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Morning Bulletin – Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A roundup of news, schedules, and key stories from CBS News Political Director Steve Chaggaris:

(AP Photo)
Following a drama-free press conference last night where President Obama took the opportunity to repeat (and repeat) his call for health care reform, education reform and an energy plan in the next budget as necessary catalysts to help fix the economy, the president heads to Capitol Hill at 1pm ET to meet with Senate Democrats – some of whom have warned that his budget will look nothing like what he's proposed.

"Alarmed by rising deficit predictions, Congressional Democrats prepared Tuesday to pare spending in President Obama's budget and limit some middle-class tax cuts even as Republicans stepped up their criticism of the plan as irresponsible," report the New York Times' David M. Herszenhorn and Carl Hulse. "The draft unveiled Tuesday by Senate Democrats reflected significant changes to Mr. Obama's proposal. It drops his appeal to set aside money for future bank bailouts, provides only a temporary fix for a mandatory income tax increasingly hitting the middle class and leaves open-ended the handling of major health care and energy initiatives. Administration officials sought to play down any differences, saying they were satisfied with the emerging plans. Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota and chairman of the Budget Committee, said the base proposal he would present saved $608 billion over five years compared with the president's plan."

"The moves come as Republicans are pounding Obama for proposing a rapid increase in government spending and taxpayers are voicing anxiety and outrage about the gargantuan sums that Washington is already pouring into the economy and banking system," adds the Washington Post's Lori Montgomery. "In the Senate, the result is a leaner package that would drive the annual deficit to $1.2 trillion next year, compared with $1.4 trillion under Obama's policies. By 2014, the deficit would plummet to just more than $500 billion under the Senate's plan, requiring the nation to borrow $3.8 trillion over the next five years, compared with about $4.4 trillion under Obama's proposal. To meet those goals, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said he would leave out new spending for Obama's proposed expansion of health care coverage, a program likely to cost in excess of $1 trillion over the next 10 years, as well as the president's proposal to make permanent an $800 tax credit for working families."

Meantime, "The White House said it would launch a search for new tax revenues, as Congressional leaders moved to scale back proposed spending increases and tax cuts in President Barack Obama's ambitious budget," report the Wall Street Journal's John D. McKinnon, Greg Hitt and Naftali Bendavid. "The Obama administration plans to create a task force to consider elimination of corporate loopholes and subsidies, tougher enforcement against tax avoidance, and tax simplification, White House Budget Director Peter Orszag said late Tuesday."

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The group to watch as Congress and the President work through the budget process: Senate Democratic centrists. "President Barack Obama and Democratic congressional leaders always knew they would face Republican opposition to their agenda on Capitol Hill. Now they face another hurdle: a newly formed coalition of 16 moderate Democratic senators led by Indiana's Evan Bayh," report the Wall Street Journal's Naftali Bendavid and Greg Hitt. "Mr. Bayh and his group are well positioned to force changes in the president's budget and on other contentious issues such as health care and climate change. Their stated goal is to rein in deficits and to protect business interests. Without their votes, Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders don't have a majority in the Senate, let alone the 60 votes needed to break Republican filibusters. That gives Mr. Bayh and his group an opportunity to assert themselves. ... The group's biggest immediate impact may be on the president's budget, which is now working its way through Capitol Hill. The group has met privately with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D., N.D.), who plans to pare back Mr. Obama's spending blueprint. The moderates will press for more cuts when the full House and Senate consider the budget next week."

Three of the centrists, Sens. Bayh, D-Ind.; Tom Carper, D-Del.; and Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., wrote an op-ed in today's Washington Post to explain why they're doing what they're doing: "We understand the Beltway impulse to emphasize conflict and the blogosphere's concern that Democrats stick together. But as the group's founders, we feel compelled to set the record straight. We formed our working group because we recognize both the difficulty and the urgency of accomplishing a huge and ambitious agenda. ... In addition, we believe that President Obama is correct when he says that we cannot afford to wait any longer to fix health care and transition to a clean-energy economy. These are titanic and complicated tasks, and we believe that many worthwhile policy solutions can be found in the practical center -- ideas that also have the benefit of appealing to vast segments of the American electorate. Unfortunately, the Republican leadership has basically decided to stay on the sidelines to let the Democrats carry the load of reform alone. As moderate leaders, it is not our intent to water down the president's agenda. We intend to strengthen and sustain it. Moderation is not a mathematical process of finding the center for its own sake. Practical solutions are practical because they offer our best chance to make a difference in people's lives today without forcing our children to pick up the tab tomorrow."

(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
PRESIDENT'S PRESS CONFERENCE ROUNDUP: "For just under an hour on Tuesday night, Americans saw not the fiery and inspirational speaker who riveted the nation in his address to Congress last month, or the conversational president who warmly engaged Americans in talks across the country, or even the jaunty and jokey president who turned up on Jay Leno. Instead, in his second prime-time news conference from the White House, it was Barack Obama the lecturer, a familiar character from early in the campaign. Placid and unsmiling, he was the professor in chief, offering familiar arguments in long paragraphs — often introduced with the phrase, 'as I said before' — sounding like the teacher speaking in the stillness of a classroom where students are restlessly waiting for the ring of the bell," write the New York Times' Peter Baker and Adam Nagourney. "The session in the East Room came at a volatile moment for the new president as he sought to quell Democratic misgivings about his ambitious economic agenda and deflect strong Republican opposition. Speaking past the reporters in the room to the tens of millions of viewers tuning in at home, he tried to reassure the nation that he could solve the crisis that has gripped the economy for more than a year. ... At a time of anger and anxiety in the country, Mr. Obama showed little emotion. He rarely cracked a joke or raised his voice. Even when he declared himself upset over the $165 million in bonuses paid this month by the American International Group despite its taxpayer bailout, his voice sounded calm and unbothered. .. To a certain extent, Mr. Obama's demeanor could have been calculated — an effort, aides said, to lower the temperature after a supercharged week and nudge the country toward what Mr. Obama considers the more pressing issues of fixing the banking system and reviving the economy."

"Only once did Obama show a sign of impatience himself, snapping at a reporter who asked why he and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner had not been quicker to express anger over the bonuses awarded to employees of AIG," the Editor-in-chief Daniel Farber adds, "During his prime-time news conference President Obama said, 'That whole philosophy of persistence, by the way, is one that I'm going to be emphasizing again and again in the months and years to come as long as I'm in this office. I'm a big believer in persistence.' He amply demonstrated his 'philosophy of persistence' in responding to many of the 13 questions from the pre-selected group of White House reporters with the refrain that reforming health care, energy policy and education, and adopting his $3.6 trillion budget, will save America from economic disaster. ... He seems to believe that his persistence, relentlessness and intellectual grasp of complex issues will save the day. The danger is that persistence can turn into stubbornness, and we've seen that act before. Changing the way Washington works — another of Obama's almost robotic refrains — and surviving the economic tsunami will require a combination of persistence and pragmatism. If Obama can get behind the $410 billion spending bill with its earmarks, he should be able to stomach the 'ugly' compromises necessary to get his ambitious budget through Congress."

Politico's John F. Harris and Jonathan Martin run down "What Obama said and what he meant"

Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, "Media Harder On President This Time"

MEXICO: Today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to Mexico City to meet with leaders there about the drug violence in that country and as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testifies to a Senate committee about her department's plan to deal with violence just across the U.S.-Mexico border. Amidst all of this, the New York Times Marc Lacey and Ginger Thompson point out that the "Next Foreign Crisis Could Be Next Door": "Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives in Mexico on Wednesday for what will be the first in a parade of visits by top administration officials, including President Obama himself next month, to try to head off a major foreign policy crisis close to home. They will find a country mired in a deepening slump, miffed by signs of protectionism in its largest trading partner, and torn apart by a drug war for which many in Mexico blame customers in the United States. There is plenty of angst on the other side as well. Many American communities are worried about drug violence spilling over the border, and about Mexican immigrants taking scarce jobs. That is forcing the Obama administration, already managing two wars and a deep recession, to fashion a new Mexico policy earlier than it might have wished."

Associated Press' Matthew Lee, "Narco wars loom over Clinton agenda in Mexico"

LA Times' Josh Meyer, "White House unveils plan to fight border drug cartels"

ALSO: Tonight, Mr. Obama will headline the first fundraisers of his presidency as he raises money for the Democratic National Committee at two Washington events. As a Republican birdie points out, it comes a month earlier than President Bush's first fundraiser in 2001 (4/25/2001 in Little Rock, Ark.). Read into that what you wish, but there's no question that the DNC needs the dough. "The Democratic National Committee raised $3.2 million in February, a strikingly low take for a financial juggernaut led by President Barack Obama and his legions of grass-roots supporters who helped him shatter campaign fundraising records," the Associated Press' Liz Sidoti pointed out last week. "The party ... says it has not aggressively used Obama's 13-million strong e-mail list to raise money. Rather, the list has been tapped primarily for organizational purposes. ... At the same time, [Gov. Tim] Kaine [D-Va.] is essentially a part-time party chairman until his term as governor ends later this year."

In addition, the president meets with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at 10:45am ET in advance of Mr. Obama's European trip next week. At 2pm, President Obama will make remarks at the National Medal of Honor Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

At 5pm, Archbishop Demetrios, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church of America joins President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden for a celebration of Greek Independence Day in the East Room of the White House. Today is the 188th anniversary of the start of the 8-year-long Greek Revolution, which began on March 25, 1821 and resulted in Greece's independence from four centuries of Ottoman rule. In the spirit of the national holiday in Greece: "Ζήτω η Ελλάς" (Long live Greece).

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is in New York City this morning to speak to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Tomorrow, Mr. Obama will hold what they're billing as an online town meeting; he'll take questions from folks over the Internet.

Associated Press' Jim Kuhnhenn, "Geithner, Bernanke want executive pay standards"

Wall Street Journal's Sudeep Reddy, "Tapping AIG Furor, Regulators Seek Power to Seize Nonbanks"

A former AIG employee – and bonus recipient – has his resignation letter printed in today's NY Times:

Wall Street Journal's Deborah Solomon, "Treasury's Top Candidate to Run TARP Drops Out"

Associated Press' Robert Burns, "Baghdad envoy nominee faces first Senate hurdle"

Time Magazine's Bobby Ghosh looks at the potential locations for Mr. Obama's planned foreign policy speech from a Muslim nation: "When President Obama visits Turkey early next month, some observers are expecting he will use the occasion to deliver on his promise to deliver a major foreign policy speech from a Muslim nation in his first 100 days. But indications are that he will not give the speech in Turkey. The White House and State Department have not yet decided on the location for the speech, which is meant to undo some of the damage done to America's image in the Muslim world during the George W. Bush Administration."

Washington Post's Carrie Johnson, "Handling Of 'State Secrets' At Issue"

Chicago Tribune's John McCormick, "Abortion debate dogs president's plan to deliver commencement address"

NY Times' Reed Abelson, "A Health Plan for All and the Concerns It Raises"

Politico's Manu Raju, "Coleman won't rule out federal appeal"

Washington Post's Robert Barnes, "Justices May Soften Campaign Ad Law"

NY Times' Raymond Hernandez and Ross Goldberg, "New York Democrats Say Power Vacuum Threatens Party Candidates"

NY-20 Special Election (3/31/09): Politico's John Bresnahan, "Obama DNC AWOL in New York race"

2010 PA Senate: A Quinnipiac University poll out this morning shows Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., trailing badly to former Rep. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., in a primary matchup. "Apparently paying a political price for his support of President Barack Obama's Stimulus Plan, longtime Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter trails former Congressman Pat Toomey 41 - 27 percent in a Republican primary for the 2010 Senate race, with 28 percent undecided, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today."

2010 PA Senate: The Hill's Kevin Bogardus and Aaron Blake, "Specter deals heavy blow to card-check"

2012 Presidential: Former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., writes an op-ed in the Washington Times arguing against card-check.

2012 Presidential: Associated Press' Ben Evans, "La. Gov. Jindal urges GOP to stand up to Obama": "'We are now in the position of being the loyal opposition,' Jindal said at a Republican congressional fundraising dinner that only by coincidence fell on the same night as Obama's news conference. 'The right question to ask is not if we want the president to fail or succeed, but whether we want America to succeed.' Saying 'the time for talking about the past is over,' Jindal said Republicans have begun to find their voice after back-to-back elections losses — motivated by what he called historic Democratic spending excess."

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