The Note:

ByMark Halperin, Lisa Todorovich, and Marc Ambinder

— -- 10 days to the Inauguration

They might not be cream-colored ponies and or crisp apple strudels, but these are things for which we are very thankful:

Newt Gingrich toying with '08.

Rahm Emanuel running the DCCC in '06.

David Brooks breaking the code on the politics of Social Security.

The growing realization among the late-realizing that 2008 will be the first presidential cycle in more than half a century without an incumbent president or vice president running.

An inauguration, a SOTU, and a budget in bing-bang-boom succession.

Nicolle Devenish in charge of the happiness of David Sanger and Peter Baker.

A DNC chair race that is more wide open than the French doors of a Desperate Housewife. (Tim Roemer's official entry triggers an immediate Kate Michelman response.)

The Note: soon to be published in 3-D (but only viewable with special 3-D glasses available at participating McDonald's and Disney Stores).

Chairman Ken Mehlman's acceptance speech.

(If) Brad Pitt starts dating Janet Napolitano.

(If) Jennifer Aniston starts dating Chris Heinz.

Today's papers: a Dan Schnur cameo, a Dina Powell profile, a Dan Balz front pager, and Ron Brownstein defending the future.

As a great woman once said in a slightly different context: fasten your seatbelts; it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Today, The President will receive a tsunami briefing at 9:45 am ET from Secretary Colin Powell. Bush's visit to the USAID headquarters at 11:10 am ET will include remarks.

The Supreme Court meets for orders and arguments at 10:00 am ET as inaugural preparations continue throughout the capital.

Today. Gov. Matt Blunt of Missouri and Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana are inaugurated. President Clinton and UNICEF team up for a joint announcement on tsunami relief aid at the UNICEF house in New York at 9:30 am ET.

Tuesday, the grand conversation on Social Security begins/continues as the President participates in a discussion in Washington. Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa delivers his state of the state addresses, as does Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. Mayor Michael Bloomberg will deliver his state of the city address in the Bronx.

On Wednesday, the President visits a high school in Falls Church, VA. On Friday, he travels to Jacksonville and speaks at a community college. Pending a court ruling, Christine Gregoire will be inaugurated as Governor of Washington State. Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia delivers his state of the state address. On Thursday, Gov. Bill Owens of Colorado opines on the state of his state.

On Saturday, the Democratic National Committee chair candidates debate at the committee's Midwest regional caucus meetings in St. Louis.

Iraq:

To disengage? Or stay the course? David Sanger and Eric Schmitt offer a glimpse at some of the internal discussions underway. LINK

No explicit POTUS-level talking of cutting/running, but history will remember this piece well.

Stratfor.com published an interesting but highly pessimistic analysis over the weekend that suggests the U.S. should withdraw its troops to the periphery and allow national processes, i.e., a civil war, to take place. Stratfor claims that every single attempt by the U.S. to rebuild an institution of government or security has been thwarted by insurgents, and since there is no appetite to send an additional 100,000 troops to the country, the status quo will not lead to a safer, freer country. LINK

Bush agenda:

The Los Angeles Times' Ron Brownstein turns in a must-read cold cup of coffee laying out what current fiscal policy, with its focus on tax cuts and retaining the same level of Social Security benefits for current retirees will do to future generations -- namely, stick them with huge costs and essentially take away what are supposed to be a variety of safety nets while requiring higher taxes just to try to deal with interest on the national debt. LINK

"Something has to give. Democrats now piously denouncing any cuts in retirement programs eventually must recognize that resisting all benefit reductions in Social Security and (especially) Medicare will leave the government without the money to fund the other things they care about."

The Los Angeles Times has a great profile of Dina Powell, the administration's top head-hunter. LINK p>

Note that Powell is more willing to talk about her baby peanut than Bernie Kerik. (Insert your own joke here.)

Elisabeth Bumiller profiles Ms. Nicolle Devenish, antique heiress. LINK

The inauguration:

The Washington Post's Sari Horwitz and Spencer Hsu detail the array of high-tech security being employed for the Inauguration festivities, with a nerve center in Northern Virginia which will track everything from underground transportation to any possible disturbances near the swearing-in site and parade route. LINK

Social Security:

Roll Call's Emily Pierce reports that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has handed lead negotiation duties on Social Security legislation over to Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), who (despite what he says now) could end up being more likely to try his hand at reaching across the aisle rather than toe the Democratic Caucus line.

Some Mankiwian defense on indexing, per the Wall Street Journal:

"Mr. Mankiw, who is chairman of Mr. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, said the government didn't begin to index benefits to wage growth until the late 1970s. Even then, he said, prominent economists were arguing that the system was too generous because wages tend to grow faster than prices. Unless the current system is revamped, he said, the U.S. government by 2018 will be paying out more in benefits than it receives in revenue."

Those who think David Brooks phones in his New York Times columns should read this brilliant Rosentta Stone to the politics of Social Security reform from the weekend. He urges the President to "trust the legislative process," as enough folks in Congress have the same goal as the President does and only slightly fewer obstacles. LINK

Tax reform:

The Wall Street Journal's editorial board likes the tax reform team POTUS has assembled.

"The composition of Mr. Bush's panel suggests he doesn't want it to reinvent one of those wheels, or design the perfect tax system de novo. He wants a proposal that improves the current code but is also politically achievable. We'd like to see the entire tax code scrapped as much as anyone, but an incremental improvement that lowers tax rates in return for fewer special-interest loopholes would also be no mean feat."

Congress:

Juicy blind quotes in Bob Novak's column on the "arrogance" of House Republicans who ousted Rep. Chris Smith from his Veterans Affairs committee chairmanship. LINK

The Boston Globe's handsome and talented Rick Klein Notes looks at the Contract of America promises that seem to have fallen by the wayside after carrying Republicans to the majority on the Hill 10 years ago, with the majority seemingly more comfortable with budget deficits, leaving behind term-limit promises, and weakening the ethics enforcement process. LINK

Dems regroup:

The Washington Post's Dan Balz turns in a great must-read look at how Democrats are planning to come together and strategize in President Bush's second term, to oppose his agenda and create fissures within the Republican Party to gain traction on issues like Social Security, judicial nominations, and taxes. But in the end, even some Democrats concede that there may be more will than way. LINK

"Bush has opened the year with calls for bipartisanship, telling newly elected members of Congress last week that he hoped to work across party lines to solve the country's problems. Democrats, however, appear to have little interest in building bridges to the White House, saying they do not believe Bush is genuinely interested in cooperation or compromise with the opposition."

"Already there is grumbling among strategists that the party is falling behind the White House and congressional Republicans in developing a strategy. In the end, they acknowledge, Democrats may have more desire than capacity to defeat Bush's agenda, but as Bush's second term begins, the battle lines in Washington are being clearly drawn."

If Larry King were still doing his column, he would write: does anyone write a better closing paragraph than Dan Balz? Where can you buy a pumpkin in January?

USA Today's Jill Lawrence takes a look at Dems' general approach to doing battle, and Notes that when it comes down to the gut check, they're not comfortable with attacking their opponents' character. But if they want to be successful in the future, they need to find the stomach to go on the attack and define themselves, rather than letting Republicans do it for them, strategists say. "Some Democrats want killer instinct in their next nominee. They also pray for a candidate and campaign with the discipline to choose a line of attack and stick to it." LINK

DNC chair's race:

On "This Week" yesterday, we noticed that Tim Roemer is fond of "bus" metaphors, as in "we need more people on the bus."

He weathered a George Stephanopoulos grilling on his vote against the Clinton economic in 1993 and for the Bush economic plan in 2001, saying there were better proposals in the former case. He accused the blogosphere of "misinterpreting" his votes on issues like Social Security but he then accused the President of trying to "take one leg off the stool" of social insurance. "Shouldn't we be balancing the budget before he spends $2 trillion on a private system that gambles on the savings on our senior citizens."

He touted the endorsements of Nancy Pelosi and Anna Quindlen (the latter only on the need for a dialogue about abortion).

The AP Notes Kate Michelman's immediate response. LINK

An excerpt: "The election of such a staunchly anti-choice leader would signal that the Democratic Party is retreating from one of its core principles-support for the rights of women, most importantly, their right to privacy and Constitutional right to choose, a position the party has long-held-at precisely the moment when that right is most threatened. Roemer's views and record are closer to those of George Bush and the platform of the Republican Party than the majority of the Democratic Party."

Howard Dean plans to announce this week whether he's in (whatever in actually means in this race) or out.

One other item of Note from the regional meeting in Atlanta: the Fowler amendments (Don, not Donnie) were introduced to the membership. His proposals would rellocate about a dozen At-Large members each to the control of each DNC regional caucus, streamline and make more transparent the management of the DNC's finances, and allow members of the regional caucuses to appoint executive committee members.

Washington governor's race:

The Seattle Times' David Postman and Ralph Thomas report that the Department of Justice threatened to sue the state of Washington less than a month before the election because the state was moving too slowly in getting its military ballots to personnel overseas. Republican Dino Rossi has made the state's handling of military ballots key to his call for a re-vote. Rossi on Friday filed his challenge to the gubernatorial results. LINK

2006:

The New York Times' Mike McIntire attended a company forum and learned a bit about Mayor Bloomberg's relationship with the President, Noting Bloomberg's conviction that he won't get any assistance in his re-election race (nor does he seem to want any). LINK

Fred Dicker says Sen. Hillary Clinton and her husband, the former president, will campaign heartily for Bloomberg's foe. LINK

Rahm versus Tom, made official. LINK

2008:

Hell of way to publicize your new book, Mr. Speaker! LINK (His first smart move: to work with Washington GOP PR heavyweight Creative Response Concepts.)

"Republicans close to Gingrich said he privately has mused about potentially running for president in 2008 or beyond. These officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because Gingrich would not approve of public speculation, said odds are against him seeking and winning the White House." LINK

"Rudy Giuliani conducted scathing research on his political enemies before and after he became mayor — and the records have now turned up in the city's public archives," the New York Post reports today. LINK

Politics:

USA Today's Judy Keen and Jim Drinkard round up commentator Armstrong Williams' comments saying he regrets being paid for promoting President Bush's education plan. Williams has said he won't return the money, and/but some members of Congress are calling for an investigation of the practice, Noting that while it's happened before, prosecution is rare. LINK

Personnel:

How soon before someone gets ahold of the old Nicole Devenish airchecks from Redding and Chico? . . . Tax reformer/ex-Sen. John Breaux will be spending quite a bit of time in New York working for the Clinton Group, a hedge fund….the Democratic strategy firm of Mehlman Vogel this weel welcomes David Castagnetti, a long-time Hill hand who most recently liaised between Congress and Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign . . . New York's state senate Democrats have hired Howard Wolfson to help them strategize . . . be sure to read U.S. News and World Report's extended take-out on James Dobson and his aspirations. LINK

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