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First Thoughts: Two different approaches

Two different approaches in advance of today’s 10:30 am ET bipartisan meeting at the White House… And those two approaches present different dangers… What to expect from the meeting? Not much… START, Kyl, and 2012… Should Obama have gotten something in return for the federal pay freeze?... Bowles and Simpson to talk to reporters at 3:30 pm ET before tomorrow’s deadline for the deficit commission… “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” study to be released today… And Dayton picks up votes on the first day of the recount in Minnesota.

*** Two different approaches: Two very different approaches to the lame duck -- and likely the next Congress -- were on display in advance of today's bipartisan congressional meeting at the White House at 10:30 am ET. On the one hand, you had President Obama preaching "shared responsibility" with Republicans now set to take over the House in January. “My hope is that tomorrow’s meeting will mark a first step towards a new and productive working relationship,” the president said yesterday, “because we now have a shared responsibility to deliver for the American people.” On the other hand, you had John Boehner and Mitch McConnell demanding extension of the Bush tax cuts and a reduction in federal spending. “If President Obama and Democratic leaders put forward a plan during the lame-duck session to cut spending and stop the tax hikes on all Americans, they can count on a positive response from Republicans,” the two write in a Washington Post op-ed today.

*** With two different dangers: Both approaches present potential dangers. For the White House, the danger is that the let’s-hold-hands-together-and-get-to-work routine won't work when the other side is packing brass knuckles in their pockets. After all, this didn’t exactly produce sterling results for Democrats in 2009-2010. Also, as soon as Obama yesterday announced a concession by proposing a federal pay freeze, Republicans were taking credit for the idea. For congressional Republicans, the danger is too harsh of a tone (see their cancellation of the meeting Obama originally scheduled) and interpreting the midterm election results as a broad mandate (when even they acknowledge that the American public has them on a short leash). On “TODAY” this morning, soon-to-be House Majority Leader Eric Cantor struck a conciliatory tone. Americans, he said, “want to see Washington producing results.”

*** What to expect? Not much: The White House, however, expects nothing concrete to come out of today’s meeting. This is all about the two sides feeling each other out -- and seeing where there is a line in the sand and where there isn’t. And the meeting won’t just be about the Bush tax cuts. Indeed, the first thing Obama mentioned yesterday when teeing up the meeting was NOT anything to do with taxes or the economy -- but rather ratifying the new START treaty. Here’s the full attendance roster: President Obama, Vice President Biden, Treasury Secretary Geithner, OMB Director Lew, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, future Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, future House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, and Minority Whip Jon Kyl.

*** Kyl START-ing up for 2012? Speaking of the START treaty and Kyl, we’ll re-ask the question we raised yesterday: Would Kyl be willing to drop his opposition to START if Senate Democrats dropped the Dream Act in the lame duck? Remember: Kyl is up for re-election in 2012 -- and in a state with a large Latino population. And remember this, too: Republicans didn’t fare very well in the West earlier this month, picking up just a handful of congressional seats (none in California!) and going 0-4 in the most competitive Senate races west of the Rockies (California, Colorado, Nevada, and Washington). One reason for this poor performance was the party's poor performance with the Latino vote. By the way, in an interview on ABC today, John McCain sounded more optimistic on ratifying new START than Kyl has been.

*** Is Obama a poor negotiator? Returning to yesterday’s pay freeze, some voices on the left were disappointed that Obama put it on the table without asking for anything in return from Republicans. “If the president is willing to accept a civilian pay freeze, fine. I wish he wouldn't, but that's where he's prepared to go,” Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly wrote. “But in exchange for this concession, Obama appears to be getting literally nothing in return… The president has some extraordinary strengths. Negotiating tactics do not appear to be among them.” The White House will respond that it needed to get out in front of an issue that Congress was destined to take up and get some credit. Still, the criticism that Obama goes public too quickly with concessions is something to watch over the next couple of years. Quietly, the left has been irked by the number of times the White House has tossed them under the bus without getting something in return (see: option, public).

*** Bowles and Simpson meet the press, again: At 3:30 pm ET today, Deficit Commission co-chairs Erskine Bowles (D) and Alan Simpson (R) hold a press conference to update the media on the state the of negotiations. Tomorrow is the deadline for 14 of the commission’s 18 members to agree on a final proposal to send to Congress. Bowles and Simpson will lead a public meeting in DC on Wednesday morning to discuss the commission’s final proposal. Yesterday, Obama said that he hopes the commission’s final product “will spark a serious and long-overdue conversation in this town” about the ways in which to reduce the deficit and debt.

*** DADT report is released: One other thing to watch today: the release of the military report on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” As the AP writes today -- and as the Washington Post wrote earlier this month: “Officials familiar with the 10-month study's results have said a clear majority of respondents don't care if gays serve openly, with 70 percent predicting that lifting the ban would have positive, mixed or no results. The Post also reported: “Although a majority of respondents signaled no strong objections, a significant minority is opposed to serving alongside openly gay troops. About 40 percent of the Marine Corps is concerned about lifting the ban, according to one of the people familiar with the report.”

*** Dayton picks up votes in first day of MN recount: As expected, the first day of the recount in Minnesota’s gubernatorial contest didn’t alter Mark Dayton’s (D) nearly 9,000-vote lead over Tom Emmer (R); in fact, Dayton expanded his lead. The Star Tribune: "Dayton picked up 20 votes while Emmer lost four. Dayton now leads Emmer 43.6 percent to 43.2 percent -- a margin of 8,794 votes. Those numbers represent only a snapshot, since more than half of the state's ballots have yet to be recounted. Before the recount began, Dayton led Emmer by 8,770 votes."

*** Programming note: Sen. Dick Durbin, who’s attending today’s bipartisan meeting at the White House, will appear tonight on “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.”

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