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First thoughts: Progress, but is it enough?

Obama, Reid, and Boehner cite progress after last night’s White House meeting, but is enough?... NBC/WSJ poll shows the box Boehner’s in… The public’s looking for more stability, not less… Poll also finds Obama increasingly in the ideological middle… While Trump is the shiny metal object in the NBC/WSJ GOP trial heat, don’t lose sight of Bachmann… Barbour’s off to a rough poll start…  Time to write off Palin for 2012?… Obama meets with Colombia’s president this afternoon, and the two speak with reporters at 4:20 pm ET.

AP

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., speak to reporters after their meeting at the White House on Wednesday with President Obama regarding the budget and possible government shutdown.

From NBC's Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Progress, but is it enough? The good news after last night’s Obama-Reid-Boehner meeting to resolve the budget stalemate: They were all on the same page saying there was progress; call it rhetorical agreement. The bad news: There still was no deal to avert a government shutdown. Said President Obama, “I thought the meetings were frank, they were constructive, and what they did was narrow the issues and clarify the issues that are still outstanding.” Added Reid, "We had a productive conversation and made good progress toward an agreement. I am hopeful that we will be able to announce a compromise agreement soon." And here was Boehner: “We do have some honest differences, but I do think we made some progress. But I want to reiterate, there's no agreement on a number and there's no agreement on the policy questions. But there's an intent on both sides to continue to work together to try to resolve this.” If there’s optimism that a deal gets done before Friday night’s deadline, it’s this: It feels like we’re in the saving-face period. Obama is saving face by holding multiple meetings at the White House, and Boehner is saving face by accusing the president of not leading. The primary sticking point is NOT money at this point; it's these so-called "riders," like the Planned Parenthood amendment.

*** Base politics: The latest NBC/WSJ poll shows why Boehner, for now, is in the tougher position as the deadline draws closer. A majority of Republicans (and an even LARGER majority of Tea Party supporters) do not want congressional Republican leaders to compromise. But a majority of independent voters do. Bottom line: Boehner is dealing with a primary buzz saw for some Republicans if he looks as if he compromised too much, even if it's at the price of a potential general election problem. That's the Boehner box, and it explains why he can't move too quickly on a deal. Of course, the pressure could end up on Democrats if the House passes their one-week C.R. with full defense funding and the Senate refuses to take that up.

*** Stability vs. instability: Our poll also is chock-full of data suggesting risks for both Democrats and Republicans if there is a government shutdown. Perhaps the biggest risk? The American public -- seeing three U.S. wars, almost 9% unemployment, and high gas prices -- doesn’t need more instability. Per the survey, just 28% believe the country is headed in the right direction; only 20% approve of Congress’ job; and just 33% think the economy will improve in the next 12 months. “The public is skittish and scared, and the last thing they’d like to add into the mix is a government shutdown,” said NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart (D). “If anything, they’re looking for more stability.”

*** Middle Man: On a week when Obama launched his re-election bid, the NBC/WSJ poll shows him a position with the public that would please Bill Daley, David Plouffe, and Jim Messina. For the second-straight time, a plurality of Americans (38%) view him as a moderate, versus 30% who see him as “very liberal” and 20% who see him as “somewhat liberal.” In addition, his job-approval rating -- which sits at 49% overall -- is above 50% with seniors, is also above 50% in every region except the South, and is a net-positive among independents. And his re-elect number among women 50+ is almost at 50%. There seems to be a pattern here: Obama is improving with independents, seniors, and women. But what might concern Daley/Plouffe/Messina: this Florida Quinnipiac poll, which shows 52% of registered voters in the state disapproving of the president’s job. 

*** The Bachmann avalanche? As far as our poll’s look at the 2012 Republican field, the headline here is the fact that Donald Trump is tied for second in our hypothetical GOP trial heat and he actually leads among Tea Party supporters. This, to us, suggests both the weakness and the fluidity of the GOP field. But don’t let the Trump shiny metal object distract you from what could be a more significant story: Michele Bachmann. In a smaller five-way trial heat (featuring Romney, Gingrich, Pawlenty, Barbour, and Bachmann), Romney leads with 40% of Republican primary voters, followed by Newt at 20%, and T-Paw at 12%. But among those describing themselves as VERY CONSERVATIVE, Bachmann leads that field. If Trump is an asteroid who could turn into a pebble, Bachmann could be a snow ball that could turn into an avalanche.

*** Should Barbour reconsider? Our NBC/WSJ poll once again suggests -- at least nationally -- that Haley Barbour isn’t gaining traction. In our nine-way GOP trial heat, he finishes dead-last (with 1%). He also finishes last in our five-way (with 3%). And then there’s this: In our poll’s list of 13 different candidate attributes, the most unpopular was being a former lobbyist (with just 16% saying they were enthusiastic or comfortable about that characteristic). That was worse than being a FOX commentator (31%), being a Tea Party leader (35%), being a person with multiple marriages (46%), and being a Mormon (49%). The most popular attributes were being a woman (85%), being African American (84%), being a governor (81%), and being Catholic (77%).

*** Time to write Palin’s 2012 political obituary? Finally, our poll showed a further deterioration in Sarah Palin’s political standing. In addition to trailing Romney, Trump, Huckabee, and Gingrich in our nine-way trial heat, Palin’s fav/unfav stands at 25%-53%, down from 28%-50% in Dec. 2010. What’s more, for the first time in our poll, her “very positive” number is in single digits. Of course, things can always change -- Hillary Clinton’s fav/unfav is now 56%-22% after being 37%-48% in March 2008 -- but there’s a reason why Palin is no longer in the 2012 conversation.

*** Obama’s day: Obama meets with Colombia’s President Santos in the Oval Office at 3:45 pm ET, and the two men will speak to reporters at 4:20 pm.

*** 2012 watch: Barbour speaks at 7:00 pm ET at the Florida state House in Tallahassee, FL… Santorum appears on a conservative talk show in Reno, NV, at 7:00 pm ET, and then speaks at a Washoe County GOP dinner in Reno at 10:00 pm ET.

Countdown to continuing resolution’s expiration: 2 days
Countdown to NY-26 special election: 47 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 127 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 215 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 305 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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