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2012: Medicare -- Risky Business

Per the New York Times, “Just four months into their new majority, House Republicans face a potentially defining Medicare vote this week that is sure to become a centerpiece of Democratic efforts to recapture the House in 2012 and spill into the presidential and Senate campaigns as well.”

“Republicans acknowledge that the vote is risky, and party strategists have warned House leaders about the dangers, aides said. But Republicans are calculating that the political ground has shifted, making the public, concerned about the mounting national debt, receptive to proposals to rein in costs by reshaping the program.”

Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann will attend the Minnesota Family Council’s annual fundraising dinner in Minneapolis on May 17, the Minnesota Independent reports. The event, called “Rediscovering Faith, Family and Freedom,” will feature Gingrich’s film “Rediscovering God in America.” 

BACHMANN: Speaking at an event sponsored by the Iowa conservative group The Family Leader, Rep. Michele Bachmann said she will vote against the federal budget compromise because it does not remove funding for President Obama’s health care law, the AP reports.

Reuters adds that Bachmann told the crowd that she “broke with my own leadership this weekend” over the budget package.

Bachmann was on FOX last night, per NBC's Lauren Selsky. Bachmann said she wouldn't vote to raise the debt ceiling. Asked about Donald Trump the "birther" issue he has raised, Bachmann said she's taken the president at his word -- and as far as she's concerned if she decides to throw her hat in the ring anyone can look at her birth certificate.

BARBOUR: “Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour will make his first New Hampshire appearance later this week, checking off the last of the must-stop early presidential primary states as he creeps closer to a White House run,” Roll Call notes. “The Southern Republican opens his Granite State tour Wednesday night at a private reception in Bow.”

The clients that Haley Barbour worked for in his former career as a lobbyist could hurt him on some very important issues for Republicans, the AP writes. In addition to his work for the Mexican government to lobby on immigration reform, Barbour’s firm also lobbied for a fuel alternative to ethanol (a big commodity in Iowa) and on behalf of three universities looking to secure federal spending.

PALIN: Sarah Palin wins just 5 percent in a Sachs/Mason Dixon poll of Florida voters gauging their presidential picks, The State Column notes. Mitt Romney leads the poll with 23 percent support.

PAUL: Rep. Ron Paul, also speaking at the Family Leader event, criticized the deal brokered by President Obama and congressional leaders, as well as Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, Reuters writes. “Paul said both the Obama and Ryan plans accept the idea the government will want to run the welfare system. ‘Ryan's, even though he makes an attempt at it, doesn't reject that notion. I do,’ Paul said.”

ROMNEY: Mitt Romney became the fourth Republican to form an exploratory committee as they mull bids for the White House in 2012. The Boston Globe says it’s something “he has been preparing for almost since he lost the 2008 Republican nomination. With little fanfare for the much-expected move, the former Massachusetts governor revealed the decision in an understated video posted on a website and on his Facebook page. The setting — an unannounced visit yesterday morning to meet with University of New Hampshire students — was telling: The Granite State is considered a must-win primary for Romney… Romney plans to open his campaign headquarters next month in Boston — in the same building his last campaign was based, in the North End. Aides declined to say whether he would participate in the first GOP presidential debate, scheduled for May 5.”

The Boston Globe’s Glen Johnson: “In announcing his presidential exploratory committee in a deliberately understated way, Romney declared his intentions — on his terms and in his own tone — with a variety of messages for an array of audiences.” More: “To President Obama, Romney asserted that the battle is joined… To the Democratic Party, Romney set his terms of engagement… To his primary rivals, and to the media, Romney rolled out his plan in a businesslike fashion reminiscent of the highly efficient and disciplined 2000 Bush campaign.” He also notes: “Two words absent from the speech: ‘health’ and ‘care.’ Also left unsaid was the $1.3 billion budget deficit his successor, Democrat Deval Patrick, claimed he inherited as governor.”

On the five-year anniversary of the signing of Massachusetts’ health-care plan, “Iowa Democrats are doing it to tweak Mitt Romney. So are New Hampshire Democrats and Massachusetts Democrats, who are even rolling out a ‘Thank you Mitt Romney’ sheet cake today,” the Boston Globe writes, going on to look at the details of the bill, that it expanded coverage but did little to rein in costs, and that it largely remains popular in the state.

The New Hampshire Democratic Party, in fact, is holding a press conference marking the anniversary at 11:15 am ET.

New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Jack Kimball defended the Romney health care plan yesterday, saying on CNN that the plan “was an innovative experiment, he's a very smart man and what he did was he came up with this program geared for the state of Massachusetts, it was never meant to be some model for a national health care program. And Mitt Romney's made it very clear and as recently as a few weeks ago to me that he's in favor of complete repeal of 'Obamacare' and that each state should come up with their own plan.”

If Romney’s slogan, “Believe in America,” sounds familiar, that might be because it was also the title of John Kerry’s cross-country tour in August of 2004, Politico’s Ben Smith points out, adding, “if there's one parallel the wealthy Massachusetts politician whose foes are already waving online flip-flops doesn't particularly welcome, it's to Kerry.”

With his 2008 South Carolina team largely dismantled and support from conservative heavies like Sen. Jim DeMint and Gov. Nikki Haley far from assured, Mitt Romney could be the “heavy underdog” in the South Carolina presidential primary, Real Clear Politics writes. 

SANTORUM: Rick Santorum today became the first candidate, declared or prospective, to announce his participation in New Hampshire’s first scheduled primary debate on June 7, the New Hampshire Union-Leader’s DiStaso writes. DiStaso adds, though that “A source close to the debate said three other major likely candidates have told organizers that they will be there.”

TRUMP: In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Donald Trump said he will “probably” run as an independent candidate for U.S. President in 2012 if he does not receive the Republican Party’s nomination. He also praised Sarah Palin for being “so nice and so gracious” on the Birther issue, saying she said he was doing “a great service” by -- falsely -- questioning President Obama’s citizenship.

Trump has taken a much harder line on benefits for gay couples and gay marriage than his previously moderate stances, Mother Jones points out, noting that he said in 2000 that he supported “a very strong domestic-partnership law” although he told the Des Moines Register last month that his position on legalizing gay marriage and giving “civil benefits” to same-sex couples was “no and no.”

In a pre-recorded interview on FOX last night, Trump rehashed the same issues he's been talking about for weeks, NBC's Lauren Selsky notes. When pressed for a date when he'll announce his decision about running for president, Trump said on or before June 1.