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First Thoughts: Common ground -- except in Wisconsin

Democrats and Republicans -- surprisingly -- are seeking compromise and common ground… Except in Wisconsin, where Gov. Walker unveils his budget today… Obama White House wants to extend the temporary stopgap spending bill from two weeks to a month… What happened to Orrin Hatch?... GAO on duplication and overlap… And 2012 calendar chaos (some advice to politicos: don’t make New Year’s plans, unless they’re in Des Moines).

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Common ground… : You wouldn’t mistake it for a chorus of kumbaya, but Democrats and Republicans recently have been seeking "common ground" (remember, don't say "compromise"), or are at least doing their best to make it look that way. As we noted yesterday, House Republicans and Senate Democrats seem likely to cut a deal averting a government shutdown -- for a couple of weeks, that is. And yesterday, President Obama offered a concession to Republicans that would allow states to apply for a waiver, beginning in 2014, to opt out of key provisions of the health-care law (like the mandate and the exchanges) if the states could still meet the law’s goals. After two-plus years of nearly all-out partisan war, why are Democrats and Republicans hugging it out, no matter how sincere it is? Because that’s what the public seems to want. According to a survey by NBC/WSJ co-pollsters Peter Hart (D) and Bill McInturff (R), conducted for the Rockefeller Foundation, 66% say they prefer their elected leaders in Washington to compromise or seek common ground, including 65% of independents and 58% of Republicans (but just 46% of Tea Party supporters). Let's repeat one result again: 65% of independents…

*** … Except in Wisconsin: But that common ground has been elusive in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker (R) won’t budge on his effort to strip collective bargaining rights for public employees. And it’s perhaps the reason why Walker is struggling to get his budget deal done. Indeed, the Republican Governors Association is airing a new TV ad to defend Walker, becoming the first national party/committee organization to weigh in on the conflict with paid advertising. (Democrats are pointing out that it’s striking the RGA is dropping significant money “to prop up an incumbent three and half years away from re-election.”) And a brand-new New York Times/CBS poll shows that Walker may have picked the wrong fight on collective bargaining. “Americans oppose weakening the bargaining rights of public employee unions by a margin of nearly two to one: 60% to 33%.” As we’ve written before, Walker still is poised to win the legislative fight -- the state Senate Democrats have to come home at some point -- but he isn’t winning the political fight. Walker takes center stage in Wisconsin today when he unveils his budget. By the way, keep an eye on potential Dem state senate defectors, not just potential GOP state senate defectors. We’re getting to a point in this standoff where it may be open season on BOTH sides of the aisle. 

*** From two weeks to a full month: Back to Washington, Politico is reporting -- and NBC has confirmed -- that the White House is seeking to extend the temporary CR from two weeks to a full month. “Showing the first signs of coming off the sideline, the White House made a late bid Monday to extend the life of a stopgap government funding bill to a full month and thereby allow more time for the administration to become engaged in the House-Senate talks. The House is slated to vote Tuesday on a two week extension of the current continuing resolution due to expire this Friday, Mar. 4. The administration would instead like that to run a full 30 days, and this triggered a meeting Monday evening between Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in the senator’s offices.” There are a couple of roadmaps to make this happen, one is the president's 2012 budget (more cuts could be used); the other is a new GAO report about redundant regulations (see below).

*** What happened to Hatch? Speaking of refusing to compromise or find common ground, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) seems to be taking a page from the 2009-2010 McCain playbook -- and beyond. Here was Hatch yesterday on the health-care law: “It’s good to allow them to work out their own problems rather than a one-size-fits-all federal government, stupid, dumb-ass program… It really is an awful piece of crap.” It was surprising that Hatch -- a senator who has been a willing participant in his share of bipartisan partnerships -- would publicly use such salty language. Up for re-election next year, Hatch is doing everything possible in his effort to avoid the fate that took down Bob Bennett in 2010. In what is even more striking than what we saw with McCain, Hatch, at least rhetorically, already hardly resembles the senator that many of us have covered over the last two decades.

*** Duplication and overlap: And Hatch isn’t the only GOP senator using some salty language. NBC’s Ken Strickland reports that as lawmakers scour the administrative landscape looking to cut billions in spending, a nonpartisan report commissioned by Congress will be released today showing that billions worth of savings could be achieved by eliminating duplicative and overlapping government programs. Sen. Tom Coburn (R) told a few reporters yesterday that the report "makes us all look like jackasses." The Oklahoma senator, Strick adds, authored the legislation requiring to the Government Accountability Office to "identify federal programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives with duplicative goals and activities, to estimate the cost of such duplication, and to make recommendations to Congress for consolidation and elimination of such duplication."

*** Calendar chaos: Don't miss this Politico Ben Smith piece on how Minnesota is the latest state that could disrupt the entire 2012 presidential calendar. Florida is ALSO threatening leapfrogging. and has a primary on the books for January. This is all a reminder that Reince Priebus has NO control over the calendar. Candidates don't either. The man who does is New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardener, because nobody protects the IA/NH turf more aggressively than he does. He'll sit back, wait for FL and MN and any other state to make its move, and he'll leapfrog, triggering Iowa's move before. And all of us should once again not make big New Year’s Eve plans, except if you already are living in Des Moines.

Countdown to continuing resolution’s expiration: 3 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 164 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 252 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 342 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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