By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
WHAT WE'RE WATCHING
PAUL RYAN: PRESIDENTIAL AMBITIONS NOT A CONSIDERATION IN REACHING BUDGET DEAL. As the bipartisan budget bill heads toward passage as soon as today in the Senate, Paul Ryan, the top Republican who brokered the deal, said he's not worried that his political future will be tainted by the agreement. "If you want to get things done, you have to be willing to be criticized from everybody," Ryan told "The Fine Print's" JEFF ZELENY. "People always say, 'well, this could hurt you with your future ambitions,'" Ryan said. "If I'm not good at this job, why should I ask somebody for another job?" Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican and the party's 2012 vice presidential nominee, added: "If I have to do things to stop myself from doing what I think is right to become president, then I don't want to become president. When asked directly whether he is planning a presidential bid in 2016, Ryan said he hasn't made a decision yet. "I don't know," he said. "I will think about it. It's in the back of my mind. I'll think about it later." WATCH: http://yhoo.it/1gFLoQt
WHAT WE'RE READING
"RYAN WON'T RUN FOR WHITE HOUSE IN 2016, HIS GOP COLLEAGUES SAY," by The Hill's Russell Berman. "Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has a choice to make. The Republican Budget Committee chairman is the most popular conservative in the House, and over the coming year, he will have to decide whether to seek a more powerful committee gavel, launch a bid for House leadership or take a risky leap into the crowded waters of the 2016 presidential campaign. In interviews The Hill conducted with more than two dozen House Republicans from across the ideological spectrum over the last couple of weeks, many of Ryan's colleagues said they are doubtful he will run for president in 2016. Most believe that concerns for his young family will lead him to lay claim to the job he's always wanted: chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. … In its informal survey, The Hill granted lawmakers anonymity to speak candidly about Ryan's future in the party. Some are encouraging him to run for president, some want him to challenge Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) for Speaker if John Boehner (R-Ohio) steps aside, and many others said Ryan is most likely to end up at the helm of Ways and Means, a powerful insider post with jurisdiction over taxes, trade and entitlement programs." http://bit.ly/19RSl9p
ABC NEWS-WASHINGTON POST POLL: MOST BACK MINIMUM WAGE HIKE AND POLICIES TO ADDRESS THE WEALTH GAP. Two-thirds of Americans in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll support increasing the minimum wage, rejecting arguments that doing so could encourage layoffs and reflecting majority sentiment that current federal government policies favor the wealthy, according to ABC's CHRISTOPHER WEISS. Those who support a higher minimum wage even have a recommended level: The average response in this group is $10.25 per hour, very close to the $10.10 proposal endorsed by Barack Obama and now before the U.S. Senate. Support for raising the minimum wage is linked to broader concern about income inequality, a theme sounded by Obama in a speech Dec. 4. Sixty-four percent of Americans say federal policies currently favor the wealthy, and 57 percent say they'd support efforts to try to reduce the wealth gap in this country. Support for boosting the minimum wage soars in both those groups. http://abcn.ws/1caGxF8
-BACKGROUND: Currently $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum wage last was raised in 2009. Obama urged making it $9 in his 2013 State of the Union address, and more recently backed the $10.10 proposal. At the state level, lawmakers in California, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island have increased minimum wages in the past year, and New Jerseyans voted in an $8.25 minimum last month.
SENATE MOVES TOWARD BUDGET PASSAGE. Today the Senate will resume consideration of the bipartisan budget deal. No time has been set yet for a final vote, according to ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ, but it is expected to occur this afternoon. Yesterday, the Senate inched closer to approving the deal when it cleared a procedural hurdle with the help of 12 Republicans. The Senate voted 67 to 33 to prevent a filibuster on the budget agreement, which was brokered between Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Was. Twelve Republicans joined Democrats in voting to end debate on the bipartisan deal: Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah., John Hoeven, R-N.D., Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Ron Johnson, R-Wis., John McCain, R-Ariz., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio. http://abcn.ws/1fk81q2
WHITE HOUSE: OLYMPIC DELEGATION REPRESENTS AMERICAN 'DIVERSITY'. The White House says the delegation President Obama has chosen to represent the U.S. at the winter Olympics "represents the diversity that is the United States." The delegation includes, of course, tennis legend Billie Jean King, perhaps America's most prominent gay athlete and a long-time gay rights advocate, ABC's JONATHAN KARL notes. Although the White House won't say it is sending a message of protest regarding Russia's anti-gay "propaganda" law, Billie Jean King told USA Today earlier this year that she hopes athletes will use their platform at the Olympics to protest the law. "I think there's watershed moments, benchmarks," King told USA Today. "I would hope the majority of athletes would speak out. It's a great platform." At a White House press conference in August, President Obama rejected calls that the US boycott the winter Olympics, but he made clear his strong opposition to Russia's anti-gay policies. "Nobody is more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation that you've been seeing in Russia," he said at the time. "One of the things I'm really looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze, which I think would go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes that we're seeing there."
-BILLIE JEAN KING ON BEING NAMED TO THE DELEGATION: "I am deeply honored to be named to the United States' Presidential Delegation for the opening ceremonies at the 2014 Olympic Games this February in Sochi. I can't wait to get to Russia to support the American team and to be part of one of the greatest global events of our time. I am equally proud to stand with the members of the LGBT community in support of all athletes who will be competing in Sochi and I hope these Olympic Games will indeed be a watershed moment for the universal acceptance of all people." (h/t ABC's POLSON KANNETH)
-ANALYSIS: From ABC's RICK KLEIN: "Among the immediate winners in President Obama's decision to name Billie Jean King to lead the US delegation to the Sochi Olympics? The American athletes. They will be under tremendous pressure - from outside groups, social media, and even perhaps fellow athletes - to speak out with more than their athletic accomplishments while in Russia. These are young athletes, with a glaring-hot spotlight, and the vast majority of them are focused entirely on competition, not the politics surrounding Russia's anti-gay laws. King's presence speaks for them, and for their government. That's what an Olympic delegation is supposed to do, and this one is poised to actually do it."
TODAY AT THE WHITE HOUSE: President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will meet with a group of moms in the Oval Office. They will be joined by White House Senior Advisor and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls Valerie Jarrett, ABC's MARY BRUCE notes. According to a White House official: "Several of the moms attending the meeting are helping to lead outreach efforts to let their friends, neighbors and kids take advantage of new health insurance options and protections under the Affordable Care Act. … During the meeting, the group will discuss the critical role that moms are playing in helping their families and communities access quality, affordable health care by encouraging their adult children, family members and peers to sign up for coverage."
-FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA WILL PARTICIPATE IN THREE INTERVIEWS TONIGHT with national African American radio hosts Yolanda Adams, Al Sharpton, and Joe Madison. According to a White House official: "Her interviews are part of a broader effort by the White House and partnerships with outside groups, faith leaders, and health professionals to encourage African Americans to get covered."
NEW HAMPSHIRE CAMPAIGN BEGINS WITHOUT SCOTT BROWN. Scott Brown hasn't announced whether he will run for U.S. Senate from New Hampshire yet, but the race has already started. He is selling his home in Wrentham, Mass., and heading to live in New Hampshire and even tweeting his position against the congressional budget compromise. But, as ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALHSE notes , Brown's silence isn't stopping an outside group from trying to convince him to run and attacking his potential opponent, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. The group Ending Spending Inc. is backed financially by billionaire Joe Ricketts and they have made a "low six figure buy" on a television ad running on ABC affiliate WMUR and cable in the state, as well as online ads trying to draft Brown to run in the Granite State. The group says they decided to launch the ads this week to coincide with Brown keynoting the New Hampshire GOP's holiday party Thursday. Meanwhile, Shaheen's campaign has been fundraising off of Brown's will-he won't-he moves and both Monday and Tuesday sent out fundraising e mails trying to counter Ending Spending's ads. "They're after Jeanne because she's the only Democrat elected to the Senate from New Hampshire in 30 years. She can't win without the resources to defend her record. We won't have them without you," one of the e mail reads. "Brown is so desperate to get back somewhere, but it's not New Hampshire. It's Washington." http://abcn.ws/19QM7qg
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
OBAMA WISHES WASHINGTON WERE MORE LIKE 'HOUSE OF CARDS'. If you thought politics inside the Beltway is too much of a blood sport, the man at the center of it all thinks, well, maybe not enough. President Obama joked yesterday that he wished things in Washington worked more like they do in the Netflix political drama "House of Cards," according to ABC's MARY BRUCE. "I wish things were that ruthlessly efficient," the president said ahead of a White House meeting with technology CEOs. "It's true. I was looking at Kevin Spacey. … This guy's getting a lot done," Obama said to laughter. In the series, Spacey plays the merciless and manipulative House Majority Whip Frances Underwood. Eager for a sneak peek, Obama asked Netflix Co-Founder and CEO Reed Hastings if he had "brought an advance copy." http://abcn.ws/JE8pFH
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX
-BOEHNER TO OBAMA: 'WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?' House Speaker John Boehner released a new video this morning touting the House's record of passing jobs bills while accusing Senate Democrats of "standing in the way" and President Obama of "just standing on the sidelines." According to Speaker Boehner's office, "All year long Republicans have passed pro-growth bills on energy, job training, education, regulatory reform, health care, and innovation - among others - that would create a better environment for private-sector job creation." The video ends with Speaker Boehner speaking directly to camera and asking, "Mr. President, what are you waiting for?" WATCH: http://bit.ly/1kfxPaz
-GLENN CLOSE ON THE HILL: "Award-winning actress and mental health advocate Glenn Close will join U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Roy Blunt today, Wednesday December 18 at 10:00A.M. in the Lyndon B. Johnson Room (S-211) of the U.S. Capitol to urge Congress to pass bipartisan mental health legislation approved in committee last week. Ms. Close is founder of Bring Change 2 Mind, an organization that works to end the stigma and discrimination against those living with mental illness. Ms. Close will also meet with Senators on the Hill today."
@Joelcpj: For second year in a row, #Turkey is world's leading jailer of journalists. Spikes in #Egypt, #Vietnam. http://www.cpj.org/reports/2013/12/second-worst-year-on-record-for-jailed-journalists.php …