Discuss as:

First thoughts: Back on the road

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Back on the road: With the Senate voting on the Nelson-Collins stimulus compromise at 5:30 pm ET today (it requires 60 votes to pass) and with the final Senate vote on the stimulus coming around noon tomorrow, President Obama returns to the campaign trail to help sell his plan. At 12:05 pm, he holds a town hall in Elkhart, Ind., where the unemployment rate has jumped up to 15.3%. After that, he travels back to the White House for his first primetime news conference as president, which will take place at 8:00 pm. And then tomorrow, he goes back on the road for another town hall, this one in Fort Myers, FL. Why is Obama hitting the trail? The New York Times has this nugget: "A collection of private and public polls, as well as focus groups convened by Democratic strategists, showed that the public's support for the economic recovery package was eroding as Republicans intensified their criticism of the plan. So advisers to the president told him he had no choice but to fire up Air Force One and return to a mode of campaigning that helped him win the presidency." By the way, per NBC's Athena Jones, here are the current and ex-lawmakers traveling with Obama to Indiana: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (R), Sen. Evan Bayh (D), Rep. Joe Donnelly (D), Rep. Baron Hill (D), Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D), Rep. Fred Upton (R), Rep. Andre Carson (D), former Rep. Tim Roemer (D), and former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D). The big omission: GOP Sen. Dick Lugar.  

***

Where's the eye of the tiger? As Obama hits the road today, political observers -- including some Democrats -- are asking themselves how the Obama White House and the Democratic committees allowed themselves to get worked over by the Republicans, much like Rocky got clobbered by Mr. T's Clubber Lang in their first fight after Rocky had become the champ. For instance, how did a Republican Party that had turned a budget surplus into a projected trillion-dollar deficit get away with becoming paragons of fiscal responsibility? "I can't believe we got lectured by Republicans on fiscal policy," one Democratic strategist told First Read. How did the party, when the RNC was blasting out emails about Hilda Solis' husband's tax problems, not aggressively fire back that the wife of the GOP presidential nominee also failed to pay back taxes? And why didn't the party pounce on NRCC chairman Pete Sessions comparing the Republican Party's insurgency to the Taliban's? "I don't get it," griped another Democrat. Time for Apollo Creed to help the champ get his mojo back?

Video: Obama takes his policies to the public, in his first prime-time news conference. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

*** Hyperbole watch: While the Republicans certainly have bruised Obama during this stimulus debate, much of their rhetoric seems pretty overheated, no? "We're going down a road to disaster," said Sen. Richard C. Shelby. Then there's this line, courtesy of the Washington Post, from RNC chairman Michael Steele: "You and I know that in the history of mankind and womankind, government -- federal, state or local -- has never created one job. It's destroyed a lot of them." Huh? And John McCain called the stimulus "generational theft." Republicans might be concerned that the stimulus' price tag is too high, but has some of their rhetoric gone a bit too far? Most mainstream economists, as well as anyone who took Macroeconomics 101 in college, doesn't view demand-side spending -- especially with the specter of deflation looming -- as a "disaster" or "generational theft." Also, just askin': With Obama's aggressive courtship of Republicans (meeting with them in private, having them over to the White House for cocktails, appointing three of them to his cabinet), did anyone think that just three Republicans (Collins, Snowe, Specter) out of 219 GOP senators and congressman would so far support the stimulus? 

*** Another short honeymoon? Speaking of Michael Steele, the new RNC chairman might end up having a short honeymoon. Over the weekend, the Washington Post first reported that Steele's 2006 Senate campaign gave his sister's company more than $37,000, months after that company became defunct. "Campaign records indicate that $37,262 paid to Brown Sugar Unlimited covered catering and Web services. But it came 11 months after [Steele's sister] … had legally dissolved the company… On Friday, a spokesman for Steele provided a receipt for catering costs totaling almost $15,000 for two events, about half the total. The spokesman said they were searching for receipts to document the rest." 

*** TARP II, delayed a day: Trying to keep today's focus on the stimulus, the Treasury Department announced yesterday that it would delay the release of the administration's financial stabilization plan until Tuesday. Given this delay, expect a lot more leaks today about what Geithner might unveil tomorrow. One piece of good news for those in Congress: It appears that Obama and Geithner will NOT be immediately asking for more money; in fact, private money will play more of a role than was rumored a few weeks ago. "Administration officials said the plan … was likely to depend in part on the willingness of private investors other than banks -- like hedge funds, private equity funds and perhaps even insurance companies -- to buy the contaminating assets that wiped out the capital of many banks," the Times writes. 

Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 113 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 120 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 267 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 631 days

Click here to sign up for First Read emails. 
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.