Discuss as:

First Thoughts: The bold and the cautious

The bold and the cautious… GOP takes a big risk with going bold on the spending-cut impasse and with Medicare/Medicaid… White House takes a beating for Gitmo reversal… Are we on the brink of a shutdown?... Obama meets with congressional leaders at 10:15 am ET to try to resolve the impasse… The difference between the lame duck and now: Obama had credibility with his base, while Boehner doesn’t (at least not yet)… Circle July 8 on your calendars… Ryan’s budget rollout… Two additional reasons why his plan seems DOA: Almost everyone likes Medicare, and excluding those 55 and older never seems to work… Today’s two referendums on Scott Walker… And 270 to win.

From NBC's Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** The bold and the cautious: There is something about winning an election that emboldens a political party. We saw it after 2008, when President Obama went big with his stimulus and health-care plans, as well as his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. And we’re seeing it again after 2010, with House Republicans refusing -- it seems for now -- to meet Democrats half way in reducing spending for the rest of the year; with Paul Ryan’s plan today to overhaul Medicaid and Medicare; and with Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) push on collective bargaining. Similarly, there’s something about trying to win an election that makes a political party VERY cautious. We saw it last year, when House Republicans refused to say anything about reforming entitlement programs, and when most didn’t dare touch Ryan’s “road map” for reform on the campaign trail. And we’re seeing it again now, with the Obama administration -- on the very day the president announces his re-election bid -- scuttling its promise to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in federal court.  

*** GOP takes a big risk: So today’s question is this: What will win out in 2011 and 2012 -- boldness or caution? In his column today, National Journal’s Charlie Cook believes the bold House Republicans are taking a very big risk with going bold. “[T]alking with Republican pollsters, strategists and veteran campaign professionals recently, I now hear sounds of concern that haven’t been heard in almost two years. Among the worries the party now has is that a government shutdown could get blamed on the GOP. Additionally, these party insiders believe that taking on entitlements, specifically Medicare, could jeopardize the party’s hold on the House, its strong chances of taking the Senate and the stronghold that the party has been established with older white voters— not coincidentally, Medicare recipients.” Voters want both boldness and caution, and it's a balancing act.

*** White House takes a beating: While House Republicans are taking a big risk, the Obama White House is taking a beating for bowing to politics, reality, and caution in reversing its effort to try KSM in federal court. The New York Times editorial page puts it well: “That retreat was a victory for congressional pandering and an embarrassment for the Obama administration, which failed to stand up to it.” The about-face was a painful reminder that “Change you can believe in” sometimes becomes “Change doesn’t happen if the politics is no longer on your side.”

*** On the brink of a shutdown? The biggest story today, though, is the 10:15 am ET meeting at the White House to try and resolve the spending-cut impasse. The attendees: President Obama, Vice President Biden, House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, and Senate Appropriations Chair Dan Inouye. Last week, we wrote not to believe the hype about a government shutdown -- mainly because while Boehner had said there was no deal, he never was rejecting the $33 billion compromise figure. But something happened yesterday. “I’ve made clear that their $33 billion is not enough and many of the cuts that the White House and Senate Democrats are talking about are full of smoke and mirrors,” Boehner said in a statement yesterday. His office later followed up with this: “Tonight, Speaker Boehner informed House Republicans that tomorrow … House Administration Committee Chairman Dan Lungren will issue guidance to all members on how the House would operate in the event Senate Democrats shut down the government.” Boehner's change of heart came after Senate Democrats and House Republicans couldn't agree on the number of permanent cuts vs. temporary cuts, and that's why Boehner went from vagueness regarding the $33 billion to being more definitive yesterday. More than ever before, we seem on the brink of a shutdown.

*** Credibility with the base: The biggest difference between the lame-duck battle over the Bush tax cuts and the current impasse over spending cuts is: Obama had the credibility to tell his base to accept temporarily extending the tax cuts for the wealthy in return for jobless benefits and a payroll tax cut. As you remember, Democrats weren’t happy with the compromise, but they eventually acquiesced (and then turned their attention to other issues, like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and New START). But Boehner doesn’t have that same credibility with his base, at least not yet. He can't tell the base, “Take this half a loaf.” They don't yet trust him. And that’s why we’re on the brink of a shutdown.

*** Circle July 8 on your calendars: By the way, we now have a date for the next big congressional battle, if we ever get to it. Reuters: “The United States will hit the legal limit on its ability to borrow no later than May 16, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said on Monday, ramping up pressure on Congress to act to avoid a debt default.” And that means the debt ceiling has to be raised no LATER than July 8.

*** Ryan’s rollout: The other big story today -- besides today’s White House meeting to resolve the spending-cut impasse -- is House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s rollout of his 2012 budget plan, which includes an overhaul of Medicare and Medicaid. Ryan holds a press conference at 10:30 am ET, and speaks at the conservative American Enterprise Institute at noon ET. As we wrote yesterday, there are a few reasons why Ryan’s proposals won’t likely go anywhere for now: 1) Ryan has no bipartisan cover; 2) Dems are still in control of the White House and Senate; and 3) Ryan didn’t back the bipartisan Deficit Commission recommendations. But there are two more reasons why the proposals are DOA. One, Medicare remains the best government brand out there. Almost EVERYONE loves the program, so good luck cutting it. Republicans got control of the House and "won" the health care PR battle by, well, to borrow a word that some are using a lot today: "demogogue-ing" Medicare. Two, excluding those 55 and older from changes NEVER seems to work. Just ask George W. Bush what happened with his Social Security reform.

*** The referendums on Scott Walker: The political fight in Wisconsin won't be ending any time soon -- with court battles and recall elections on the horizon. And today, there are two general-election races in the state that some may view as referendums on Gov. Scott Walker (R). In the race to replace Walker as Milwaukee County executive, nonpartisan (though Democratic leaning) Chris Abele faces off against Republican Jeff Stone. Abele has aired a TV ad comparing Stone to Walker (Stone has been quoted as saying that he and Walker share “similar aspirations,” while Walker has praised Stone). In a second race -- for state Supreme Court -- incumbent conservative David Prosser takes on more liberal challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg, and Democrats have played up a quote from a Prosser spokesperson saying the justice would be a “complement” to Walker. The contest has even featured this over-the-top ad.

*** Is Walker toxic?  If Democrats win one or both of these races by tying the Republican to Walker, it could be further evidence that Walker is politically toxic in Wisconsin and that Dems have the momentum in the state. And these two contests are just the beginning: The first recall election of a GOP state senator looks like it will take place a couple of months from now…

*** 270 to win: Finally, the Web site 270toWin.com plugged in First Read’s presidential toss-up states. It found 70 scenarios how Obama could reach 270 electoral votes or higher, 50 scenarios how the GOP nominee could get to 270 and above, and 13 different ways we could see a 269-269 tie. Digest that last fact a minute: 13 different scenarios for a 269-269 tie. Cue the screams from electoral college reformers.

Countdown to continuing resolution’s expiration: 3 days
Countdown to NY-26 special election: 49 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 129 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 217 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 307 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter.