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First Thoughts: Profiles in discouraged

Profiles in discouraged: When both parties engage in hypocrisy over the budget… But why Republicans -- in their refusal to consider raising taxes -- might be the biggest obstacle to reining in the deficit/debt… Obama to hold news conference at 11:00 am ET… House Republicans, on second try, pass Patriot Act extensions… Poll: Romney the overwhelming front-runner in New Hampshire… Barbour headed to Iowa next month… Christie comes to DC tomorrow… And Obama to present the Presidential Medals of Freedom at 1:30 pm.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Profiles in discouraged: On the one hand, you have a president who can’t endorse the recommendations of his bipartisan deficit-reduction commission, especially when it comes to entitlement programs like Social Security. And on the other hand, you have the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee criticizing President Obama for that -- and yet he didn’t vote for deficit-reduction commission’s recommendations when he had the chance. “Presidents are elected to take the country’s challenges on and fix them before they get out of control,” Budget Chairman Paul Ryan said, per the New York Times. “Everybody knows the debt is out of control. The president set up a commission to that effect, and he doesn’t even take on any of the commission’s big recommendations.” Neither did Ryan. This is all just example of why Washington’s approval ratings are so low. If hypocrisy were a currency, then this country could truly pay down its debt.

*** The biggest obstacle: That said, the biggest obstacle right now to a grand compromise in tackling the deficit/debt might be the Republican Party. If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that Obama has not hesitated to poke his finger in the eye of his liberal base (examples: the public option, the tax-cut deal, parts of his FY 2012 budget). But Republican leaders so far have been unwilling to stand up to their base; in fact, it’s the base that’s been standing up to the GOP leaders. As most budget experts have noted -- including the folks on the deficit commission -- the only way to reduce the deficit/debt is to BOTH raise some taxes and cut some entitlement spending. Yet right now, there are few Republican elected leaders willing to stand up to the Grover Norquists and Club for Growths and do something Ronald Reagan did multiple times: raise taxes. (Remember, Norquist helped torpedo a congressionally-backed deficit commission by promising to score a vote for the commission as a vote for a tax increase.) Indeed, this is most likely the reason behind the White House’s current budget proposal: Why put anything on the table regarding Social Security or other entitlements when Republicans are unwilling to consider tax increases? The no-you-first-no-you-first strategy.

*** Presidential news conference: NBC’s Savannah Guthrie reports that Obama will hold a news conference today at 11:00 am ET. Was this always part of the budget rollout plan? The schedule yesterday was missing a press briefing; clearly they were keeping their options open for this. Had the rollout gone well, would they have gone ahead with this? It's hard to find anyone truly cheerleading this budget proposal. At a minimum, the White House hopes the president leaning harder into it today and trying to defend the decisions he made will help.

*** If at first you don’t succeed… : After failing to pass an extension of some Patriot Act programs last week by a two-thirds vote -- due in part to a defection by a handful of Tea Party-backed freshmen -- House Republicans succeeded yesterday in a second attempt that needed only a simple majority support. “The PATRIOT Act extension was passed 275-144, with 27 Republicans opposing the measure and 65 Democrats supporting it,” Roll Call says. Per NBC’s Luke Russert, 210 Republicans joined 65 Democrats in supporting the measure, while 117 Dems and 27 GOPers opposed it. The legislation, Russert says, must still clear the Senate. Obama supports the legislation and has called for its quick passage.

Mitt Romney speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington last week.

*** As expected, Romney’s the front-runner in New Hampshire: A year before the New Hampshire primary is scheduled to take place, a WMUR Granite State Poll has Romney in the lead with support from 40% of likely primary voters, Giuliani (is he really going to run?) gets 10%, and Pawlenty and Huckabee are tied at 7%. After that, it’s Gingrich and Palin at 6%, Paul at 5%, Trump at 3%, and Barbour and Santorum at 1%. So Romney -- who hails from nearby Massachusetts and owns a home in New Hampshire -- begins as the overwhelming front-runner in the Granite State, a status he enjoyed for much of 2007. (Of course, this time, there’s no McCain to contend with.) More: “In a hypothetical race between Obama and Romney, Romney leads, 49 to 41 percent. Against Palin, Obama does much better, leading 57 to 34 percent. Against Pawlenty, Obama leads 44 to 37 percent.”

*** Barbour heads to Iowa next month: As for Iowa, Politico reported yesterday that Barbour is headed to the Hawkeye State next month to give a high-profile speech. “The Mississippi governor will keynote a March 15 dinner in Scott County, the first of a yearlong series of Iowa Republican Party fundraisers aimed at bolstering county parties. Each of the events, to be held in jurisdictions across the state, will feature an out-of-state headliner.” We told you that Barbour -- from his interview on FOX this past Sunday -- seems ready to dive head first into the presidential waters. And this Iowa speech appears to be more evidence of that.

*** Previewing Christie: And then there’s Chris Christie, who has repeatedly said he has no interest or plans to run for president in 2012. But that isn’t stopping folks from hyping his speech tomorrow in DC. Per Politico, “New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is bringing his blunt talk about fiscal responsibility to Washington this week in a speech sure to stoke speculation about his national prospects... Like Christie himself, the message he’ll deliver Wednesday at the conservative American Enterprise Institute is unorthodox and straightforward: he accuses both parties, Democrats and Republicans alike, of ‘timidity’ in the face of the coming fiscal calamity.”

*** Obama’s day: At 1:30 pm ET, President Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award, to former President George H.W. Bush, German Chancellor Merkel, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Natural Resources Defense Council co-founder John Adams, poet Maya Angelou, businessman Warren Buffet, artist Jasper Johns, Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissman Klein, Yo-Yo Ma, former NBA star Bill Russell, former MLB star Stan Musial, former AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, and posthumously awards Dr. Tom Little, who was killed in Afghanistan.

*** On the Hill: OMB Director Jask Lew testifies before the House Budget Committee at 10:00 am ET, while Secretaries Tim Geithner and Kathleen Sebelius testify, respectively, before the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees.

Countdown Chicago’s mayoral election: 7 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 266 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 356 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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