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First Thoughts: Taxing debate

The tax debate officially begins this week… Schumer and Warner float their own tax-cut compromises… McCain sticks to his guns in opposing the repeal of DADT… Obama’s challenge to Republicans: Campaigning is different than governing… GM’s IPO this Thursday is a big (success?) story few are talking about… House Dems stop their musical-chairs leadership game, but Shuler challenge to Pelosi is on the horizon… Previewing the Rangel trial, which begins today… Biden swears in Coons and Manchin at 4:00 pm ET… Saul Anuzis makes his move… And 2012 is already upon us.


*** Taxing debate: President Obama is back from his overseas trip, Congress has returned to Washington after the Democrats’ midterm “shellacking,” and the battle over the Bush tax cuts is now about to begin. Speaking to reporters on Air Force One yesterday, Obama maintained his desire to keep the tax cuts for the middle class. But he didn't close the door on temporarily extending the tax cuts for the wealthy. "Now, I know this is something that, during the campaign at least, the Republicans expressed some strong feelings about,” he said. “I want to hear from them how strongly they feel about it, particularly given that they’re also saying they want to control the deficit and debt. And if they feel very strongly about it, then I want to get a sense of how they intend to spend -- how they intend to pay for it." White House senior adviser David Axelrod didn’t shut the door, either. “The American people expect to get this done, and we, we are, we are eager to sit down and talk about how to move forward,” he said on “Meet the Press” yesterday.

*** The art of compromise: Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Mark Warner are floating these tax-cut trial balloons, per the New York Times. Schumer "proposed limiting an extension of the Bush tax cuts to incomes below $1 million instead of $250,000," while Warner "would keep the lower income cutoff and use roughly $65 billion, the amount that would be saved by not extending the rates for higher income for two years, to cut taxes further for small businesses." Meanwhile, also appearing on “Meet,” GOP Sen. John McCain suggested he’d be in favor of JUST a temporary tax-cut extension for the wealthy, closer to where many of the Senate Democrats are sitting (and farther from the "make them permanent," where many other Senate GOPers are). “I think they should be extended until we’re out of this recession. At such time, we could look at other tax hikes.” How many other Republicans publicly agree with McCain here? On repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” McCain stuck to his guns. McCain told NBC’s David Gregory that the ban on gays serving in the military shouldn’t be lifted yet, “because I think once this study comes out in the beginning of December, we should at least have a chance to review it and maybe have hearings on it.”

*** Obama’s challenge to Republicans: In addition to the tax-cut fight and the DADT repeal (which is contained in the Defense authorization bill), the other issues that Congress will consider during the lame-duck session include Senate approval of the START treaty. In his gaggle yesterday, Obama said, “I feel reasonably good about our prospects” in passing the treaty. And the president also issued this challenge to Republicans: “Campaigning is very different from governing. All of us learn that. And they’re still flush with victory, having run a strategy that was all about saying no. But I am very confident that the American people were not issuing a mandate for gridlock. They want to see us make progress precisely because they understand instinctually how competitive things are and how we have to step up our game.” Obama will meet later this week with the GOP leaders to discuss all of these issues, and more. By the way, the politics of START are very tricky: The president needs 67 Senate votes for approval; he'd rather build from 58 Dem senators to 67 rather than work from 53 Dem senators AFTER Jan. 2011.

*** A GM success story? The biggest political story that few are talking about right now? GM’s initial public stock offering, which is set for this Thursday. Looks like it's going to be a big success and a case where the government may just make money on this deal. This has the potential of being a very good story for the Obama White House, as well as a success of government intervention. How does Team Obama try to sell it? This could be the White House's next (or last?) best chance to sell their intervention. Where would the unemployment rate be in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Ohio if GM not gotten major government assistance?

*** Stopping the musical-chairs leadership game: Over the weekend, House Democrats solved their musical-chairs leadership problem by, well, adding another chair. Democrats created a new position -- assistant leader, the No. 3 position -- for current Whip Jim Clyburn. So when the leadership elections take place on Wednesday, we're unlikely to see any drama. Or will we? For the next Congress it’s expected that Nancy Pelosi will be minority leader, Steny Hoyer will be minority whip, Clyburn will be assistant leader, and John Larson will be caucus chair. However, Blue Dog Dem Heath Shuler has said that he will challenge Pelosi. “If she doesn’t step aside, I will challenge her,” he said over the weekend. The question, of course, is whether this same exact team that lost control of the House is the best team to lead it back to the majority. Then again, that strategy worked when Boehner et al stayed in the GOP leadership after their own shellacking in '08. By the way, could Pelosi easily win her post -- but see the Democratic caucus attempt to take away some of her power of appointment (re: the DCCC and steering committee)?

*** Rangel on trial: Also happening on Capitol Hill this week, NBC's Luke Russert reports, is Dem Rep. Charlie Rangel's ethics trial, which begins today at 9:00 am ET. Per sources, Rangel will appear before the Adjudicatory Subcommittee, a subcommittee of the House Ethics Committee by himself -- and without legal counsel. The trial is expected to last about a week, and it starts today with opening statements by Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and ranking subcommittee member Michael McCaul (R-TX). After that, chief committee counsel Blake Chisam will make an opening statement and present his evidence against Rangel, and Rangel will have a chance to respond. The witness process will then start on Monday and last until Wednesday. A verdict, Russert concludes, could come as early as Thursday.

*** Swearing-in time: At 4:00 pm ET, Vice President Biden swears in newly elected Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Joe Manchin (D-WV). As NBC’s Ken Strickland has reported, Sen.-elect Mark Kirk (R-IL) will get sworn in after Thanksgiving. Strickland also notes that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will hold a photo-op today with his Republican senators-elect at 10:30 am. That group should include John Boozman (AR), Marco Rubio (FL), Kirk (IL), Dan Coats (IN), Jerry Moran (KS), Rand Paul (KY), Roy Blunt (MO), Kelly Ayotte (NH), John Hoeven (ND), Rob Portman (OH), Pat Toomey (PA), Mike Lee (UT), and Ron Johnson (WI).

*** Murkowski still has the advantage: As the New York Times wrote over the weekend, the fact that the lawyers are already beginning to leave Alaska tells you everything you need to know in the state’s still-undecided Senate race -- the math is on Lisa Murkowski’s side. “As of Sunday,” the AP writes, [Joe] Miller had 87,517 votes, Murkowski had 78,697 that were undisputed. The state was counting another 7,059 votes, or 8 percent of the current write-in tally, for Murkowski but those were being challenged by Miller observers, generally for things like misspellings, extra words or penmanship issues.” So that’s as many as 85,756 votes for Murkowski, and more write-ins are still to be counted. The AP says that election officials this week are set to count the last big batch of write-ins, between 8,600 and 8,800 ballots.

*** Saul makes his move: RNC Chairman Michael Steele has received his first official challenger (if he decides to run) -- from Michigan’s Saul Anuzis, who ran for RNC chair back in ’09. “I believe in this new environment, with the new political realities across our country, the RNC needs a new kind of leader to take us through the 2012 cycle,” he emailed over the weekend. “This isn’t about firing some one; it’s about hiring a new chairman to run the party under very different circumstances. I believe now, more than ever, we need a ‘nuts & bolts’ kind of Chairman who will make sure the trains run on time and can raise the money necessary to implement the best GOTV and 72 Hours program nationwide.” Who’s next?

*** 2012 is already upon us: Finally, last week came this news that makes clear the 2012 presidential season is already upon us: NBC News and Politico announced partnering a GOP presidential debate at the Reagan Library this coming spring.

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