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First thoughts: Off and running

AP

President Obama delivers his speech at George Washington University yesterday on debt and deficits. It served really as a first campaign speech of 2012 for Obama.

The 2012 race is certainly off and running… Tonight in Chicago, Obama attends his first fundraisers as a 2012 candidate… Today’s House vote on the spending-cut deal: How many GOP votes does Boehner get? And do Pelosi and Bachmann end up voting the same way?... Breaking down Obama’s deficit speech -- his three audiences, the Ryan foil, and the GOP rebuttal… Scott Walker testifies on Capitol Hill… Santorum says he’s testing the waters… A busy day in the Granite State… And DCCC announces $19.6 million haul in first quarter.

From NBC's Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Off and running: Somewhat lost in the clashes over spending and the deficit this week has been this development: The 2012 presidential race is off and running. Last week, President Obama officially filed for his re-election. Earlier this week, Mitt Romney formed his committee (calling it an "exploratory" but filing a statement of candidacy), while Tim Pawlenty reminded the country that he's "running for president" (before saying that he'd make his official announcement later). Yesterday, Obama delivered what seemed to be his first 2012 campaign speech, and Romney, Pawlenty, and Newt Gingrich issued statements reacting to it. Then Rick Santorum last night announced he’s established a testing-the-waters committee. And Donald Trump has been, well, everywhere these past few weeks. 

*** Obama heads back home to Chicago: And tonight, Obama attends his first fundraiser as a 2012 candidate -- three of them, in fact. The fundraisers, which will take place in his home town of Chicago, will raise several million dollars for the joint DNC-Obama campaign fund. Two of them will feature a combined 225 donors who will contribute as much as $30,000-plus per person to the joint fund. The other one will be attended by approximately 2,000 people who will donate at least $100 per person. Among the attendees tonight: former Chicago Bulls point guard BJ Armstrong, current Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, Rashard Mendenhall of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks. Also Grammy Award-winning artist Colbie Caillat will perform. 

 *** Today’s House vote: Moving from the 2012 presidential campaign to the spending fight on Capitol Hill, it isn’t every day that Nancy Pelosi and Michele Bachmann vote the same way. But it looks like that could happen with today’s House vote on the $38.5 billion spending-cut deal that the White House and congressional Republicans reached last Friday. (The Hill reports that Pelosi has been silent about how she would vote, but that two other members of the Democrats’ House leadership team will vote against the legislation.) More importantly, the vote isn’t going to be easy for Speaker John Boehner, and the biggest story to watch here is how many House Republicans end up voting for it -- especially with the Congressional Budget Office estimating that the legislation creates only $350 MILLION in savings this year (because it increases about $5 billion for Pentagon programs). In fact, Boehner writes an op-ed in Politico defending and selling the deal. Per NBC’s Shawna Thomas, the House is expected to vote on the spending-cut measure between 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm ET, and the Senate is planning to debate and vote on it today as well.

 *** Obama's three audiences: President Obama's deficit/debt/entitlement speech yesterday appeared to have three audiences. Those elusive independent voters were his first audience, and he told them he would cut the budget but with balance and sacrifice for all. Democratic liberals upset by Friday's spending-cut deal and December's tax-cut deal made up a second audience. To them, Obama gave a full-throated defense of the safety-net programs and vowed he would sunset the tax cuts for the wealthy. Republicans were his final audience. To them, he skewered their proposal to phase out Medicare and to keep those tax cuts for the wealthy. And Obama delivered another message to the GOP: It was under their party's previous president and GOP-controlled Congress that began racking up the deficits. In short, the speech was as much about defining the GOP budget plan -- coming before the House votes on the Ryan proposal on Friday -- as it was checking the box on addressing the deficit and debt.

 *** The GOP’s rebuttal: But Republicans delivered this message back at Obama: raising taxes is a non-starter. Boehner: “Any plan that starts with job-destroying tax hikes is a non-starter. We need to grow our economy -- not our government -- by creating a better environment for private sector job growth.” And here’s Mitt Romney: "With over 20 million people who are unemployed or who have stopped looking for work, the last thing we should be doing is raising taxes on job-creators, entrepreneurs, and small business owners across America.”  It's hard to believe there really was common ground found -- as the president's surrogates tried to claim last night and this morning. Sure, both parties agree that the growing deficits and debt need to be tackled, but there are DRAMATIC differences between the two parties on how to get there. Does anyone believe either party is ready to cave now BEFORE a presidential election year? Good luck with that new commission.

 *** Other quick thoughts on yesterday’s speech: While Paul Ryan’s move to go first in the entitlement debate “smoked” out Obama, as an Urban Institute fellow told the New York Times, Ryan’s plan gave Obama a foil -- and a chance to lay out a potentially optimistic campaign message against what he sees as the GOP’s pessimistic plan. Put another way, it allows the incumbent to be able to run against something in 2012. Yet the speech also was inconsistent by blasting the GOP idea but then calling for both sides to still come together. Obama even acknowledged the inconsistency yesterday. "Though I’m sure the criticism of what I’ve said here today will be fierce in some quarters, and my critique of the House Republican approach has been strong, Americans deserve and will demand that we all make an effort to bridge our differences and find common ground," he said.

*** Scott Walker on Capitol Hill: Beginning at 9:30 am ET, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will testify before Darrell Issa’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The topic: “State and Municipal Debt: Tough Choices Ahead.” The Hill says that Walker could be in for a rowdy welcome. “A coalition of liberal groups including People for the American Way, Common Cause and Public Campaign is scheduled to give a press conference outside the hearing room before Walker testifies, and union members are traveling in from Wisconsin to attend.”

*** Santorum says he’s testing the waters: On FOX last night, Rick Santorum announced he was establishing a “testing the waters” committee, which is similar to what Newt Gingrich (for now) has set up. “We're going to determine over the next few weeks as to whether the resources are going be there” for a presidential bid, he said, according to NBC’s Lauren Selsky. Remember, the only OFFICIAL way to "explore" running for president is to open a "testing the waters" committee with the FEC. These campaigns that have "exploratory" in their name are actually legal full-fledged campaigns for president.

*** A busy day in the Granite State: Santorum, Haley Barbour, Tim Pawlenty, and Buddy Roemer are all in New Hampshire today; in fact, Santorum will lay out his plan for job growth, the nation’s debt, and government spending. Meanwhile, Herman Cain begins his day in Michigan to attend a Tea Party rally, and then makes a speech at Furman University in South Carolina

*** DSCC and DCCC news: At 11:00 am ET, DSCC Chair Patty Murray holds a pen-and-pad session with reporters to discuss how the GOP budget plan “will impact the 2012 Senate landscape.” And the DCCC today is announcing that it raised $19.6 million in the first quarter of 2011, which it says is the committee’s biggest off-year first quarter ever.

*** Programming note: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) appears on “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” which airs at 1:00 pm ET. 

Countdown to NY-26 special election: 40 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 120 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 208 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 298 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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