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First Thoughts: The blame game

The blame game: Who killed the grand bargain?... David Brooks points the finger at Republicans and conservatives… Today’s symbolic “Cut, Cap, and Balance” vote in the House… White House steps up its PR effort… NBC/WSJ poll day!... Coburn releases his own deficit-reduction plan… Perry walks back his “called” comment… Bachmann’s in South Carolina, while Pawlenty continues his RV tour through Iowa… And today’s first recall race in Wisconsin.

*** The blame game: With Congress now on a course to raise the debt ceiling via an enlarged version of Mitch McConnell’s “disapproval” maneuver (the Biden group spending cuts + Reid's commissions), the question turns to: How did Washington pass up the grand bargain to deal with deficit reduction, entitlement reform, and tax reform? There’s plenty of blame to go around depending on your point of view or seat in the peanut gallery -- and we’ll be examining the culprits here over the next few days -- but the New York Times’ David Brooks today singles out the Republicans and conservatives who gutted any chance of the grand bargain passing Congress. His targets: the Beltway Bandits (including anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, whom Brooks calls the “Zelig of Republican catastrophe”), the Big Government Blowhards (i.e., the talk-radio jocks), the Show Horses (Palin and Bachmann), and the Permanent Campaigners (Brooks doesn’t name Eric Cantor here, but it’s pretty clear to whom he’s referring).

*** “Gods of the New Dawn?” Brooks concludes his column this way, “All of these groups share the same mentality. They do not see politics as the art of the possible. They do not believe in seizing opportunities to make steady, messy progress toward conservative goals. They believe that politics is a cataclysmic struggle. They believe that if they can remain pure in their faith then someday their party will win a total and permanent victory over its foes. They believe they are Gods of the New Dawn.” Case in point: GOP Sen. Tom Coburn, who released his own plan yesterday (see below), was hit hard for his budget plan by … Grover Norquist. Clearly, that's a feud that's gotten personal.

*** Today’s symbolic House vote: Speaking of purity and zero-sum politics, the House today votes on the so-called “Cut, Cap, and Balance” legislation that has almost no chance of becoming law. The measure combines a debt-ceiling increase with immediate spending cuts, spending caps, and a balanced budget constitutional amendment that includes a two-thirds majority provision on taxes. It’s expected to pass the House, but it has little chance of clearing the Democratic-controlled Senate (or even getting many Senate Dem votes because of the tax hike provision). And yesterday, the Obama White House issued a veto threat against the House legislation, saying it “would set unrealistic spending caps that could result in significant cuts to education, research and development, and other programs critical to growing our economy and winning the future. It could also lead to severe cuts in Medicare and Social Security.” House Speaker Boehner responded to the veto threat with a video, NBC’s Luke Russert reports. “The issue is not congressional inaction, but rather the president's unwillingness to cut spending and restrain the future growth of our government," Boehner says in it. The Senate will vote on “Cut, Cap, and Balance” later this week.  

*** White House steps up its PR effort: In addition to yesterday’s veto threat, White House economic adviser Jason Furman further criticizes the “Cut, Cap, and Balance” measure on the White House’s blog. “The bill would abruptly cut more than $100 billion in spending in the first year alone, a step that Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf stated would ‘affect our projections for GDP growth over the next two years,’” Furman writes. “It would cut Medicaid by one-third over the decade, and by nearly 50% by 2030… And it would cut programs for the most vulnerable – for example, by food stamp benefits for a family of four by $1,760 per year or cut 8 million households from the program.” This is just the latest example of the Obama White House stepping up its PR effort in the debt-ceiling fight that they believe they are winning right now.

*** NBC/WSJ poll day! So who is winning (or at least isn’t losing) the current political fight over debt limit? What is the American public more concerned about -- cuts to entitlements or tax increases? And what is President Obama’s standing heading into 2012? Tune into NBC “Nightly News,” or click on to MSNBC.com, for the answers from our new NBC/WSJ poll, which is released in full beginning at 6:30 pm ET.

*** Coburn releases his own plan: Meanwhile, NBC’s Libby Leist notes that GOP Sen. Tom Coburn yesterday released his massive $9 trillion deficit-reduction plan. It contains sweeping cuts across the federal government that would reduce the size of government by 20%. In an afternoon press conference, Coburn told reporters, "It’s rough, but it’s necessary... Nine trillion dollars is very reasonable. That sounds idiotic to Washington."Aides to Coburn said he released this plan to call attention to the fact that the $1 to $2 trillion in cuts that the White House and GOP leaders are discussing is just a drop in the bucket compared with what’s needed to solve the national crisis. Coburn told reporters in a later pen and pad session, "Two trillion dollars? That doesn't even cover interest on debt we have right now. If interest rates go up two points you've just doubled it."

*** Rick Perry watch: As we mentioned yesterday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry seemed VERY open to a presidential run over the weekend, telling the Des Moines Register: “I’m getting more and more comfortable every day that this is what I’ve been called to do. This is what America needs.” But he walked back those comments yesterday, especially regarding the “calling” part. "There's a lot of different ways to be called. My mother may call me for dinner. My friends may call me for something. There are people calling from all across this country ... and saying, 'Man, we wish you would consider doing this,'" Perry said, according to the Houston Chronicle.

*** On the 2012 trail: Bachmann is in South Carolina, making stops in Columbia and Aiken… And Pawlenty continues his RV tour through Iowa, hitting Boone, Marshalltow, and Pella.

*** Today’s first Wisconsin recall race: The first round of Wisconsin recall primaries took place last week. And today comes the first recall general election -- with incumbent state Sen. Dave Hansen (D) facing off against Republican David Vanderleest. The race is seen as a barometer for the future recall general elections (on Aug. 9) against the six GOP state senators who voted for Gov. Scott Walker's collective-bargaining legislation, and (on Aug. 16) against two other Democrats who fled the state to stop that vote. Democrats need to net a gain of three state Senate seats during these contests to regain control of the chamber. Hansen is expected to win, in part because the GOP’s preferred candidate was unable to get on the ballot. Polls in Wisconsin close at 9:00 pm ET.

*** Tuesday’s “Daily Rundown” lineup: DNC Chair/Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Club for Growth President Chris Chocola on the latest developments in the debt ceiling discussions… NBC’s Mike Isikoff and MSNBC.com’s Richard Wolffe on Rupert Murdoch’s testimony to Parliament and what the U.K. hacking scandal could mean for media and politics here in the U.S.

*** Tuesday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports”: And with the one-year anniversary of the financial-reform legislation being signed into law, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews Democratic Congressman Barney Frank.

Countdown to Wisconsin recall general for GOP senators: 21 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 25 days
Countdown to Wisconsin recall general for Dem senators: 28 days
Countdown to NV-2 and NY-9 special elections: 56 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 112 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 202 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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