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First thoughts: The tax war cometh

The tax war cometh… Geithner makes the administration’s tax argument on “Meet”… What’s actually the new news from the Wikileaks?... The Rangel and Blago distractions… With 99 days until Election Day, can the RGA celebrate if it loses in CO, FL, and OH?... Rossi declares war against pork… Blunt leads Carnahan in Missouri… Profiling CA-11… And Ken Buck calls Tea Party birthers “dumba---s.”

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** The tax war cometh: Move over health care and financial reform. What to do with the expiring Bush tax cuts is about to become the next big congressional battle. “Democratic leaders, including Mr. Obama, say they are intent on letting the tax cuts for the wealthy expire as scheduled at the end of this year,” the New York Times front-pages yesterday. “But they have pledged to continue the lower tax rates for individuals earning less than $200,000 and families earning less than $250,000 -- what Democrats call the middle class. Most Republicans want to extend the tax cuts for everyone, and some Democrats agree, saying it would be unwise to raise taxes on anyone while the economy remains weak. If no action is taken, taxes on income, dividends, capital gains and estates would all rise.”

*** Geithner makes the administration’s case: On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner made the Obama administration’s tax argument. “The fair thing, the responsible thing for the country now is to make sure we leave in place and preserve tax cuts that go to more than 95% of working Americans and complement those with a set of incentives for businesses to expand and hire,” he said. “To make that possible, and to do that responsibly, I think it is fair and good policy to allow those tax cuts that only go to 2 to 3% of the highest earners in the country to expire as scheduled. The country can withstand that. The economy can withstand that.” By the end of the summer, we’ll know who has the upper hand here if this becomes a debate about raising taxes, or a debate about tax breaks for the wealthy and adding to the budget deficit. We could see a lot of ideological rhetorical gymnastics in this debate: Republicans may call the full extension stimulus; Democrats may make the "ok, fine, but let's pay for the tax cuts" argument.

*** Wiki, wiki, wiki: Another week, another distraction for the White House that takes their public focus off the economy. The Internet site Wikileaks has released tens of thousands of classified on-the-ground reports (from 2004 to 2009) about the war in Afghanistan. Per the Times, “The secret documents … are a daily diary of an American-led force often starved for resources and attention as it struggled against an insurgency that grew larger, better coordinated and more deadly each year.” Here is our question: What do these documents reveal about the war that we already didn’t know? Pakistan's ISI can't be trusted? (Sorta knew that.) The war was under-funded for years? (Sorta knew that.) Soldiers aren't sure whether these Afghans will be on our side long-term? (Sorta knew that, too). One potential second-day story is the news that the drones might not be as successful as originally thought; this would get to the heart of some of the supposed military successes that have been touted. Also, First Read has learned from a senior administration official that the government has pretty good idea who leaked the documents to Wikileaks.

*** The Rangel distraction: Speaking of distractions, the ethical clouds hovering over Charlie Rangel also aren’t pleasant news for Democrats. But is it harder for Republicans to push this story after Democrats already took away Rangel’s Ways and Means gavel? That’s almost as big as getting kicked out of office -- and arguably for Rangel, maybe even bigger.

*** Closing arguments in the Blago trial: NBC’s John Yang reports that closing arguments in the federal corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) are scheduled to begin today at 10:30 a.m. ET. Blagojevich is charged with 24 separate counts, including racketeering, attempted extortion, bribery, and conspiracy. Most of the crimes carry maximum sentences of 20 years in prison. If he is convicted of all charges, gets the maximum sentences and is ordered to serve them consecutively -- a highly unlikely combination of outcomes -- he'd face 415 years in prison. Also if he’s convicted, Blagojevich would be the fourth former Illinois governor to be convicted, and the third for acts as governor. (Dan Walker was convicted of fraud in connection with his tenure as head of a savings and loan after leaving office.)

*** Can the RGA celebrate if it loses CO, FL, and OH? Republicans not only are poised to gain House and Senate seats in November; they're also expected to pick up several governors mansions -- a key development in next year's redistricting. But here is something to ponder: Will Election Night be bittersweet for the RGA and Republicans if they're unable to win the gubernatorial contests in the battlegrounds of Colorado, Florida, and Ohio? Right now, Dems might be the slight favorites to win all three, given the GOP plagiarism scandal in Colorado, the Rick Scott-vs.-Bill McCollum disarray in Florida, and John Kasich playing defense in Ohio. These races also offer a '12 storyline: If the GOP can't win the governor's race in these states -- in this year's political environment -- what does that say about Republicans' chances in 2012? Don't get us wrong, the Republicans are going to make huge gains in important battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and even Wisconsin. But Florida and Ohio are HUGE on the combo of presidential and redistricting politics.

*** Food for thought: The AP runs this quote from Washington state Senate candidate Dino Rossi (R): "The idea of dragging home pork is an old-school measurement of a senator,’ said Republican Dino Rossi… ‘And right now, with Republicans and Democrats alike doing that, it's bankrupting America. There's nothing in the Constitution that says the job of a senator is bringing home pork." Rossi’ quote raises an important question: If a senator or member of Congress isn’t supposed to bring home the bacon, then what is his/her job? To simply cast votes? Sit at committee hearings? Wage ideological fights?

*** Show me a poll: We finally got a good poll we can report on in Missouri’s competitive Senate race: A St. Louis Post-Dispatch/KMOV-TV/Mason-Dixon poll shows Roy Blunt (R) leading Robin Carnahan (D) by six points among registered voters, 48%-42%. But the biggest news -- again -- might be Obama’s approval rating, which sits at 34% in this battleground state. Ouch. By the way, in Missouri, a six-point lead isn't narrow; that's pretty large considering the history of closely contested campaigns in this state.

*** 75 House races to watch: CA-11: The Democratic nominee in this race is incumbent Rep. Jerry McNerney (D), and the GOP nominee is David Harmer, who ran for the open CA-10 seat last year (and lost). McNerney voted for the stimulus, cap-and-trade, and health care. Obama won 54% of the vote in this district in ’08, and Bush won 54% here in ’04. Both Cook and Rothenberg rate this seat as Lean Democrat.

*** More midterm news: In Colorado, GOP Senate candidate Ken Buck “called Tea Partyers questioning the authenticity of President Barack Obama's birth certificate 'dumba---s' to a Democratic operative recording his comments without his permission,” the Denver Post writes… Also in Colorado, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) is endorsing Buck opponent Jane Norton… In Nevada’s Senate race, CQ-Roll Call says that “Republicans are growing increasingly frustrated with Sharron Angle and her lackluster campaign”… And in Tennessee, GOP gubernatorial candidate Zack Wamp walked back his earlier suggestion that the Volunteer State might secede from the union.

Countdown to OK primary: 1 day
Countdown to KS and MO primaries: 18 days
Countdown to CO and CT primaries: 15 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 99 days

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