By RICK KLEIN ( @rickklein )
It's almost time to deck the halls - which will be empty by the end of the week around here, anyway. But the news is around clearing the decks.
On one level, nothing really changed. In fact, nothing's even done yet. The budget deal, set for final passage Tuesday in the Senate when/if the shopping for Republican votes is done, is just about the least lawmakers could do.
Except something's happening. That's a change in itself, and a new tone for the end of 2013 that just might still be heard in 2014.
For the White House, the deal it played little role in achieving gives an opening to talk about something else - anything else.
If there is to be a pre-midterm agenda - immigration, tax reform, income inequality, or what have you - it needs to start this way. (There is still, though, the debt ceiling, waiting for spring…)
On the Hill, no, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray are not fast friends set to lead their respective parties to a new era of achievements. But two lawmakers with vast credibility on their party flanks have a model for movement.
As for the outside - maybe just as important -party leadership is backing Ryan and Murray against all comers. House Speaker John Boehner may never tell off the tea party and the outside groups again. But the fact that he did it once (or twice) will be what's remembered come the new year.
Welcome to the last work week of 2013 for official Washington, where 2014 questions get answered a little early, and something just might get done.
ABC's JEFF ZELENY: The criticism may be loud, but there's little question the Senate will pass the bipartisan budget deal this week. Democrats need at least five Republicans to help overcome a filibuster threat with 60 votes. Those five are likely to be: Burr, Collins, Flake, Murkowski and McCain. While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will vote against the deal, make no mistake that he and most other Republicans want it to pass. It takes away a giant headache looming next year: a new government shutdown. Democrats aren't thrilled with the bill either, particularly because unemployment insurance isn't included, but they're all expected to support it. Two other items of business also remain: the defense spending bill, which is likely to be approved, and the farm bill, which will be punted.
WHAT WE'RE WATCHING
'THIS WEEK REWIND': John Kerry on North Korea and Iran. http://abcn.ws/1kMxBFe
DON'T MISS: Discussing Dasani, New York's "invisible child," with New York Times reporter Andrea Elliott, on "This Week." http://abcn.ws/19LxBQw.
2014 BIND. "Republican primary candidates are caught in an Obamacare fix," JAMES HOHMANN and KYLE CHENEY report for POLITICO. "Even the slightest hint that a GOP contender might support anything besides all-out repeal of the health care law is drawing attacks from the right. So, increasingly, in races across the country, proposals to fix the existing law or retain any of it are being ruled out by Republicans eager to further burnish their conservative credentials." http://politi.co/JqVTJ0
HILLARY, THE MIDTERMS. "Ready for Hillary, the group organizing supporters nationwide for a potential Clinton presidential campaign, says it will ask its members to support candidates endorsed by Clinton in the 2014 midterm elections, and to push her policy agenda over the next two years," writes USA TODAY's MARTHA T. MOORE. http://usat.ly/1bJAAsC
HILLARY, THE DATA PROJECT. "The network of super PACs functioning as a sort of wink-and-nod Clinton campaign-in-waiting are at the center of the data tug-of-war. The hub, Ready for Hillary, is working on data initiatives that are unprecedented for a candidate-specific super PAC - let alone one planning for a presidential campaign that's still two years off," POLITICO's KENNETH P. VOGEL reports . http://politi.co/1fxTPdw
BACK TO HEALTH CARE. Your Monday dose of Darrell Issa: "Breitbart News has obtained a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee report on the Obamacare Navigators that will be released Monday. It has found that Obamacare Navigators have been giving Americans misinformation and, in some cases, actively encouraging enrollees to commit fraud in order to raise their subsidies. To complicate matters further, there is no way for Americans to find out whether their Navigators are properly certified," BREITBART's TONY LEE reports. http://bit.ly/1hdEpvH
DID WE SAY THE YEAR IS ENDING SOON? "After weeks of legal wrangling, a recount of the closest statewide election in Virginia history begins Monday. By the end of the week, Virginians should know who will serve as their next attorney general - unless the loser chooses to prolong the fight," BEN PERSHING writes for THE WASHINGTON POST. http://wapo.st/1fgAoFm
ANOTHER VOTE? "Virginia AG contest: New election is one remedy," op-ed by CHARLES J. COOPER in the RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH. http://bit.ly/1dFZywc
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
"Kerry Returns to Vietnam Waterways on Climate Change Mission," by ABC's MATTHEW LAROTONDA. http://abcn.ws/IPeOgO
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX
FROM THE DEMOCRATIC SENATORIAL CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE : "The DSCC had its best off-year November in the history of the committee, raising $5.1 million. The DSCC has dramatically outraised the NRSC this cycle. The DSCC has raised a whopping $48.6 million already this year, while the NRSC has reported raising just $29.5 million. The DSCC has more than $12 million on hand compared to just $5 million for the NRSC according to the most recent reports. The DSCC ended November just $5 million in debt."
WHAT WE'RE READING
" Washington 'Centrists' Don't Want Obama to Target Inequality. They're Pushing Bad Politics - And Bad Economics," by NEERA TANDEN for THE NEW REPUBLIC. "President Obama is advocating for the idea that when the top 10 percent of earners take home 50 percent of the country's wealth, it's reasonable to ask that the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share to ensure that all Americans have a shot at economic success. There's another politician who raised taxes on the wealthy by raising the top marginal rate who was handily reelected President: Bill Clinton." http://bit.ly/1gBmXDL
"Machiavelli With Malaprops: A quarter-century of covering Harry Reid," by JON RALSTON, for POLITICO. http://politi.co/1c6Ir9B
"The Most Expensive Senate Race of the Cycle - So Far," by ROLL CALL'S KYLE TRYGSTAD. "About halfway through the midterm election cycle, North Carolina is on pace to host the most expensive Senate race of 2014. But the Tar Heel State shouldn't necessarily get too comfortable in the top spot. Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan's re-election battle in the state is one of at least four Senate contests where outside spending has already eclipsed the $2 million mark. The others include the re-election races of Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky." http://bit.ly/1gBhsVO
"Early start to TV ads war in midterm elections," by THE BOSTON GLOBE's MATT VISER. "The beginning of the 2014 midterm election season and the launch of the most controversial aspects of the Affordable Care Act coincide on the political calendar, and several states are already awash in spending by outside groups. Republicans are trying to use the controversy over the botched launch of President Obama's health care law to lay the groundwork early and attempt to sway crucial female voters away from incumbent Senate Democrats in key states." http://b.globe.com/1gBhQDw