers to try to pressure Democrats into an agreement on spending as negotiations to avert a government shutdown continue.
While House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said an “improvement in the jobs picture is welcome news for the country” he added that “excessive government spending continues to create economic uncertainty, erode confidence in our economy and crowd out the investment that fuels private-sector job creation.”
“Senate Democrats have done nothing — except root for a government shutdown — and the White House has called for a job-destroying $1.5 trillion tax hike in its budget,” Boehner said in a statement this morning. Yesterday the Speaker cautioned that Democratic leaders who claimed that lawmakers had settled on a total number of spending cuts may have jumped the gun.
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reported late Wednesday that both parties had agreed on a number to form a basis for the budget talks — $33 billion. Vice President Joe Biden, who has been involved in the negotiations, cautioned earlier this week that the composition of those cuts was still up for discussion and “there’s no deal until there’s a total deal.” In the end, that $33 billion could be different — perhaps significantly so — as the negotiators and the appropriators do their work.
As The New York Times notes today, “behind the scenes, staff members and senior law makers on the House and Senate appropriations committees are in the preliminary stages of figuring out precisely how a $33 billion cut would be spread across federal agencies over the balance of the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.” and as The Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer notes, “The immediate question … remained whether Mr. Boehner could bring House Republicans along on a deal for a $33 billion cut.” http://nyti.ms/fry4no
And on that score the Speaker appears to have his work cut out for him.
“It’s time to pick a fight,” conservative Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., said at yesterday’s Tea Party rally on Capitol Hill. “If liberals in the Senate would rather play political games and shut down the government instead of making a small down payment on fiscal discipline and reform, I say, ‘Shut it down.’ “
And “Cut it or shut it,” was the chant heard by many of those in the crowd who gathered at the event organized by the Tea Party Patriots group.
But for his part, Boehner seems to be encouraging that kind of talk. National Journal notes that in a private meeting Thursday afternoon he told GOP freshmen to “keep up the rhetoric.” He reportedly said to the lawmakers, “The more you keep on them, the more leverage I’ve got.”
SUBWAY SERIES: SEN. PAT TOOMEY WON’T BACK OLYMPIA SNOWE. “Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, is a ripe target for a Tea Party challenge as she runs for re-election next year. She won't be able to count on support of all of her Republican colleagues — at least not Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.,” ABC’s Gregory Simmons reports. “Asked directly in an interview with Jonathan Karl's "Subway Series," "Will you be endorsing Sen. Snowe?" Toomey had this to say: "Look, I think this is a very dynamic environment and probably almost every Republican senator's going to face a primary challenge." While Toomey said he won't be supporting Snowe, he won't oppose her either. "I'm not going to be opposing," Toomey said in an interview aboard the Capitol Subway. "I'm not going to be getting involved in a lot of races."The bottom line is Toomey will remain neutral in Maine and many other upcoming key Senate races. Toomey rode the Republican wave of the last election cycle to Washington, helped in large part by the Tea Party. Now a member of the government he once railed against, Toomey's views on opposing moderate Republicans clearly have changed, or at least softened.” http://abcn.ws/fCONUq
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE. ABC’s Amy Walter and Rick Klein will feature a clip of Jonathan Karl’s “Subway Series” interview with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. (preview above). Also on the program, David Drucker from Roll Call. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
FLORIDA: HAVING THEIR CAKE AND EATING IT TOO? The Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida said Thursday night that he was open to moving back the date of the state’s Republican presidential primary after GOP leaders in two other states — South Carolina and Iowa — threatened earlier yesterday to lead an effort to re-locate the 2012 Republican National Convention from Tampa to another city out of the state. Florida scheduled its primary for Jan. 31, leap-frogging ahead of other early states including Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, all fiercely protective of their place in the presidential nominating process. Last night, Florida GOP Chairman Dave Bitner appeared willing to make a deal: “There are many reasons why Florida should have an early and significant role in selecting the Republican presidential nominee, yet I understand the Republican National Committee is looking to maintain an orderly primary calendar,” Bitner said in a statement. “Governor Scott, President Haridopolos, Speaker Cannon and I have expressed a willingness to work with the RNC to find a primary date that both respects the calendar while preserving Florida’s role in the process. We all agree that moving the primary into late February, making Florida fifth on the calendar, would sufficiently meet both criteria.” http://abcn.ws/hFXOJ7
BOTTOM LINE: Florida Republicans never wanted to go ahead of the early states, but they do want to get ahead of everyone else. Even if they pick late February date they still violate RNC rules and would lose half their delegates at the Republican National Convention. Even if South Carolina and Iowa are all right with the date change, it doesn’t mean other states are. More than 20 states currently have primary dates that violate RNC rules and, like Florida, need legislative action to move the date. RNC officials insist that the possibility of relocating the convention from Tampa virtually non -existent. “The convention will be in Tampa,” RNC spokesman Sean Spicer said, according to USA Today. “At the same time, we will enforce the rules agreed to by all states with respect to the primary and caucus calendar.”
OBAMA AIDES CONTEMPLATING FUNDRAISING GROUP. “As President Obama prepares to kick off his reelection campaign, two former key White House aides are likely to launch an independent political group in support of his bid, a direct response to the pent-up demand among Democrats for a vehicle to challenge the Republican network of well-funded allies,” wrote Matea Gold and Christi Parsons for the Los Angeles Times. “The independent expenditure effort is being contemplated by Bill Burton, the former deputy press secretary, and Sean Sweeney, who served as the senior aide to former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Both left the White House this year.” The organization “is already being viewed by top Democratic fundraisers as the most promising effort to counter the independent political organizations that helped secure GOP victories in the 2010 midterm election. The formation of such a group would mark a dramatic reversal from 2008, when Obama criticized the role of outside interests in the election.” http://lat.ms/edkEoi
FEDERAL WORKSERS FEAR GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN. “The government could shut down in a week if Congress can’t reach a budget deal. And the Obama administration hasn’t told workers what a shutdown would look like — who will be asked to come to work and who will be told to stay home,” the Washington Post’s Lisa Rein and Ed O’Keefe noted. “Parents fret over whether the day-care center at headquarters will stay open. (Yes.) Employees who have planned business trips want to know how — and whether — they’ll get home. (It depends.) Everyone asks: If I’m told I’m not essential, will I be able to get into my office? (Definitely not.) The extra-diligent wonder whether they should race to finish assignments before next Friday. And everywhere workers wonder whether they will be paid. (There’s no guarantee.) ‘The worst of it is the uncertainty,’ said Michael Besmer, who processes Social Security payments in Philadelphia. ‘For all we know, we’ll go home next Friday and we won’t know whether to come to work on Monday. We hear more from the media than our superiors.’” http://wapo.st/gFr2Ss
DEMOCRATS ATTEMPT TO RECALL WISCONSIN SENATOR. “La Crosse area Democrats say they will file petitions today with enough signatures to trigger a recall election of Sen. Dan Kapanke, one of eight Senate Republicans targeted over votes to curtail collective bargaining rights for public workers,” writes Chris Hubbuch of the La Crosse Tribune in Wisconsin. “If approved, it would be just the fifth recall election of a Wisconsin legislator. It is expected to be the first completed of 19 active recall efforts registered between Feb. 24 and March 2 against 16 senators. The state Democratic Party provided infrastructure support but ‘not a single paid canvasser was needed to trigger the recall versus Dan Kapanke,’ said party spokesman Graeme Zielinski, who credited volunteers for collecting more than 20,000 signatures in less than 30 days.” http://bit.ly/eCfIQp
NOTED: Democrat Chris Abele, who is running for Milwaukee County Executive, the job once held by current Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is out with an add hitting his opponent Jeff Stone. “If you like what Scott Walker’s done, then you’ll love Jeff Stone,” the ad’s narrator says. http://bit.ly/dGr59J
SAVE THE DATE: A TEST FOR HEALTH CARE REFORM. “A Florida appeals court has scheduled oral arguments on June 8th to hear the Obama administration’s appeal to a lower court ruling that threw out the entire health care law. The hearing will take place in Atlanta at 9:30 AM before a three judge panel of the 11th Circuit court of appeals,” ABC News’ Ariane de Vogue notes.”Significantly, former Solicitor General Paul Clement, one of the best Supreme Court advocates in the country, has signed on to argue the case for Florida and the 25 other states challenging the law. Clement served in the Bush administration. For those keeping score: Three federal judges have upheld the constitutionality of the health care law, and two have struck down its main provision, the individual mandate. No appeals courts have ruled on the issue so far.” http://abcn.ws/gBS4Ei
WHAT NEW CENSUS DATA MEAN FOR 2012. “The next America is arriving ahead of schedule,” writes Ronald Brownstein of the National Journal. “Last week’s release of national totals from the 2010 census showed that the minority share of the population increased over the past decade in every state, reaching levels higher than demographers anticipated almost everywhere, and in the nation as a whole. If President Obama and Democrats can convert that growth into new voters in 2012, they can get a critical boost in many of the most hotly contested states and also seriously compete for some highly diverse states such as Arizona and Georgia that until now have been reliably red. The party faces persistent challenges within the majority-white community. In November’s midterm elections, Republicans won 60 percent of white voters — the highest share of whites they have attracted in any congressional election in the history of modern polling. In Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Virginia, and other key states that have experienced substantial minority growth, a National Journal analysis shows that Obama can win next year with a stunningly small percentage of the white vote — if Democrats can translate the minority-population growth into commensurate increases in the electorate.” http://bit.ly/gJMBRm
OBAMA JOB APPROVAL AMONG MILLENNIALS RISES. President Obama’s job approval rating among an important voting bloc — 18-29 year-olds — rose to 55 percent, a six percentage point uptick since last October, according to a poll released Thursday by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. Among students on four-year college, young voters who turned out for Obama in large numbers in 2008, the president’s approval rating stands at 60 percent — a nine point increase over the past five months.The young Americans were also asked whether they were more likely to vote for President Obama in 2012. Thirty-eight percent said they were, 25 percent said they planned to vote Republican and 36 percent were still undecided. http://abcn.ws/etET5P
GOP SPOOFS ‘PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA’S FIRST AD OF 2012.’ The National Republican Senatorial Committee is out with an April Fools’ Day video of President Obama “first ad of 2012,” featuring, among other things, Obama’s pledge to be one of Brazil’s “best customers” when it comes to oil imports, Obama’s time on the golf course, his NCAA brackets and what the NRSCA says is the “Obama Method: Spend More.” Video: http://bit.ly/hm8o6y
(Big Buzz h/t to ABC News’ Amy Bingham)
@EricFehrn: Romney visiting a North Las Vegas neighborhood today where homes have been foreclosed on, left vacant or put up for sale.
@DCjourno: hearing that a possible presidential candidate is in talks with a consultant….
*Tim Pawlenty will meet with Newton, Iowa GOP leaders at noon, then deliver the keynote address to the Iowa Federation of College Republicans in Des Moines, Iowa at 6:45 PM
*Rick Santorum will be a guest host on Bill Bennett's Morning in America's radio program from 6-9 AM
*Herman Cain will deliver the keynote address at the Bay Area Republican Women's Lincoln Day Dinner in Houston, Texas
*The Republican Jewish Coalition will hold its 2011 Winter Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada. Donald Rumsfeld will be the keynote speaker of the April 2 Gala Dinner. Mitt Romney, John Thune, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Texas Governor Rick Perry and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus will also attend.
The Note Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV
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