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First thoughts: That's one big budget

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** That's one big budget: This morning, President Obama delivers remarks on his FY 2010 budget, which comes to -- cue Dr. Evil, placing his pinky finger to his lips -- FOUR trillion dollars, up from $3.1 trillion this year. It projects a $1.75 trillion deficit, representing 12.3% of GDP, which is the highest level since World War II. The other headlines here: The budget sets aside $634 billion over the next 10 years to expand health care (paid for by Medicare savings, cuts for wealthy Medicare recipients, and the reduction of tax breaks on those earning more than $250,000); it proposes $750 billion for bank bailouts on top of the $700 billion it has already spent (but this amount shows up as $250 billion in the budget, because the administration believes it will eventually get at least $500 billion back for its investments); and it sets aside $75 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan through this fall. There are also budget cuts here, including farm subsidies for high-income farmers, the last remaining cotton subsidy, and a few education pet projects. This budget is very tough on those who earn more than $250,000 a year. Not only are they losing out on the Bush tax cuts in the next couple of years, but they also will see their tax bill go above that to pay for this new health care bill. Ironically, many people hurt by this are folks who live in the bluest of cities, including New York, DC, Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago.

Video: TODAY's Matt Lauer talks to CNBC's Dylan Ratigan and Rick Santelli about President Obama's budget plan.

*** Is honesty the best policy? This, of course, is A LOT of money. But here's the thing: The price tag is much higher because the White House removes several past budget gimmicks -- like omitting the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan, and assuming AMT taxes that later will later be eliminated. What's more, the administration's budget plans for a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina. In short, it believes this is honest budgeting and reflects a worst-case scenario. This is going to be run of those tricky spin days for the White House. They definitely deserve credit for the honest budgeting, but they're also going to have to withstand GOP and tabloid hits for increasing the deficit, bailing out more banks, and growing the annual budget by nearly 30%. Most of this, however, is because of the Obama administration's decision to be more honest about numbers than the Bush budget team was. So how many headlines in the next few days will be about tax hikes to pay for health care, and how many will be about "honest budgeting"? We think we know the answer. (Sorry, Team Obama.)

*** Hey buddy, slow down: Don't miss Bill Kristol's advice to congressional Republicans regarding the Obama agenda. Kristol did his best to slow down HillaryCare in '93-94, and he's offering similar advice -- slow it down. That's the game between the White House and congressional GOPers. They know that the longer it takes to debate health care, energy or any proposal, the more likely the White House will lose. The quicker they can get the bill written and passed, the better chance they have. It also explains why the White House wants to "flood the zone" with policy initiatives. Don't allow ONE bill to become THE debate topic. Divide the opposition by giving them 10 new policy proposals. 
 
*** At a cattle call, you need … more cowbell: In his upcoming New York Times magazine cover story on Newt Gingrich, political writer Matt Bai divides Republicans searching for a way back to power into two groups: "retrenchers" (those who believe that the GOP strayed from their conservative principles and must become more conservative) and "broadeners" (those who are perhaps less dogmatic and believe that the GOP must expand beyond its base). Well, beginning today and lasting through Saturday, the retrenchers hold a conference in DC that essentially serves as the first cattle call for 2012. (Yes, we know that election is still 1,349 days away.) Speaking at the three-day Conservative Political Action Conference will be Mike Huckabee (today at 1:30 pm ET), Mitt Romney (Friday), Mark Sanford (Friday), and Tim Pawlenty (Saturday). Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin aren't attending. After Jindal's poorly received performance on Tuesday night, and also with Palin's rocky ride since last fall, Politico's Ben Smith declares that Romney -- who was unable to win in Iowa and New Hampshire in 2008, despite spending so much time and money in both states -- the early 2012 front-runner for the GOP. Why? "[H]e has a crucial advantage over almost all the other Republican candidates who are mentioned: He's not in office, and doesn't have to spend the next two years (at least) raising taxes, cutting services, and/or borrowing huge sums. He's free to articulate a clear voice of opposition, and to position himself to play the role of the turnaround specialist if he can make the case that Obama hasn't delivered."

*** CPAC straw poll: As it has in past years, CPAC will conduct a presidential-preference straw poll, and it will be unveiled at 4:30 pm on Saturday (right before Rush Limbaugh delivers the conference's concluding remarks). But an important note of caution: The most recent CPAC straw poll winners were Romney (2008 and 2007) and George Allen (2006). Neither, of course, went on to win the GOP presidential nomination. 

*** More CPAC: Other notable speakers at CPAC today include former UN Ambassador John Bolton (10:45 am); Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher (11:45 am); Sen. Bob Corker (2:30 pm); and Michele Bachmann, Rep. Roy Blunt, Rep. John Shadegg, and RNC chair Michael Steele (all at an evening event beginning at 7:30 pm). Also check out these forum topics at CPAC: "Al Franken and ACORN: How Liberals Are Destroying the American Election System" (today at 2:30 pm); "Bailing Out Big Business: Are We All Socialists Now?" (Friday); "Will Congress Take Your Guns" (Friday); "Will Obama's Tax Policy Kill Entrepreneurship" (Friday); "Media in the Obama Era: Is Journalism Dead?" (Saturday); and "The True Cost of Global Warming Hysteria" (Saturday).
 
*** Michelle Obama watch: Beginning at 11:15 am ET today, the First Lady visits with workers at the Environmental Protection Agency to thank them for their public service.
 
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 96 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 103 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 250 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 614 days

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