By RICK KLEIN (@rickklein)
Just about everything you need to know about the position and predicament of the Republican Party is laid bare by the reaction to the budget deal cut by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan.
The hero/heartthrob of fiscal conservatives – the author of principled budgets, a numbers guru and a rising star, the policy heart of a disappointing presidential ticket – is being pilloried for caving to Democrats and catering to the establishment, at a moment that Republicans feel stronger than at any time in the last 13 months.
That makes him a sellout. Unless he’s a statesman.
From Paul’s perspective – and he’s got the backing of House leadership, if not top Senate Republicans – this is the price of fiscal peace. The unexpected image of Ryan and Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray announcing a joint agreement breaks a bad cycle for Democrats and President Obama, but it also forecloses the possibility of a disastrous repeat of the early fall for Republicans.
Lurking behind this week’s floor debate is this question: With new tea party challengers still popping up by the day, does the Republican Party feel equipped to let spending fights dominate the winter and spring – and beyond?
As for Ryan’s own role and prospects, this is the equivalent of him raising his hand on that long-ago GOP debate stage, with the famous question about who would accept a budget deal that’s 10-1 in Republicans’ favor. (And here’s betting that Ryan will be alone in this among 2016ers, as he would have been if he’d actually been on that stage to raise his hand at the time.)
As the deal hits, FIVE new national polls hit the news cycle, all with President Obama well underwater on job approval. (More on them below.)
The numbers aren’t too dissimilar, but they provide alternate reads on political realities nonetheless. Yes, the president is at a weak point – hardly a time for Republican concessions, under one line of thinking. But he’s sitting where he is because of the focus on the botched rollout of Obamacare – the kind of focus that risks getting lost if January and February are consumed by budget showdowns.
Fret not – Wednesday brings its dose of Obamacare, too, with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius back on Capitol Hill answering questions for the first time in more than a month.
- TWO YEARS OF PEACE – IF IT PASSES. “A modest deal, but given what we have seen over the past two years, this is what counts as a major breakthrough in Washington,” ABC’s JONATHAN KARL reported on “Good Morning America.”
- INSIDE THE DEAL: “A bipartisan budget agreement reached tonight by House and Senate negotiators would avoid a government shutdown in January and help break a fiscal stalemate that has caused gridlock in Washington, but it would stop far short of tackling the underlying causes of the national debt,” ABC’s JEFF ZELENY and ARLETTE SAENZ report. “The deal would raise military and domestic spending over the next two years, while avoiding the continuation of deep across-the-board spending cuts. Taxes will not go up under the plan, which will be paid for by raising fees on some airline tickets. “While modest in scope, the compromise represents the first budget agreement in two years. It could pave the way to a broader debate to deal with the root causes of the national debt, the rising costs of entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.” http://abcn.ws/IP7fpI
- House Budget Chairman PAUL RYAN: “In divided government, you don’t always get what we want. That said we can still make progress to our goals.” http://abcn.ws/IP7fpI
- PRESIDENT OBAMA, in a written statement: “This agreement doesn’t include everything I’d like – and I know many Republicans feel the same way. That’s the nature of compromise. But it’s a good sign that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come together and break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven decision-making to get this done.”
- SEN. MARCO RUBIO (and will other 2016ers be far behind?): “The American people should not be asked to choose between a strong military and responsible budgets that encourage job creation and reduce debt. They deserve better than this.”
- READ BETWEEN THE LINES. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: “I have said in the past I remain convinced that the Budget Control Act has done what it was supposed to do.” http://bit.ly/1e4Zs5T
- WHAT THE RIGHT’S RESPONDING TO. “The deal, which goes to the House and Senate for approval in the coming days, marks a major change in the landmark 2011 budget-cutting law, which set in motion 10 years of fiscal austerity, including across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration. The annual discretionary spending target will be raised to $1.012 trillion in 2014 and $1.014 trillion in 2015 under the accord,” THE WALL STREET JOURNAL’s JANET HOOK reports. http://on.wsj.com/18BfvAz
- ‘REMAKING THE PARTY.’ Not everyone thinks forgoing new showdowns is a good thing. “The dynamics have changed since September when Ted Cruz stood up and made the case against Obamacare,” Madison Project political director Drew Ryun told me and YAHOO! NEWS’ OLIVIER KNOX, in the latest episode of our “Top Line” Power Players series. “If you guys as Republicans are not going to fight when the stage is set, then it’s time for us as Republicans to go back and gradually begin remaking the party.” http://yhoo.it/1cAELeM
- GET YOUR SCORECARDS. “FreedomWorks is planning to oppose the deal ‘in its current reported form,’ while Heritage Action and CATO have also announced their disapproval of the agreement,” reports TIME’s ALEX ROGERS. http://ti.me/1jMLpSq
- TIM PHILLIPS, Americans for Prosperity: “This budget compromise is not just bad policy, it is bad politics. … The American people remember hard-won bipartisan spending limits set by the sequester, and are not pleased to see their conservative representatives so easily go back on their word to rein in government over-spending.”
- PILING ON RYAN. “That’s the problem with Paul Ryan. In his run of the mill voting record, there is no question Paul Ryan is a conservative. It’s just he sees fit to lose his conservative bona fides when high profile votes are on the line,” writes REDSTATE’s ERICK ERICKSON. “So his friends can cast aspersions on those who suggest he might not be what he appears while he goes on to prove he is not what he appears to be in these big votes.” http://bit.ly/1gZ3WbO
- BEHIND HIS PLAY. “In abandoning his years-long quest to re-imagine American society and settling for a bipartisan deal, the Wisconsin Republican took the first steps to emerge as a House power center — a Republican willing to take baby steps to curb the nation’s trillions in debt, normalize the budget process and protect a Pentagon pilloried by cuts,” POLITICO’s JAKE SHERMAN writes. http://politi.co/18lN0fe
- POLLING LINES. The presidential approval/disapproval split in those five new polls, in descending order of how likely it is to be cited by a Democrat:
- PEW/USA TODAY: 45 percent job approval, 49 percent disapproval. http://bit.ly/1d7RDai
- WSJ/NBC: 43 approve-54 disapprove. http://on.wsj.com/1bwRxK
- NYT/CBS: 42-50 — “a rebound.” http://nyti.ms/1aUv866
- BLOOMBERG: 42-55. http://bloom.bg/1e51ClM
- QUINNIPIAC: 38 -57 – a new low in their polling for Obama’s approval rating.
- RUMBLES ON THE LEFT. “The deal is not expected to fall apart, but it has stumbled through a series of hurdles. Many Democrats want to extend emergency jobless benefits, now scheduled to expire Dec. 28. That provision is likely to be considered in separate legislation,” MCCLATCHY’s WILLIAM DOUGLAS and DAVID LIGHTMAN report. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/12/10/211267/house-and-senate-leaders-reach.html#storylink=cpy
- WHY PASSAGE IS LIKELY. “Democrats acknowledged that checks are likely to be cut off at the end of the month for more than a million people, potentially undercutting the strengthening economic recovery,” THE WASHINGTON POST’s LORI MONTGOMERY writes. “But the agreement could provide an offsetting boost to the economy by returning a degree of normalcy to the Washington budget process and restoring confidence in the ability of Republicans and Democrats to work together after years of destabilizing strife.” http://wapo.st/1hMdJVD
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
MORE FROM ‘TOP LINE,’ with the Madison Project’s Drew Ryun. “Big punches” will be thrown within the GOP as groups like his gear up for primary challenges in the 2014 elections against Republicans who they view as not conservative enough, Ryun told us. “I think the 2014 primary cycle is going to be unlike anything that we’ve seen,” he said. “This is going to be the equivalent of a bar room brawl.” More: “I think it’s going to come down to a battle of tactics,” Ryun said. “They’re going to have more money; we’re going to have more people. And, basically, who employs the best tactics is going to come out on top of these primaries.” http://yhoo.it/1cAELeM
VIRAL VIDEO. Rep. Ann Kuster, D-N.H., is getting Internet famous for a clip where she’s asked a question about Benghazi. She begins her answer, incorrectly, by telling the audience that the measure is being crafted in the Senate so she doesn’t want to get into a discussion about it, ABC’s JOHN PARKINSON reports. “Um, I don’t have – uh, it’s a Senate, I think ahhh,” she stammers. “I don’t think we have anything about that in the House.” Pressed for an answer, Kuster says the forum should stay focused on the Middle East. “Well, I’m certainly not here to talk about it,” Kuster answers. “We’re here to talk about the Middle East.” Then, several people in the audience exclaim, “Benghazi is in the Middle East!” http://abcn.ws/1hL2z3r
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI, R-Alaska, takes a stroll to work in the “snow.” http://bit.ly/1e53FGs
PREVIEWING WEDNESDAY’S HILL EVENT. “Kathleen Sebelius isn’t going anywhere — but the White House isn’t exactly pulling out all the stops to defend her work. That’s the reality of Sebelius’s uncomfortable status as she returns to the Hill on Wednesday to catch more arrows over Obamacare,” POLITICO’s DAVID NATHER reports. http://politi.co/1goyGFD
UNANSWERED QUESTIONS. From the House Energy and Commerce Committee: “How much has the administration spent on the health care exchanges? … Who made the decision to not allow ‘window shopping’ on HealthCare.gov? Did insurance companies ever recommend a delay of the start of open enrollment? How many people have enrolled in a plan on HealthCare.gov?” http://1.usa.gov/18CmdJy
IN ADVANCE – BUT WHAT TOOK THIS LONG? Ahead of her testimony on the Hill today — and anticipating a grilling over accountability for the website fiasco — Sebelius has ordered an inspector general review of the development and roll out of HealthCare.gov, per ABC’s DEVIN DWYER. She’s also ordering the creation of a new ‘chief risk officer’ at CMS to ensure better management of taxpayer dollars and is instituting new training procedures. http://1.usa.gov/1d7RfbN
ABOUT THE CASH. “President Barack Obama’s health agency said it has spent $319 million building an online health-insurance marketplace through October. More than three years after the passage of Obama’s signature health-care law in 2010, it’s almost impossible to verify and track that spending through public records,” BLOOMBERG’s KATHLEEN MILLER and ALEX WAYNE report. http://bloom.bg/JdZ6My
JUST A HANDSHAKE? President Obama’s unprecedented handshake with Cuban President Raul Castro at the Mandela memorial service was not a pre-planned encounter, a White House official told ABC’s MARY BRUCE. “Above all else, today is about honoring Nelson Mandela, and that was the President’s singular focus at the memorial service,” the official said. The leaders of the long-estranged Cold War foes had a brief encounter at a memorial service honoring the life and legacy of former South African leader Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. Obama and Castro, who both delivered remarks at the ceremony, shook hands and spoke to one another on the podium – and a range of critics, including Sen. John McCain and Sen. Marco Rubio, were none too pleased. http://abcn.ws/1gWCICK
CHANGING HISTORY, OR NOTHING AT ALL? The United States has not had diplomatic relations with Cuba for the more than 50 years since the Communist revolution, led by the current president’s brother, Fidel Castro. ABC’s NICKI ROSSOLL and ANNETA KONSTANTINIDES note that the handshake at a memorial honoring the life and legacy of Mandela comes at a time when there have been glimpses of diplomatic reconciliation between the two countries. But as history has shown, a handshake can indicate a momentous shift in geopolitics, or it can simply be a polite, or unavoidable, gesture. http://abcn.ws/JbXB1B
NUCLEAR FALLOUT. The Senate confirmed one of President Obama’s stalled judicial picks for the D.C. Circuit Court, the first judicial nominee confirmed since the Senate changed the rules to effectively end the use of the filibuster on most judicial nominees. ABC’s ARLETTE SAENEZ reports that the Senate voted 56 to 38 to confirm Patricia Millett. “I’m pleased that in a bipartisan vote, the Senate has confirmed Patricia Millett to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, filling a vacancy that has been open since 2005,” President Obama said in a statement. Two Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, voted in favor of Millett’s confirmation. http://abcn.ws/1bU6KaW
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
BIPARTISAN PHOTOGRAPHY. Obamas, Bushes, and Clintons all on a plane together – and the White House has released photos. (No selfies, but it’s not hard to guess which president was showing off his artwork.) http://1.usa.gov/19BvLlk
WHAT WE’RE READING
“Tea party threat again hangs over Republicans’ efforts to take Senate,” by THE WASHINGTON POST’s PAUL KANE. Don’t miss: “They’re really undermining everything we’re trying to do here,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah (saying something he couldn’t have said last year). “You can’t do it by destroying sitting [GOP] senators.” http://wapo.st/IETMBp
IN THE NOTE’S INBOX.
ESCALATION. “Wednesday morning MoveOn.org will announce they are doubling down on their campaign to expand Social Security and escalating their fight with Third Way on the issue with the release of a new 30-second television ad. You can see the ad here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfEuNTEbQCs