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First Thoughts: On the brink

Hours until tonight’s deadline, many are acting as if the spending standoff has become a Kennedy-Khrushchev-like showdown… And it’s ridiculous… But remember: It often looks the most ridiculous before the deal… The latest developments and the latest sticking points… Waiting for Superman (er, President Obama)… Our next crisis: the debt ceiling… The danger of misreading your mandate… A gray backlash over Medicare?... And Prosser retakes the lead -- big time -- in Wisconsin.

From NBC's Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** On the brink: From the look of things, many are acting as if we’re in the midst of a modern-day Kennedy-vs.-Khrushchev showdown. But instead of a standoff over nuclear missiles in Cuba, Democrats and Republicans are on the brink of a government shutdown over the difference of a few billion dollars, Planned Parenthood, and abortions in Washington, DC. (We somehow missed how Planned Parenthood was an issue in last year’s midterms. We also somehow missed the complaints when Dems voted for previous legislation with a DC abortion funding ban.) It’s all ridiculous -- something which House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer acknowledged on “TODAY” this morning. But just like it’s always darkest before dawn, it always looks the most ridiculous before the deal. The question Dem and GOP lawmakers need to ponder: Are they really going to shut down the federal government over $300 million for Planned Parenthood? That’s what the debate has really come down to.

*** The latest developments: Per NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell, aides from both parties say the top negotiators -- including the chiefs of staff to Boehner and Reid -- worked at the Capitol until 3:00 am ET without a deal. They expect to begin again around 8:00 am and expect to notify the president about their status at "mid morning." He asked to know by noon. Dem sources, O’Donnell adds, say there is "no movement on "Title X," the government funding name for health centers like Planned Parenthood. Republicans say talks stalled an impasse largely over the size of cuts -- and their composition. Both sides agree "there has been some narrowing on the riders."

*** “Further along today than we were yesterday”: After last night’s Obama-Boehner-Reid meeting, President Obama gave these remarks to cameras, “I’m not yet prepared to express wild optimism. But I think we are further along today than we were yesterday.” Also, Boehner and Reid released a JOINT statement: “We have narrowed the issues; however, we have not yet reached an agreement. We will continue to work through the night to attempt to resolve our remaining differences.” Obama has since canceled today’s visit to Indiana, and his family’s trip to Williamsburg, VA is now TBD. Roll Call is reporting that he won’t cut a final deal with Obama and Reid until he has vetted it with his GOP members at their conference meeting at noon ET. What we’re hearing from the White House is that riders like things over abortion are the outstanding differences, while Republicans insist it’s over the dollar amount. But this is not about money. As with the health-care law, this is all about the culture war.

*** Waiting for Superman: The Beltway narrative on the budget showdown has turned to Obama’s leadership. The Washington Post’s Balz asks, “Is he too slow to react? Is he diffident in the face of serious challenges? Is he reluctant to exercise the full powers of the presidency? Would events have turned out differently had he moved with greater force earlier?” And here’s Politico: “Republicans have hit President Barack Obama for being out of touch, disengaged and unwilling to lead on the budget negotiations — and Democrats aren’t wild about his taste for last-minute heroics either.” Of course, over the past two years, this narrative has popped up time and time again. Over the health-care legislation (which passed). The economy (which is improving). The BP spill (which was stopped). The tax-cut deal (which passed). Egypt (which saw a relatively peaceful transfer of power). Libya (which so far has not). And now this budget fight (whose outcome is undetermined). Once this story ends -- whenever that occurs -- we’ll move to the next crisis. But at what point do members of Congress need to take responsibility for what happens in their chambers?

*** The next crisis: the debt ceiling: And that next crisis, by the way, will probably be over raising the debt ceiling. And if you thought this spending fight has been tough to resolve, just wait until we reach that battle later this year. In our latest NBC/WSJ poll, only 16% say the debt ceiling should be raised, versus 46% who say it shouldn’t; 38% say they don’t know enough. But when respondents were told that failing to raise the debt ceiling would make the government unable to pay its bills and that the government would default on its debt payments, that 16% moved up to just 32%. Meanwhile, 62% said the ceiling SHOULD NOT be raised because doing so would make it harder to get the nation’s financial house in order. And then get ready for the 2012 budget fight this fall…

*** Misreading your mandate: Looking at the current spending fight -- as well as the House GOP effort to phase out Medicare -- National Journal’s Charlie Cook makes this point: “One of the biggest and most frequent mistakes in politics is for a party to misread its mandate. When it happens, independent and swing voters get angry and punish a candidate or a party on Election Day. Because American politics is a zero-sum game, punishing one party means rewarding the other party—even when the latter is not necessarily deserving of support. Frequently, the party that benefits from the spanking mistakenly interprets it to mean that the public is embracing every aspect of its agenda. Republicans shouldn’t forget that their party had dismal favorable/unfavorable poll ratings last fall. They won because they weren’t Democrats.”

*** A gray backlash? And in his weekly National Journal column, Ron Brownstein explains why Republicans trying to touch Medicare is so potentially perilous for the GOP in 2012. “Republicans won about three-fifths of white seniors in both the 2008 presidential and 2010 House elections, and they now hold 99 of the 150 House districts with the highest proportion of the elderly. A gray backlash could cost them dearly (especially if President Obama, Clinton-like, successfully links the GOP tax-cut and Medicare proposals).” Brownstein also notes that this is the FIFTH time since 1980 that Republicans “have followed an electoral breakthrough by attempting to restructure Medicare or Social Security.”

*** Prosser takes back the lead: Meanwhile, in Wisconsin’s still-undecided state Supreme Court race, conservative David Prosser has regained the lead -- big time. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports: “Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus said Thursday that she failed to save on her computer and then report 14,315 votes in the city of Brookfield, omitting them entirely in an unofficial total she released after Tuesday's election. With other smaller errors in Waukesha County, Prosser gained 7,582 votes over his challenger, JoAnne Kloppenburg, leaving the sitting justice significantly ahead for now amid ongoing official counting.” And it was all because Nickolaus said she forgot to hit save on her computer. Wow.

Countdown to continuing resolution’s expiration: midnight ET
Countdown to NY-26 special election: 46 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 126 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 214 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 304 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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