By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
ABC's JEFF ZELENY: A week after President Obama urged Democrats in his State of the Union address to get back on the offensive in the health care fight, the new CBO report puts them right back where they were: playing defense yet again. The analysis from the Congressional Budget Office is far more nuanced than some early headlines suggested, but which version do you think will be featured in 30-second TV ads in Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina and beyond? This sets the stage for a fascinating closed-door discussion today when Senate Democrats gather for their strategy session and policy retreat. The president will be on hand to address concerns, but it may be the words of another featured speaker that are most instructive: Bill Clinton. He's delivering a speech, taking questions and trying to tell Democrats how to tackle all this and keep their heads up during a rocky midterm election year.
ABC's RICK KLEIN: They're getting the stories in place. There just might not be enough of them - and they may not be the right stories. Clay Aiken's announcement that he's seeking a House seat in North Carolina puts him in the Sandra Fluke-Wendy Davis category of Democrats whose national name recognition far exceeds the typical candidate for the offices they're seeking. But those reputations, in the cases of Aiken and Davis in particular, may not mesh with the places they're running for office. (Fluke's announcement last night that she's running for state Senate, not the U.S. House, may be a more successful way to translate celebrity into public office.) It's worth remembering that the Democratic recruiting successes of 2006 were individuals who fit their districts; few were bold-faced names before they ran, Heath Shuler notwithstanding. People like Aiken, Fluke, and Davis have powerful stories that speak loudly to Democrats nationwide. It's worth remembering, thought, that none are running for national office.
CHRISTIE ADMINISTRATION OUT WITH NEW MEMO ATTEMPTING TO MOVE PAST BRIDGE SCANDAL. Chris Christie's Administration is out with another memo to friends and allies attempting to ease the fears of supporters as the lane closures scandal continues to engulf the New Jersey governor, ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE reports. ABC News has exclusively obtained their latest memo and this one is a five-part list attempting to move past the scandal. The first section titled "Gov Gets Back to Business" touts Christie's work to help families impacted by Superstorm Sandy and mentions the next phase of distribution for storm disaster funding. The second section titled "The Answer is Unequivocally No" revisits coverage from Christie's radio interview Monday night where he said he "unequivocally" had no knowledge of the political plot behind the lane closures. It was Christie's first interview since former political ally David Wildstein alleged "evidence exists" he knew about the lanes closure earlier than he has let on. Wildstein has not revealed any evidence and no evidence has been uncovered showing a direct link between the governor and the closing of the lanes by aides as a form of political payback. http://abcn.ws/1ex8AOB
CUTS IN FOOD STAMPS, FARM SUBSIDIES SEAL DEAL AFTER 2 YEAR FIGHT. The Senate gave final approval yesterday to a new five-year Farm Bill, a massive spending measure of nearly $1 trillion that brings sweeping change to agriculture, dairy, conservation and food programs, ABC's JEFF ZELENY writes. The bill passed with an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 68 to 32, bringing a smooth end to two years of intense fighting over farm and food programs that touch nearly every American. The debate deeply divided a long-standing coalition in Congress, the food and farm sectors, and underscored a reshaping political landscape where rural America holds far less sway in Washington. President Obama is poised to sign the bill into law as soon as it reaches his desk. The House approved the measure last week on a vote of 251 to 166. "This is not your father's Farm Bill," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat and chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee. "It's a new direction for American agriculture policy." This bill eliminates billions of dollars in direct subsidy payments to farmers, which is a significant change in U.S. agriculture policy. The costs have climbed to about $5 billion a year and were paid to farmers whether or not they grew the crops. The subsidies were effectively replaced by a crop insurance program to give farmers a lifeline in the wake of floods and droughts. http://abcn.ws/1aZZpr0
BOEHNER PRODS OBAMA ON KEYSTONE PIPELINE APPROVAL. Days after the State Department issued a report stating that the Keystone XL Pipeline would not have a significant impact on current climate conditions, House Speaker Boehner went on the attack, demanding that President Obama grant final approval to begin construction on the $7 billion project, which would carry oil sands from Canada into the United States where it would be refined in the south, ABC's JOHN PARKINSON notes. "We need jobs, and we want energy security and the Keystone pipeline is critical to both of them," Boehner, R-Ohio, said. "I recognize the president has friends that are opposed to this, but if we're going to operate our government on sound science, it's time for the president to act." The House has acted several times over the past three years to pressure the president to approve the project, most recently in a bipartisan vote that won the support of 19 Democrats last May. The State Department report found that oil extracted from tar sands in Alberta creates about 17 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than traditional crude oil, but concedes that other alternatives to transport the resource to refineries, including trucks, trains or barges, would emit more greenhouse gases than the pipeline. http://abcn.ws/1fQnuiw
MCCONNELL SAYS IMMIGRATION REFORM 'IRRESOLVABLE' IN 2014. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted yesterday that immigration reform will not get done in 2014, saying the House and Senate are too far apart on how to approach legislation, notes ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ. "I think we have sort of an irresolvable conflict here," McConnell told reporters. "The Senate insists on comprehensive and the House says it won't go to conference with the Senate on comprehensive and wants to look at it step-by-step. " "I don't see how you get to an outcome this year with the two bodies in such a different place," he added. McConnell's prediction comes days after House Republican leadership introduced a draft of its immigration principles, which would provide undocumented immigrants a path to legalization, but not a path to citizenship. http://abcn.ws/1na0dJH
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
TARGET EXEC, AT SENATE HEARING, APOLOGIZES FOR DATA BREACH. Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, an executive for retail giant Target apologized for the data breach which compromised the credit and debit card data of 40 million Target customers, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ reports. "I want to say how deeply sorry we are for the impact this incident has had on our guests, your constituents," John Mulligan, executive vice president and chief financial officer for Target, said. "We know this breach has shaken their confidence in Target, and we are determined to work very hard to earn it back." Mulligan, who testified alongside Michael Kingston, senior vice president and chief information officer for The Neiman Marcus Group, said the store remains committed to enhancing security measures to ensure another breach does not occur. The company is undergoing an end-to-end review of its network, has increased fraud detection for its Target REDcard users and has reissued new Target credit or debit cards to any users that request one, Mulligan detailed. Target is offering one year of free credit monitoring and identity theft protection to any customer who has shopped at Target stores. http://abcn.ws/1c0LGL0
@JeffFlake: Sandra Fluke decides not to run for Congress. Dang, there goes the possibility for a Fluke-Flake bill…
@MattMackowiak: My column in @detroitnews: Detroit Should Bid for 2016 GOP Convention - http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140205/OPINION01/302050006/Detroit-should-bid-2016-GOP-Convention …
@LMartinezABC: FYI: US adheres to Montreux Convention of 1936 that allows warships from non-Black Sea states to stay there for no more than 21 days
@politicalwire: One Welcome Trend for Christie http://politicalwire.com/archives/2014/02/05/one_welcome_trend_for_christie.html#.UvJFufNQYY4.twitter …
?@ChadPergram: The Congressional Black Caucus meets this morning with Senior Presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett and OMB Director Sylvia Burwell.