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First thoughts: The blame game

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** The blame game: Before jetting off to Oslo to pick up his Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama today meets at the White House with congressional leaders from both parties to discuss jobs and the economy at 10:50 am ET. After that, he delivers a statement to the press. Today's bipartisan meeting is yet another reminder how the two political parties have failed to join hands to combat the nation's worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Republicans have pounced on any bad economic news -- and sometimes even relatively good news like last month's jobs numbers -- to criticize the White House. Republicans also have simultaneously blasted the Obama administration for 1) doing little to stimulate job growth or 2) wanting to spend billions to do so. For their part, Obama and the Democrats have blamed Republicans for causing the economic mess and doing little to clean it up. "We undertook a series of difficult steps [to help stabilize the economy]," Obama said in his speech yesterday. "And we were forced to take those steps largely without the help of an opposition party which, unfortunately, after having presided over the decision-making that led to the crisis, decided to hand it over to others to solve."

*** Looking back to January/February: As was reported at the time, White House officials were stunned that only three Republicans -- and one of them is now a Democrat -- voted for the stimulus. And remember that it contained plenty of GOP goodies like tax cuts and an AMT fix. It's worth wondering: Had Democrats and Republicans jumped off the cliff together on that economic stimulus back in January/February would Americans' faith in Congress and their elected officials be higher? Instead, the fight over the stimulus and its aftermath has set up the game for 2010 and 2012 where Democrats are rooting for future economic success and Republicans have bet the house against it.

*** And remembering February 2008: Here's another thing to consider given the current jobs debate: Back in February 2008, Bush's last year as president, Congress overwhelmingly passed a $152 billion stimulus bill (in the form of tax rebates -- much of which never made it into the economy but into savings accounts and paying off debt). Voting for the measure was nearly every Republican who is attending today's White House meeting: Mitch McConnell, Chuck Grassley, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mike Pence, and Dave Camp. The only two Republicans attending today's meeting who voted against that stimulus: Judd Gregg and Mike Enzi. Interesting, huh? 

*** By the numbers: Here's another thing to consider: If the monthly job losses continue at their current trajectory (i.e., the jobs situation getting better, not worse), then 3.3 million-plus jobs will have been lost during Obama's first full 12 months as president (Feb. 2009 to Jan. 2010). By comparison, during Bush's last full 12 months (Jan. 2008 to Dec. 2008), 3.1 million jobs were lost. Of course, Obama still has two months to go (December and January), so we won't know yet what the final number will be. But there's a chance that final numbers will be pretty similar. (By the way, we didn't give either Bush or Obama the 700,000-plus jobs that were lost in January 2009, since the two men split that month in office.)

*** Obama's Nobel challenge: After Obama meets with congressional leaders on the economy and then makes his statement to the press, he makes a Recovery Act announcement at 12:20 pm ET (he's going to announce nearly $600 million in stimulus funds for health community centers). Then he meets with business and environmental leaders at 2:00 pm ET. After that, he's wheels up to Oslo to accept his Nobel Prize. His acceptance speech on Thursday will certainly test his considerable rhetorical abilities. As the New York Times notes, "[W]hen President Obama travels to Norway to accept his prize … he faces a far different challenge than those who have gone before him: He is a wartime leader, accepting a medal that is a commendation to peace, which even he insists he does not yet deserve." What's more, most Americans don't think he deserves it, either. According to a Quinnipiac poll released yesterday, just 26% say he deserves the prize while 66% say he doesn't.

*** A deal -- but without details: Last night, NBC's Ken Strickland reports, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that his so-called Gang of 10 working group had cut a deal over the public option, although he didn't announce any details. "This is a consensus that will help ensure the American people win in a couple of different ways," Reid said. "One, insurance companies will certainly have more competition. And two, the American people will certainly have more choices." But Reid also acknowledged that the deal might not please all Democrats. Under the deal, according to the New York Times, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) would negotiate with insurance companies to offer national plans, similar to those offered to federal employees; people ages 55 to 64 would be able to "buy in" to Medicare; and if private plans fail to provide sufficient and affordable coverage, then the federal government would offer a new insurance plan (sounds like a trigger, right?). It sounds like Joe Lieberman is on board regarding this deal…

*** When neither Russ Feingold nor Ben Nelson are happy: As expected, liberals aren't necessarily embracing the deal. Sen. Russ Feingold (D), a Gang of 10 member, released this statement: "While I appreciate the willingness of all parties to engage in good-faith discussions, I do not support proposals that would replace the public option in the bill with a purely private approach." In addition to the deal that Reid announced, the Senate yesterday defeated the Stupak-like amendment offered by Sen. Ben Nelson. Seven Democrats voted for the stricter abortion restrictions: Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, Bob Casey, Kent Conrad, Byron Dorgan, Ted Kaufman, and Mark Pryor. Two Republicans voted to kill the amendment: Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Is Nelson now going to vote AGAINST the health-care bill after his amendment was defeated? "It makes it harder to be supportive [of the final bill.] We'll see what happens," he told reporters, per Strick.

*** It's Coakley vs. Brown: Also as expected, state Attorney General Martha Coakley easily won yesterday's special Democratic primary in Massachusetts, becoming the overwhelming favorite to win next month's general election to permanently fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. Coakley got 47% of the vote, versus 28% for Rep. Michael Capuano, 13% for Alan Khazei, and 12% for Stephen Paliguca. In the general, Coakley will take on state Sen. Scott Brown, who won the GOP primary. If Coakley wins on Jan. 19, she will become the first woman to win a U.S. Senate or gubernatorial contest in Massachusetts. Also, did anyone else know before today that Brown posed nude in Cosmopolitan back in 1982?

*** Palin's back -- in the op-ed pages: Finally today, Sarah Palin has an op-ed in the Washington Post that brings up the "Climate-gate" controversy and argues that Obama should boycott the Copenhagen meeting because of it. (It's her second Post op-ed since resigning as governor.) "In his inaugural address," she writes, "President Obama declared his intention to 'restore science to its rightful place.' But instead of staying home from Copenhagen and sending a message that the United States will not be a party to fraudulent scientific practices, the president has upped the ante. He plans to fly in at the climax of the conference in hopes of sealing a 'deal.' Whatever deal he gets, it will be no deal for the American people." Yet the New York Times' Tom Friedman has this response to Palin and others invoking the "Climate-gate" controversy: Even if there's just a 1% chance that catastrophic climate change is real, the world should prepare for it. "When I see a problem that has even a 1 percent probability of occurring and is 'irreversible' and potentially 'catastrophic,' I buy insurance. That is what taking climate change seriously is all about," he writes.

*** A programming reminder: Speaking of the debate over climate change, MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports," which airs at 1:00 pm ET, will be interviewing Al Gore. If you have a question for Andrea to ask, go to her Twitter page at Twitter.com/mitchellreports.

Countdown to MA Special Election: 41 days
Countdown to IL primary: 55 days
Countdown to TX primary: 83 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 328 days

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