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First thoughts: Time to go on a diet

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Time to go on a diet: After spending its first month in office convincing the American public to feast on an all-you-can-eat stimulus plan, the Obama administration is now turning its sights to the diet and exercise that lies ahead. (One of your authors who just got back from a weekend vacation in Memphis knows this drill all too well.) Today, beginning at 1:00 pm ET, President Obama convenes his "Fiscal Responsibility Summit," where he will announce that he'll cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term. The White House says it will get there thanks, in part, to 1) winding down the Iraq war and 2) phasing out the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. (By the way, the tax-cut rollback is being announced without a lot of fanfare, and it's interesting how Republicans are just letting this be announced without pushing back very hard yet. Will the Bush tax cuts end up being an actual "vote" on the floor of Congress before the 2010 elections?) This deficit-reduction task, however, is even more ambitious given that Obama claims he won't use budget gimmicks that George W. Bush incorporated (like excluding war costs and counting on Alternative Minimum Tax revenue), and he's also planning to budget for a yearly natural disaster (approx. $20 billion) On Tuesday, the president will deliver his domestic-issue-heavy address to Congress. And on Thursday, he'll release his budget outline. 

Video: Obama pledges to cut the deficit in half by 2013.

*** Touching the third rail? Given today's fiscal responsibility summit, there's a lot of chatter about President Obama's intentions about Social Security. Per the New York Times, Obama "considered announcing the formation of a Social Security task force" at today's summit. "But several Democrats said that idea had been shelved, partly because of objections from House and Senate leaders." Obama does have a Nixon-to-China opportunity to shore up Social Security, especially since his party controls the White House and Congress. But on "Morning Joe" today, OMB director Peter Orszag made the point that the administration's immediate concern is with health care, not Social Security. Also, with everything else going on -- the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan -- liberals gladly point out that the system is solvent until 2041, which is a long ways away. Obama's instinct is to tackle Social Security, but he'll be flexible on timing. (Can anyone say "second term goal"?) By the way, this is a case where Speaker Pelosi is taking yet another arrow for the White House. House Republicans are jumping on the news that Pelosi vetoed this first change at focusing on Social Security reform. Don't think the White House isn't reminded that Pelosi is actually serving them well politically by taking these political hits on Obama's behalf.

*** A tale of two Republicans: The current divide among GOP governors over the stimulus was in full display yesterday on "Meet the Press." In dueling interviews, we saw one governor -- Bobby Jindal -- rooted mostly in a conservative ideology that plays very well in the South and with the base, but not in some other parts of the country and not with many swing voters. "I think we just have a fundamental disagreement here. I don't think the best way to do that is for the government to tax and borrow more money," Jindal said. "I think the best thing they could've done, for example, was to cut taxes on things like capital gains, the lower tax brackets, to get the private sector spending again." And we saw another governor -- Charlie Crist -- rooted in what he claims is pragmatism in a key presidential battleground state. "I'm a Florida Republican. And in the Florida way, we work together in a bipartisan fashion to do what's right for the people. That's really what it's all about," he said. This has become perhaps the key question for the Republican Party: In which direction does it want to go? The GOP in the short term will divide on this question: Is the government more of a problem or more of a problem-solver? 

Video: The debate on how to spend the stimulus money heats up, especially among Republican governors.

*** Jindal's wiggle room: Also on "Meet the Press," Jindal -- who will be delivering the GOP's response on Tuesday -- gave a qualified answer to questions about whether he'll run for president in 2012. "I want to run for re-election to be governor of Louisiana in 2011," he said. "I told the people of our state we have a once in a lifetime chance to change our state." More: "If the people of Louisiana will have me, I absolutely want to be governor for the next seven years. Now, that's up to the voters of Louisiana." And: "It's my intent to, to run for re-election." If Jindal does run for re-election, however, here's something important to consider: The GOP nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire will probably come just two months after that re-election contest in Louisiana in 2011. Is that enough time to campaign in those states? Do you get left out of most of the debates? Or do you try to run for re-election in Louisiana, with occasional stops in the early states? These are questions that other potential presidential candidates don't have to answer. If Jindal ever does run in 2012, he may have to create a draft movement that somehow allows him to get in the race late. It's possible that without a fight for an open seat for the presidency that the race on the GOP side could get started a tad later. Of course, Jindal wasn't the only GOP governor in DC on the Sunday talk shows who might have his eyes set on 2012. There's Crist, Mark Sanford, Mitch Daniels, and Tim Pawlenty. By the way, assess how each gave themselves wiggle room for going after Obama in the next three years.

Video: Jindal discusses the possibility of running for president in 2012 on "Meet the Press."

*** GOP senators gone wild? Over the weekend, GOP Sen. Jim Bunning, who's up for re-election in 2010, predicted that Ruth Bader Ginsberg would be dead in nine months. "Bad cancer. The kind you don't get better from," he said. "Even though she was operated on, usually nine months is the longest that anybody would live after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer." And then there was Sen. Richard Shelby doubting Obama's citizenship. "Well, his father was Kenyan and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven't seen any birth certificate," Shelby said. "You have to be born in America to be president." These things don't really help the GOP, do they? Shelby's office walked back the report about what he said, but doesn't the senator himself have to deal with this? As for Bunning, there were a few other comments he made regarding how the establishment Senate Republicans are treating him right now. He's feeling a bit paranoid vis-à-vis the leadership, specifically Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn. Is Bunning going to be this cycle's Bob Smith, circa 2002? 

*** The DCCC's stimulus campaign: Speaking of the stimulus fight, the DCCC says it's targeting (via automated calls, text messages, and emails) 12 House Republicans who voted against the stimulus, arguing that they opposed middle-class tax cuts. The 12 Republicans: Judy Biggert (IL), Ken Calvert (CA), Michael Castle (DE), Charlie Dent (PA), Jim Gerlach (PA), Mark Kirk (IL), Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO), Dan Lungren (CA), Thaddeus McCotter (MI), Adam Putman (FL), Dave Reichert (WA), and Pete Sessions (TX). A sample of one of the automated calls: "Did you know Congressman Thad McCotter voted against President Obama's economic recovery plan, endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce? McCotter's empty rhetoric can't hide that he voted to raise the AMT tax on 22 million middle class Americans and against the largest tax cut history."

*** Whither Citigroup? This will definitely be a story to watch today: Citigroup, the Wall Street Journal reports, "is in talks with federal officials that could result in the U.S. government substantially expanding its ownership of the struggling bank, according to people familiar with the situation. While the discussions could fall apart, the government could wind up holding as much as 40% of Citigroup's common stock. Bank executives hope the stake will be closer to 25%, these people said."

Video: CNBC's Melissa Lee reports that the government may raise its stake in embattled Citigroup.

Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 99 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 106 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 253 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 617 days

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