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First thoughts: Oh, Joe

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Oh, Joe: Just when we thought health-care reform was headed toward the goal line comes ... Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-D), who told CBS yesterday that he wouldn't be able to support the Medicare "buy-in" compromise that Senate negotiators had cobbled together. "It has some of the same infirmities that the public option did," he said. "It will add taxpayer costs. It will add to the deficit. It's unnecessary." But he said this before the CBO has even scored the compromise. And his stated opposition comes just days after he said he was "encouraged" by the news of the compromise. "It is my understanding that at this point there is no legislative language, so I look forward to analyzing the details of the plan and reviewing analysis from the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of the Actuary in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid," he said. Let's do the math: If Dems lose Lieberman and also Nelson (over abortion), does Harry Reid have to pick his poison? Nelson seemed like an impossible vote to get a few weeks ago, but now he seems more in play than Lieberman. Nevertheless, all of this back-and-forth over Nelson and Lieberman mean Snowe HAS to be in play.

*** 'Torturing Liberals'? The Washington Post's Ezra Klein isn't the only one who believes that Lieberman's opposition is based purely on politics. "Lieberman was invited to participate in the process that led to the Medicare buy-in," Klein writes. "His opposition would have killed it before liberals invested in the idea. Instead, he skipped the meetings and is forcing liberals to give up yet another compromise. Each time he does that, he increases the chances of the bill's failure that much more. And if there's a policy rationale here, it's not apparent to me, or to others who've interviewed him. At this point, Lieberman seems primarily motivated by torturing liberals." Lieberman may want to be seen as standing on principle, but given that he has been a reliable vote for Dems on domestic policy, many Dems will view this as nothing but a stick in the eye. The perception among many is that Lieberman's voting record -- both domestic and foreign -- has gotten more conservative since the '06 primary defeat.

*** Joey Drama: Indeed, Lieberman's opposition to this compromise -- and in fact to any form of a public option (the "opt out," the "opt in," the "trigger") -- shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the soap-opera-like drama that has surrounded him over the past four years. First, he loses his Senate primary in '06 (due in large part to his support for the war in Iraq). Then he wins the general election (thanks largely to a Republican nominee who was only able to draw 10% of the vote). He returns to the Senate as an "Independent-Democrat" who will caucus with the Democrats. But then he not only backs his friend John McCain in the presidential election, but also nearly pulls a Zell Miller. "When others wanted to retreat in defeat from the field of battle, when Barack Obama was voting to cut off funding for our troops on the ground, John McCain had the courage to stand against the tide of public opinion and support the surge," Lieberman said at the GOP convention. Finally, after the election, Democrats welcome him back and allow him to keep his committee chairmanship. Now this…

*** Main Street vs. Wall Street: After telling "60 Minutes" last night that he didn't run for president "to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street," President Obama sits down at the White House with executives of 12 major banks at 11:10 am ET. The meeting also comes with the news that Citigroup is repaying $20 billion in bailout money it had received. As NBC's Savannah Guthrie reported on "TODAY," the president's message to these executives will be: Taxpayers bailed you out, now it's time to step up to the plate by beginning to issue more loans and stem the tide of foreclosures. "The people on Wall Street still don't get it," Obama added on "60 Minutes." "They're still puzzled why is it that people are mad at the banks. Well, let's see -- you guys are drawing down 10-, 20-million-dollar bonuses after America went through the worst economic year in decades and you guys caused the problem." Obama is hardly a bomb-thrower, which is why this language on "60" stood out.

*** When words aren't enough: After the bailout, one of the things banks were SUPPOSED to do in return was work with folks struggling with their mortgages and nudge lending to small business. But that's not happening. The banks, of course, argue that they are trying to stabilize first and be smarter about the loans they make. Obama needs more than words to coax these bankers to do what he needs on this front. The threat he has is 1) the financial regulatory reform that's making its way through Congress, and 2) TARP. But he's had those hammers to use for months, and it's not been enough. Per Guthrie, the 12 CEOs who will attend today's White House meeting are Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, Ken Chenault of American Express, Richard Davis of US Bancorp, Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase, Richard Fairbank of Capital One, Bob Kelly of Bank of New York Mellon, Ken Lewis of Bank of America, Ron Logue of State Street Bank, John Mack of Morgan Stanley, Dick Parsons of Citigroup, Jim Rohr of PNC, and John Stumpf of Wells Fargo. Also participating in the meeting on the White House's side will be Valerie Jarrett, Christina Romer, Larry Summers, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. After this meeting, Obama will make a statement on the economy at 12:10 pm ET.

*** Spring forward? By the way, chief White House economic adviser Larry Summers put a marker out there for all of us: job growth by the spring. "Today, everybody agrees that the recession is over, and the question is what the pace of the expansion is going to be," he said on ABC yesterday, adding: "If you look at the employment statistics, they will show employment growth… [Jobs numbers] will bounce from month to month, but I believe that, as do most professional forecasters, that by spring, employment growth will start to be turning positive." If Summers is right, it would mean six months of job growth going into Nov. 2010. Is that a prediction, a hope, or both? 

*** Deficit, debt, and spending: Yesterday, the Senate approved a $446.8 billion omnibus spending package to keep much of the government running through next September, the New York Times reports. "But even as they sent the spending measure to President Obama, Democrats were deeply divided over efforts to substantially raise the federal debt limit before Congress quits for the year. With the increased spending and more red ink provoking new Congressional alarm, a group of Democratic deficit hawks was insisting that Congress and the White House agree to new efforts to rein in the deficit or they would block a large increase in the debt limit. Failure to increase the $12.1 trillion debt limit to cover federal borrowing could lead to a technical government default. As a result, the White House is eager to get some breathing room on the debt by the end of the year." 

*** Making history: On Saturday, Houston elected Annise Parker as its new mayor, becoming the first major American city to elect an openly gay or lesbian candidate as mayor. "This election has changed the world for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community. Just as it is about transforming the lives of all Houstonians for the better, and that's what my administration will be about," Parker told supporters after her victory. Parker's win is both historic and ho-hum at the same time. We don't use the phrase "ho-hum" lightly, but the fact is that her sexual orientation really wasn't the SINGLE issue in the race. Sure, it was talked about in most profiles of her, but it wasn't a focal point of the campaign. Part of the reason was that Parker had such a long track record in Houston politics. Yet it also was a sign that the public continues to worry less and less about someone's ethnicity or sexual orientation. But let's be honest: The fact that the largest city in Texas -- and not San Francisco or New York or Los Angeles -- became the first major metropolitan area to elect an openly gay candidate as mayor is a bit of a shock. 

Countdown to MA Special Election: 36 days
Countdown to IL primary: 50 days
Countdown to TX primary: 78 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 323 days

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