Breaking down the three problems that have plagued the White House with the stimulus, which turns one year old today… The three problems: 1) communication, 2) politics, and 3) process/perception… And these three problems have also played out in the health-care, Gitmo, and Christmas Day bomber debates… Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson to spearhead Obama debt commission… Today's Mount Vernon Statement -- What Would George Washington Do (WWGWD)?... The NYT's scoop on Paterson's trusted aide… And liberals and historians complain about new "Kennedys" mini-series.
From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** The stimulus problem(s): Perhaps nothing better epitomizes the White House's current/past political struggles than the $787 billion economic stimulus that President Obama signed into law exactly one year ago. How did a package that's helping spur economic growth -- 5.7% last quarter -- turn into something that, at best, is now a wash? Let us count the ways. One problem has been on the communications front. The White House originally sold it as a jobs bill instead of legislation that was going to grow the economy (or at least be a safety net for the freefall), even though jobs are always a lagging indicator. ("It will create or save 3.5 million jobs over the next two years," Obama declared a year ago.) And the decision to call it a jobs bill came LATE in the political selling of the stimulus, just as it was stalling a tad in the Senate. What's more, Democrats are finding that it isn't easy to prove a negative -- for example, that the economy would have fallen off a cliff had there been no stimulus. What's easier to sell, as Boehner's and Cantor's have done, is to show the number of jobs lost since the stimulus' enactment, even though the act certainly lessened that number.
*** Politics, process, and perception: A second problem has been the politics. How did Dems not take advantage of Republicans who voted against middle-class tax cuts in it? (Obama poking Republicans on this during the State of the Union was the exception.) Or why didn't they better publicize all the GOPers who voted against the legislation but that touted its goodies? Just imagine what the congressional Republicans would have done under similar circumstances. (That said, we have seen the DNC, DSCC and DCCC hit Republicans incumbents on this, but these attacks have yet to resonate the way the GOP's "Cornhusker Kickback" and "Louisiana Purchase" gut-punches did to the Dems on health care.) Part of the problem here is that Democrats have only engaged in this pushback, oh, in the last few months; they tried to be above politics in the beginning. Third, you had a process/perception problem. As Obama himself has admitted, many still mistakenly conflate the stimulus with the bank and auto bailouts. Critics also seized on the stimulus' overall price tag, which has ballooned to more than $800 billion, even though that amount is smaller than the 2001 Bush tax cuts.
*** Bayh's shot: Finally, it doesn't help when outgoing Sen. Evan Bayh (D) is saying this, like he did yesterday: "[I]f I could create one job in the private sector by helping to grow a business, that would be one more than Congress has created in the last six months." Ouch. Of course, Bayh's technically correct. Congress hasn't passed a single bill in the LAST SIX MONTHS that has involved the issue of jobs. By the way, another point to ponder: If the president had vetoed that spending supplemental that was packed with earmarks in the early part of 2009, would it have increased his credibility on selling the stimulus?
*** The problems aren't relegated to the stimulus: Per our January NBC/WSJ poll, 49% approve of the stimulus, compared with 43% who disapprove. Democrats are hopeful that those numbers improve as the economy does. "Provided that progress continues, then this will have worked out well," one Dem strategist tells First Read. But the same communications/political/process problems we've seen play out in the stimulus debate have also surfaced in the health-care fight, the battle over Gitmo, and even the back-and-forth over the Christmas Day bomber -- until the White House really began to push back. Today, at 10:25 am ET, Obama delivers remarks commemorating the stimulus' one-year anniversary. The president's cabinet also fans out to mark the anniversary: Education Secretary Arne Duncan is in Virginia (with Rep. Gerry Connolly); Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar head to Washington state (with Gov. Christine Gregoire); Labor Secretary Hilda Solis is in Arizona; and Transportation Secretary LaHood goes to Kansas City.
*** Afghanistan today, debt commission tomorrow: Also today, Obama meets with national security team at 11:00 am ET to discuss Afghanistan (which is closed to the press), meets with Secretary of State Clinton at noon (closed press), and has lunch with King Carlos I of Spain at 12:50 pm. And tomorrow, the president is expected to sign an executive order establishing the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, as well as announce that former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles (D) and former Sen. Alan Simpson (R) will serve as the commission's co-chairs. FYI: Getting Simpson involved probably makes it harder for congressional Republicans to walk away from this commission; he's not a pushover or anyone's RINO.
*** The 11 to watch: Salon's Mike Madden does a good job boiling down the swing Dem votes in the Senate, if the Dems try to pass big parts of health care via reconciliation. His 11 Senate Dems to watch: Lieberman, Ben Nelson, Lincoln, Bayh, Landrieu, Byrd, Conrad, Pryor, Carper, Webb and Begich.
*** WWGWD? The day before the CPAC conference begins, prominent (but non-elected) conservative leaders will gather in Alexandria, VA at 2:30 pm ET to unveil their "Mount Vernon Statement" that defines conservative principles, beliefs, and values. The event will be led by former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese. Others in attendance will include Edwin Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation; Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center; Alfred Regnery, publisher of the American Spectator; David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union; and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. If the Tea Party folks are the grassroots conservatives to watch, these folks are the conservative elite who will, at a minimum, drive the Republican Party's politics over the next two to four years.
*** The NYT's scoop on Paterson: So this was the bombshell on New York Gov. David Paterson (D) that the New York Times was working on? The paper profiles Paterson aide David W. Johnson, who rose from intern and Paterson driver to become of the governor's most trusted aides. "A review of Mr. Johnson's rise and his history … shows that he was twice arrested on felony drug charges as a teenager, including a charge of selling cocaine to an undercover officer in Harlem… Mr. Johnson, 37, has also on three occasions been involved in altercations with women, two of which led to calls to the police." The story isn't sexy, but it's no less of a political problem for the embattled governor; it's the type of story that hurts Paterson as he tries to rehabilitate himself ethically. Paterson released a statement, saying: "The New York Times has chosen to splash [Johnson's] youthful offenses across the pages of its newspaper - even though the courts of our State have ordered them to be sealed." More: "There is no independent evidence presented that would substantiate any claims of violence committed by David Johnson against a woman."
*** Today's cable catnip: The Times also provides us with what might be today's cable catnip. The paper reports that -- similar to the conservative criticism over the 2003 TV movie about the Reagans -- liberals and historians are now crying foul about an upcoming TV mini-series on the History Channel spearheaded by conservative Joel Surnow, the creator of "24." Critics "say the 'Kennedys' screenplays contain many factual errors, some benign and others less so. For example, they say the scripts refer to exit polling for the 1960 presidential election when exit polling had not yet been invented; and that President Kennedy introduced the Peace Corps during the Bay of Pigs crisis in April 1961, when in fact he signed an executive order creating the corps one month earlier." More: "In another scene cited, a Secret Service agent approaches the president while he is having sex in a pool with a young woman who is not his wife; in yet another, the president asks his brother Robert, 'What do you do when you're horny?'"
*** More midterm news: In Arkansas, the Sierra Club is up with radio ads targeting Blanche Lincoln (D)… In Colorado, GOP Senate candidate Jane Norton is running a TV ad tomorrow aimed at Obama and his visit to the state on Thursday. ("You should pledge to balance the budget or else decline to seek re-election. Now that'd be change we could believe in," she says in the ad.)… Also in Colorado, Sen. Michael Bennet (D) and challenger Andrew Romanoff debated last night… And in Illinois, we still don't have a winner in that GOP gubernatorial primary.
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