By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
ABC's RICK KLEIN: So Republicans decide to move a debt-ceiling increase with no strings attached - realizing that they've run out of yarn. Just then, Sen. Ted Cruz moves in to weave something into … what, exactly? The extraordinary scene that played out on the Senate floor, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rounding up grown-ups to join him one by one to save a bill he wanted to vote against, speaks to the weird dynamics of the Senate of 2014. Forget Ds vs. Rs - this is old guard vs. new guard, legislators vs. take-a-stand-ers, and sometimes, Ted Cruz vs. the world. If we stipulate that Cruz was standing up for principle, surely he knew where this was headed. And if he was comfortable with the show that developed on the Senate floor, well, that's why his colleagues suspect that Cruz is far more interested in boosting Cruz than the broader interests of the GOP.
ABC's JEFF ZELENY: There's no question Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn swallowed hard and took a politically tough vote to avert a filibuster on the debt ceiling increase, but it was so much better than the alternative. If the deal had somehow fallen apart, Democrats would have gotten just what they've been craving: A chance to paint Republicans as unreasonable obstructionists with little interest in governing. It's hard to imagine that Tea Party forces woke up today with any more energy to try and take out McConnell, Cornyn and other establishment Republicans. For the most hard-core conservative and libertarian believers, their long legislative records have already made them undesirable. But for a larger share of general election voters, particularly in McConnell's case, his vote on the Senate floor yesterday makes him look like a leader - like him or not.
KOCH BROTHERS-FUNDED AD ATTACKING MARY LANDRIEU USES PAID ACTORS. A new political attack ad from the Koch brothers-funded group Americans for Prosperity calls on Louisianans to tell Sen. Mary Landrieu that Obamacare is hurting their families. The ad shows a number of people, who appear to be Louisianans, opening their mail to find a letter stating that their health care policy has been cancelled because of the Affordable Care Act. "Due to the Affordable Care Act, your monthly premium has increased," a voice-over says in the ad as a man in a rural neighborhood opens a cancellation letter and looks at his young daughter standing next to him. "No longer covered, due to the Affordable Care Act." But the people in the emotion-evoking ad are not Louisianans at all; they are paid actors, reports ABC's JORDYN PHELPS. "Hiring professional actors to impersonate Louisiana families is low even for the billionaire Koch brothers," Friends of Mary Landrieu Campaign Manager Adam Sullivan told ABC News. "If the Koch brothers had even a shred of credibility before launching their latest misleading ad campaign against Sen. Landrieu, they've surely lost it now." http://abcn.ws/1fZNPt2
-AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY IS NOT BACKING DOWN from the ad, with spokesman Levi Russell telling ABC News that it's no secret that the people in the ad are actors. "I think the viewing public is savvy enough to distinguish between someone giving a personal story and something that is emblematic," Russell said when reached on the phone. "And we make it very clear when someone is giving a personal testimonial."
WHITE HOUSE SAYS OBAMA HAS THE RIGHT POLICY ON SYRIA, CITES 'MODEST' PROGRESS. Despite horrific violence in Syria, the administration has the right approach to that civil war, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters yesterday, ABC's CHRIS GOOD reports. The administration has brought Syria's regime and opposition together for talks in Geneva that have been marred by animosity and have failed to produce a meaningful agreement on ceasefires or any tangible access for aid to war-torn cities. "Can I say that the Syrian civil war has ended? No. Can I say that the two sides have met for the first time? Yes. That's modest progress, to be sure, with an emphasis on 'modest,'" Carney said, when asked if the U.S. has the "right policy" on Syria. Carney noted that the U.S. is the largest supplier of humanitarian aid to Syria. In a nationally televised address in September, President Obama announced his intention to intervene in Syria militarily, with airstrikes. http://abcn.ws/1jz6otL
CONGRESS RESTORES BENEFITS FOR MILITARY RETIREES. After extending the nation's borrowing authority for the next year, the Senate voted Wednesday to restore the cost of living adjustment for military retirees' benefits after it was cut as part of the Murray-Ryan budget deal in December, notes ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ. The Senate voted 95 to 3 to restore the benefits one day after the bill cleared the House. It now heads to President Obama for his signature. In December, the budget deal crafted by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., cut the cost of living adjustment for military pensions to one percent below the rate of inflation for veterans younger than age 62 starting in 2015. The bill will restore the COLA cuts for all current retirees and anyone who enlisted before Jan. 1. The bill will pay to restore the COLA benefits by extending Medicare cuts that went into place during the so-called "sequester" last year. http://abcn.ws/1etdnMv
OBAMACARE ENROLLMENTS NEARLY HALFWAY TO GOAL. The latest enrollment numbers for the federal health insurance marketplace are out and the results are mixed, notes ABC's MATTHEW LAROTONDA. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that 3.3 million have found coverage through either the federal or state exchanges by Feb. 1, with 1.1 million signing up in January alone, a 53 percent increase. It's slightly better than the 1 million initially projected for the month. It also comes off December's dramatic surge of 1.8 million newly enrolled. The boom was partially the result of fixes to the marketplace's disastrous October launch and the resulting backlog of users. The website created under the Affordable Care Act still has a way to go to reach the government's initial projection of 7 million by the end of March. http://abcn.ws/MdK6Q1
@KSoltisAnderson: Before Obama Girl, there was Putin Girl. My @thedailybeast column on Putin's efforts look like Russia's Superman: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/02/13/the-making-of-brand-putin.html …
@jamiedupree: Had to get the yardstick out for the latest DC snow photo http://twitpic.com/dvds4v
@GingerGibson: Just saw a Murkowski staffer heading into work. Maybe the only office in DC open. Guess that's what happens when you work for an Alaskan.
?@capitalweather: By the way, unofficial most popular name for this storm (coming up the most) is #Snowchi - should we call it that?