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First Thoughts: March Madness

Shutdown likely averted, but for how long? ... Daniels on Meet the Press: ‘blissful’ the presidential contest hasn’t started in earnest yet. Plus, he didn’t really help himself with the base. … Japan's nuclear meltdown threat and what it means for nuclear power ... Obama to push for stricter gun background checks and an overhaul of No Child Left Behind. And the president loves talking about the payroll tax cut.

From NBC's Chuck Todd, Domenico Montanaro, Ali Weinberg, and Carrie Dann
*** March Madness: For the second time in a month, just as it appeared the government was perilously close to shutting down, House GOPers and the White House cut a deal -- at least temporarily. The House will vote this week on a three-week, $6 billion continuing resolution, NBC's Shawna Thomas reports. The White House appears open to it -- the president heads to South America Friday, the same day the government would run out of money. And Senate Democrats appear ready to go along as well. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), in charge of Senate Democrats' messaging, told NBC's Chuck Todd on Meet the Press yesterday, "There were negotiations between the president, Senate Democrats, House Republicans. And the proposal that was made, I'm, I'm for it. It takes cuts that Democrats have proposed." It’s worth noting how quickly Republicans were able to pull this off and doing it without riders. But this time, how many Tea Partiers is Boehner going to lose? The Senate is the more amenable chamber right now on this issue; it's the House that's uncertain. Can Boehner get a majority of his majority and will there be enough House Democrats to fill in the gaps?

*** The Long View: Speaking of the Tea Party, they are growing impatient with these short-term CRs (as are Democrats with the cuts essentially pro-rated to the GOP’s original $61 billion proposal). Schumer said he is optimistic that a longer-term CR -- through September – can get passed. But the two sides started out $50 billion apart and don't appear much closer than two weeks ago (though, already, the temporary cuts passed via short-term C.R. are now equal or greater than the original Senate Dem plan, but we digress). The question is who bites the bullet? “We can't keep on running the government based on two-week extensions," the president said. He added that it "defies common sense" that the two sides can't figure out "serious but prudent spending cuts." For the Tea Party compromise is a dirty word. And to some, the $61 billion was too small in the first place. Also, the Club for Growth, Heritage Action (an arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank), and the Family Research Council have ALL come out against the new short-term proposal, saying they’ll be SCORING a no vote. Just like Colorado not making the NCAA Tournament, there are going to be cuts people won't like, but unlike the tournament the show won’t necessarily go on.

*** Riders on the Storm: Mitch Daniels on Meet the Press said he's "not sure" if he'll run for president, that he's still considering it, but that he’s "blissful" it hasn't yet started -- and he didn't blink at the idea of waiting through the summer. Does that sound like someone who’s definitely running or simply keeping the door ajar? He did little to reassure the base -- he doubled down on his call for a "truce" on social issues, doubled-down on support for Sen. Richard Lugar (for whom he used to work and who is now a target of the Tea Party), and appeared to side with President Obama on riders. He said, "in general," they’re a bad idea. (Riders, are defined by the U.S. Senate as the "informal term for a nongermane amendment to a bill or an amendment to an appropriation bill that changes the permanent law governing a program funded by the bill.") But there are conservative goodies in those riders – banning the EPA from regulating water pollution and greenhouse gases and eliminating funding to Planned Parenthood and NPR. And Daniels clearly believes his work in the Bush administration belongs in the Bush history books and that it's for Bush to answer why the wars and Medicare Part D were not paid for.

*** The Nuclear Option: The earthquake and ensuing aftershocks in Japan have killed thousands and will likely cost about $35 billion to rebuild what was one of the world’s most modern and technologically advanced societies. Now, as the New York Times wrote yesterday, the threat of nuclear meltdown is raising questions about the wisdom of pursuing nuclear energy, just as last year's massive Gulf oil spill raised questions about expanded oil exploration. Schumer, for one, said, "I'm still willing to look at nuclear. As I've always said, it has to be done safely and carefully." But outgoing Sen. Joe Lieberman (I/D-CT) said on Face the Nation: “I think it calls on us here in the U.S., naturally, not to stop building nuclear power plants but to put the brakes on right now until we understand the ramifications of what’s happened in Japan.”

*** Guns of March: Over the weekend, check out the three agenda items President Obama pushed: improving background checks for gun buyers (in an op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star), revising No Child Left Behind (in a speech today at a middle school in Virginia), and equal pay and for women in the workplace. (He called for the Paycheck Fairness Act to be passed during his Weekly Address.) On guns, this is how he plans to fulfill the pledge to speak more about the issue. Don’t expect a speech. The op-ed was classic Obama when it comes to a divisive issue -- vague and hard to disagree with. There were no specific calls -- except for better background checks. (Can the NRA really disagree with that?) But what about Rep. Carolyn McCarthy's (D-NY) bill to do away with high-round magazines? We can guess: if it passes, he'd sign it. But notice he didn't mention it.

*** No Agenda Left Behind: Today is all about No Child Left Behind for Obama. He’ll deliver a speech at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, VA, at 10:40 am ET, and he'll call for an overhaul of the President Bush’s education policy. He’ll call for what appears to be a form of merit pay and evaluation for teachers, doing away with federal mandates, creating better standardized tests by incentivizing schools (a la "Race to the Top"). Outside the budget, this is the only big thing that gets done this year in Congress. And why? There’s a deadline -- it expires this summer. And education is one area where Obama still has political juice. Ask any Republican the one area they agree with the president on. Education is their default answer.

*** The Rest of Obama's Day: The president meets with Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen of Denmark at 1:45 pm ET (they deliver statements to the press at 2:25 pm ET), then Obama meets with Gen. David Petraeus at the White House at 3:00 pm ET, and attends a DNC fundraiser at 7:30 pm ET.

*** All About Independents: President Obama said "tax cut," "tax relief," "tax expenditures," or "tax loopholes" a total of six times during his news conference on Friday. Republicans have been trying to take credit for the recent good jobs report, but the president wants some credit on the payroll tax cut. As Washington Post's Balz noted Saturday, the news conference was all about independents: "President Obama’s Friday news conference did little to advance U.S. policy on Libya or clarify the White House’s position on resolving the budget impasse in Congress. The president nonetheless conveyed one unmistakable impression: He is now focused intently on winning back independent voters."

*** One... Billion... Dollars: The Mideast may be in turmoil and Japan devastated by an earthquake. But President Obama will have domestic politics on his agenda Wednesday afternoon when he speaks to more than 300 top Democratic party fundraisers at a Washington hotel, NBC's Michael Isikoff reports. The goal: mobilizing the fundraisers to gear up for the 2012 presidential race and start raking in political cash for what many expect will be a record smashing, $1 billion re-election warchest. The event, a meeting of the Democratic National Committee’s national finance committee and its national advisory board, is effectively the kick off for the president's fundraising efforts for his re-election campaign, according to one Democratic party source (who asked to remain anonymous talking about the president's plans.)  Here's the Center for Public for Public Integrity’s Peter Stone reports on the DNC event this morning and citing it as one example of how the presidential fundraising sweepstakes is already beginning in earnest. (More on that below in the Obama 2012 section.)

*** 'Ridiculous and Stupid and Counterproductive': This news over the weekend: "The State Department's top spokesman resigned Sunday, three days after criticizing the Pentagon for its treatment of a soldier imprisoned on charges of leaking U.S. government documents posted on the WikiLeaks website," The LA Times writes."P.J. Crowley, the assistant secretary of State for public affairs, told a group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Thursday that the Pentagon's treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning was 'ridiculous and stupid and counterproductive.' His comments were made public by a blogger who attended the session." Crowley has been rumored to be out for more than a year. It’s almost as if they’ve been waiting for a moment. He's marched to the beat of his own drummer the more he’s felt he’s been pushed and that, in turn, led him to be empowered to Tweet whatever he wants. Still, you shouldn’t be surprised if you lose your job, when you attack another part of the administration.

*** On the Trail: Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) is in Massachusetts and Maine speaking at Catholic Charities and a college conservative group … Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) is in Chicago speaking before the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. ... Mike Huckabee’s book tour rolls into Louisiana and Mississippi. …  And beware the Ides of March, Donald Trump. Tomorrow night, there’s a roast of The Donald, who's flirting with a presidential bid, on Comedy Central.

Countdown to continuing resolution’s expiration: 4 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 151 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 239 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 329 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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