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First Thoughts: Obama's opening bid

Obama’s $3.7 trillion budget is an opening bid, as well as a political document by someone who wants to win re-election… 10 additional things you need to know about the budget… The president discusses the budget at 10:20 am ET in Baltimore… CPAC winners: Ron Paul, Chris Christie, the Trump-hungry tabloids, and Sarah Palin… The CPAC losers: GOP foreign-policy chops, CPAC itself, and Gingrich/Santorum… Romney and Pawlenty were neither winners nor losers… A WIDE range of opinions on Daniels’ speech… Barbour sounds like he’s running… And Flake to announce he’s running for Kyl’s Senate seat.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Obama’s opening bid: The $3.7 trillion budget that the White House will unveil today won’t please Republicans or those who cheered the recommendations of the bipartisan deficit-reduction commission. Yet perhaps the best way to view it is as President Obama’s opening bid, with the White House not willing to show all the cuts it might be willing to accept. The New York Times explains why Obama didn’t go bold: “That decision partly reflects Mr. Obama’s characteristic caution, but also a White House calculation: that ‘now’ is too soon for the nation’s political system. And that boldness could backfire — wounding not just a president facing re-election next year but also the prospects for bipartisan agreement on the very tax and spending-cut proposals that all sides realize are needed to truly stem the projected red ink in a nation confronting high health care costs and an aging population.” Bottom line: Presidential budgets are more political documents than anything else, and this budget is by someone who wants to win re-election. Now we wait for the GOP’s counter-offer.

*** 10 additional things to know: Here are 10 additional things to know about the Obama budget: 1) It projects 2012 spending at $3.7 trillion and a budget deficit of $1.1 trillion. For 2011, the White House estimates a deficit at $1.6 trillion (largest ever), more than CBO does; numbers were crunched PRE-tax cut deal based on PRE-tax cut deal GDP projections. 2) It lowers the deficit over 10 years by $1.1 trillion -- two-thirds of that money comes from program cuts, one-third comes from tax hikes. 3) Most well-known cuts come in subsidies for lower-income Americans for heating and cooling, as well as no more Pell grants for summer college. 4) The tax hikes: capping charitable deductions for wealthiest at 28% rate, Bush tax rates gone in 2013 for those making $250K+, and estate tax would rise back to the ‘09 level. 5) The five-year spending freeze (at 2011 levels) is included. 6) It attempts to pay for both the AMT-tax and "Doc" Medicare fixes for three years and two years, respectively. 7) It projects that, by 2017, the only yearly deficit will be from interest on national debt. 8) There are $78 billion in cuts over five years in the Pentagon budget. 9) It projects federal spending to surpass $5 trillion a year in the year 2019. 10) It offers no attempt to deal with Social Security or tax reform in this budget; the White House says those are separate conversations to have. 

*** CPAC winners: While Donald Trump is right that Ron Paul can’t win the presidency or even the GOP nomination, his CPAC straw-poll victory and the rock-star treatment he received from his backers prove that he generates more enthusiasm than more mainstream GOP types. For those who dismiss Paul, don’t forget that Dr. No is one of the godfathers of the Tea Party movement. And a question: Why aren’t young conservatives as gung-ho for Romney, Pawlenty, etc. as they are for Paul? Another winner was Chris Christie. He didn’t show up and repeatedly says he won’t run for the presidency, but he tied for third in the straw poll. Enough said. A third CPAC winner will be the tabloids, which will salivate from now until June speculating about Donald Trump’s presidential bid. A final winner was Sarah Palin. While it’s unclear that she’ll run, and while it’s clear she’d be a weak candidate against Obama, that a “fake” Palin could cause such a stir -- “Is that really her?” asked numerous excited (then dejected) attendees -- suggests she still generates a considerable amount of buzz within the conservative movement.

*** CPAC losers: The biggest loser, by far, was the GOP’s foreign-policy stature. Outside of Paul, a brief mention by Santorum, and Pawlenty saying the words “Muslim Brotherhood,” the potential presidentials really didn’t address what happened in Egypt, the biggest foreign-policy development in quite a while. That really puts into question the foreign-policy chops of a field already lacking foreign-policy experience. (Over to you, Jon Huntsman?) Another loser was CPAC itself. With Paul finishing first for the second-straight year and with the controversy over the GOProud gay-rights group, the annual confab may have lost some relevancy. And other losers were Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, who delivered very flat speeches on Thursday and were overshadowed by Trump and Rumsfeld/Cheney.

*** On Romney and Pawlenty: Mitt Romney was neither a winner nor a loser. He gave a fine speech; it was received well; and he finished second in the straw poll (after finishing second last year and first in 2007, 2008, and 2009). He’s the grown-up in the GOP field, and he performed as expected. But what does it say about him when Paul, Trump, and the “fake” Palin create a bigger stir at CPAC than the GOP front-runner? Where's the excitement? Obama and Hillary, after all, were never upstaged in 2007-2008. As for Tim Pawlenty, his speech -- especially at the end -- was perhaps stronger than Romney’s. But T-Paw got only 4% in the straw poll, which tied him for fifth with Michele Bachmann and Mitch Daniels. Here’s the thing about Pawlenty: If he wins Iowa, he becomes a serious threat. If he doesn’t, then he doesn’t. In this respect, he’s a lot like Lamar Alexander was in 1996. There's a path, but it's a one-state strategy. Think roulette and putting your chips not on black or red but on "00."

*** On Daniels: Then we come to Mitch Daniels. No other speech drew a wider range of opinions. MSNBC.com’s Carrie Dann says he benefited from being the banquet keynote, where attendees were dressed formally and seated at round tables in a more dimly lit auditorium -- an adult audience for the "adult" conversation, right? His speech was somber, lengthy, and erudite. He didn't throw out applause lines or jokes as much as he delivered pithy arguments and highbrow witticisms. ("Raison debt"? Pretty much crickets.) Dann adds that Daniels’ speech probably would have bored a red-meat crowd, although his calls for civility and seriousness had an indie appeal for the audience that was willing to stick around until 9:00 pm, when he FINALLY took the stage on Friday. Our take: If Obama’s budget suggests someone who wants to win re-election, then Daniels’ speech suggested someone who probably doesn’t run. It was a speech by a politician who seemed liberated to say the things he wanted to say.

*** And on Barbour -- it looks like he’s running: The final CPAC speaker, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who finished tied for eighth in the straw poll getting 1% of the vote, should now be seen as a candidate who is RUNNING (a la Romney), but simply hasn't formally announced.  Watch his Fox News Sunday interview and then you'll see what we mean. Here’s what he said in response to his lobbying past: “The guy who gets elected or the lady who gets elected president of the United States will immediately be lobbying. They would be advocating to the Congress, they'll be lobbying our allies and our adversaries overseas. They'll be asking the business community and labor unions.” (It was similar to the response he gave to the Weekly Standard in that profile of him.) He even referred to Ronald Reagan as a "lobbyist"! And here’s what he said about the potential GOP field: “I have a record as governor. I have a record of cutting spending. And I talked yesterday not only about we ought to cut spending, I talked about how we've cut spending in Mississippi and how if you did the same things in the federal government, you would save tens of billions of dollars a year.”

*** Flake to run for Kyl’s Senate seat: The Arizona Republic reports:” Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., will announce Monday that he will run for the U.S. Senate being vacated by Sen. Jon Kyl, a source has told The Arizona Republic. Flake, who was first elected to Congress in 2000, has long expressed interest in running for the Senate. He will make it official at an 8 a.m. news conference at the same Phoenix hotel where Kyl on Thursday announced that he will retire when his current term ends in January 2013. Flake's decision to run for the Senate is sure to rev up Republican competition for his GOP-heavy congressional district. He's also expected to have plenty of competition in the Senate primary.”

Countdown Chicago’s mayoral election: 8 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 267 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 357 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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