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First thoughts: Budget battle wages on

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Budget battle wages on: Despite their differences over the budget (middle-class tax cuts, health-care spending, additional money for Wall Street's rescue), Obama's meeting yesterday with Senate Democrats was a big love fest. And here's what happened: They punted all the tough decisions for down the road -- which is what White House wants. Team Obama wants the tough debates getting less attention. Meanwhile, it looks like House Republicans have accepted the president's dare. "There's an interesting reason why some of these [GOP critics] haven't put out their own budget," the president said at Tuesday's press conference. "I mean, we haven't seen an alternative budget out of them."

Video: President Barack Obama tried to rally Democrats on his massive $3.6 trillion budget on Capitol Hill Wednesday. NBC's Savannah Guthrie reports.

And now, House GOPers will unveil their own budget at 11:45 am ET today. It will be interesting to see if the GOP budget contains gimmicks (not counting Iraq war costs, including Alternative Minimum Tax revenues) that mask the true size of the deficit. And it will be especially interesting to see if Senate Republicans embrace the House GOP alternative. Senate Republicans have suggested they want nothing to do with an alternative. 

*** We pruned the hedge (funds) of many small villages: After what most consider a rough start in his first two months on the job, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has been taking on a more and more visible role this week. On Monday, he unveiled the administration's toxic-assets plan (to a favorable reception on Wall Street).

On Tuesday, he and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke testified before Capitol Hill on AIG oversight. And today, Geithner's back on the Hill -- this time unveiling the Obama administration's plan to subject hedge funds and other exotic financial instruments (like derivatives) to more government oversight. Per CNBC's Mary Thompson, senior administration officials say the plan addresses systemic risk; regulatory gaps and holes within the system; consumer and investor protection; and international cooperation among regulators. The focus of today's testimony, however, will be on systemic risk, with details about the three other parts of the plan to be unveiled over the next two to three weeks.

*** Now that would be some meeting: The Geithner reforms, in fact, might be the most important long-term issue the administration is dealing with today. It was the deregulation decisions of the 1980s-90s that played a role in today's crisis. Some day, the key economic players of the '80s and '90s will get in one room and start hashing out their decisions. Can't we get Phil Gramm, Jim Johnson, Alan Greenspan, Bob Rubin, Larry Summers, Chris Cox, Hank Greenberg, Tom Bliley, etc.? We're leaving a number of people out, but you get the point. How do we know where were going if we don't know how we got here? One thing we've learned: There wasn't one reason; there were a slew of them. Of course, to get all of these folks in one room, someone would need to have subpoena authority and hold hearings. Hmmm, maybe a special committee or commission?

*** Town Hall 2.0: President Obama has hit the road to sell his economic agenda. He's appeared on Leno and "60 Minutes." And now the president hits … the Internet. At 11:30 am ET, he answers questions in an online town hall. So far, per the White House, 76,000 people have submitted almost 84,000 questions for the president.

*** Hillary dips her toes back into politics? Yesterday, Planned Parenthood announced that it would be honoring Secretary of State Clinton at a gala on Friday in Houston. While it's hardly surprising that she supports Planned Parenthood and abortion rights, this seems to be a bit more political than your usual State Department event, no? And speaking of politics, check out Hillary's comments about the assault weapons ban. She basically, well, endorsed it. "I think these assault weapons, these military style weapons don't belong on anyone's street," she told NBC's Andrea Mitchell. That isn't something that rural Democrats want to hear... And we're guessing something the president would not be caught saying in public, or would he? What say you, Mr. LaPierre?

*** You are a radio star…: Sticking with politics, Politico's Martin reports that Vice President Biden has cut a radio ad for Scott Murphy (D) in the NY-20 special congressional race that takes place on Tuesday. This ad comes after President Obama released an email to supporters in Upstate New York asking them to back the Democratic candidate. "While Obama is unlikely to appear in New York on Murphy's behalf," Politico writes, "Democrats familiar with strategy considerations say the national committee is mulling over spending significantly more money on the race. Biden's radio ad is a major first step, though it's uncertain whether he'll trek up to the district, and first lady Michelle Obama may play a role."

*** Steele in the news: And just when we thought we hadn't heard from Michael Steele in a while, the RNC chairman gave an interview yesterday to CNN, in which he said he might be open to running for president someday -- if that's "where God wants me to be." Steele: "God has a way of revealing stuff to you, and making it real for you, through others. And if that's part of the plan, it'll be the plan… [If I run] it'll be because that's where God wants me to be at that time." Per the Huffington Post, Steele also told CNN that his dust-up with (and later apology to) Rush Limbaugh was planned and "strategic." Said Steele: "So if I do something, there's a reason for it... It may look like a mistake, a gaffe. There is a rationale, there is a logic behind it." More: "It helps me understand my position on the chess board. It helps me understand, where, you know, the enemy camp is and where those who are inside the tent are… It's all strategic." OK…

Countdown to NY-20 special: 5 days
Countdown to Obama's 100th day: 34 days 
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 68 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 75 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 222 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 586 days

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