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First Thoughts: The three different tracks

Breaking down the three different tracks to a resolution on the debt ceiling… The grand bargain’s back… But can ANYTHING get through the House?... Is this the solution -- let the Bush tax cuts expire? (Grover Norquist says that won’t violate his tax pledge)… It takes 217 to make a thing go right: Magic number for passage in the House is 217, not 218… Bachmann’s rapid response on the migraines story… But Pawlenty goes there (and later walks it back, kind of)… Could Romney’s strength be a weakness?... And another national poll shows Romney in first, Bachmann in second.

*** The three different tracks: With the clock ticking until the Aug. 2 deadline, there are essentially three tracks to resolve the debt-ceiling standoff. One track is McConnell-Reid, the ongoing negotiations between the Senate Majority Leader and Senate Minority Leader to pass a “failsafe” debt ceiling increase without majorities of Congress having to approve it, and it's losing a lot of steam (right now). The second track is the talks between President Obama and House Republicans John Boehner and Eric Cantor, as they try to revive a “grand bargain” -- and it's a track that is a LOT more active than folks realize. And the third track is a second grand-bargain-style deal -- this one by the Gang of Six in the Senate. “Right now, there are multiple trains heading towards the station, and we have to decide,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said yesterday. “And some of them may continue up to the last moment, because we need to be sure that that failsafe option is there even as we pursue, aggressively, the possibility of doing something bigger.”  

*** The grand bargain’s back: Earlier this week, we wrote that the grand bargain appeared to be dead. But right now, it seems to be gaining more and more momentum. The Washington Post: “By Wednesday evening, as House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) huddled with Obama at the White House, aides in both parties said a grand bargain to slice $4 trillion out of the federal budget over the next decade was back on the table.” The New York Times adds, “Politically, the main question remained whether House Republicans would be willing to negotiate over any package that could be construed as raising taxes, and throughout the day there were signs of internal debate among party leaders.”

*** House Republicans sour on McConnell-Reid: So what happened to McConnell-Reid? Here’s one explanation we’ve heard: House Republicans have soured on McConnell’s legislative maneuver, which essentially cedes Congress’ authority on the debt and passes it to Obama. It really poisoned the well in the trust between House Republicans and Senate Republicans for now. If there’s one piece of good news out there, it’s that McConnell’s plan so upset Tea Party House members that they’re more open to a grand bargain than they’ve been before. That explains why Boehner and Cantor are together now meeting with the president, but without any other House or Senate leaders.

*** Can anything get through the House? But all of this emphasizes one VERY important point right now: There is currently no plan out there that could get through the House. And that’s raised chatter on Capitol Hill that the only way to convince enough House Republicans to support ANY track is for the Dow Jones to collapse, a la what happened with TARP in 2008. Of course, that possibility makes this Onion headline seem appropriate: “Congress Continues Debate Over Whether Or Not Nation Should Be Economically Ruined.” And yet, the lack of trust in what Wall Street says and what government says is what drove many of these Republicans to run for Congress in the first place. So that may explain why they are skeptical of all these dire warnings. The leaders of both parties are desperate to avoid this, but it may not be possible.

*** Is this the solution -- let the Bush tax cuts expire? Don’t miss this news, via the Washington Post editorial page: “With a handful of exceptions, every Republican member of Congress has signed a pledge against increasing taxes. Would allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire as scheduled in 2012 violate this vow? We posed this question to Grover Norquist, its author and enforcer, and his answer was both surprising and encouraging: No.” Wow.

*** It takes 217 to make a thing go right; it takes 217 to make it out of sight: With two vacancies right now, the magic number to pass legislation in the House is 217, not 218.

*** Bachmann’s rapid response: Turning to the 2012 race, Team Bachmann has handled the candidate’s migraine story about as well as they could. Yesterday, they released a letter from the doctor in the House of Representatives, who said that Bachmann’s migraines are under control and infrequent. “When you do have a migraine, you are able to control it well with as-needed sumatriptan and odansetron,” the doctor said. “It has not been necessary for you to take daily medications to manage this condition.” But there are two points to make here. One, Bachmann has no margin of error regarding any other story on her health; any moment on the campaign trail that appears to be health related will reignite this story in a second. Two, there are former Bachmann staffers out there -- the ones who anonymously leaked this story -- to hurt her candidacy. In fact, THAT's probably the campaign’s bigger concern right now…

*** Pawlenty goes there… : And a concern for rival GOP campaigns is that they don’t seem like they’re taking advantage of Bachmann’s health care. But Tim Pawlenty went there yesterday, saying in Iowa, per NBC’s Morgan Parmet: “I don't know enough about the facts of her particular case, and I would defer to the medical professionals and their judgment and knowledge about her particular condition. But as a general statement, all of the candidates are going to have to demonstrate they can do all of the job as president all of the time.” That, folks, was a subtle dig at Bachmann’s migraines.

*** … But he walks it back (kind of): Yet in an interview last night on FOX, Pawlenty walked back that statement, kind of. “It’s mostly a sideshow,” he said.  “I have never seen her have a medical condition or impairment that would seem to be a concern. What I said today, generically, applying to all candidates -- not her – is that anybody who is going to serve as president of the United States has to be able to do all of the job… That’s just common sense; it’s not a debatable proposition.” Contrast that with what Romney said yesterday (in which he suggested that it’s already a two-person race for the GOP nomination): "There's no question in my mind that Michele Bachmann's health is in no way an impediment to her being able to serve as president. She and I have differing views, I'm sure, on some issues. We'll campaign in various states and express our views, but her health should not be an issue in the campaign. I have no question about that in my mind."

*** Could Romney’s strength be a weakness? As we discovered in 2004, someone’s political strength -- John Kerry’s military service -- could be turned into a weakness in a presidential election. And as Bloomberg News reported yesterday, you don’t need a Swift Boat Veterans for Truth organization to uncover how Mitt Romney’s business experience could be turned into a weakness in this economy. “What Romney skips [on the campaign trail] is his experience in eliminating jobs. It's a facet of his career that presents a particular challenge for the Republican primary frontrunner: Tough business decisions don't necessarily translate into good politics.” More: “Employees who lost jobs at Bain-controlled companies more than a decade ago say they still hold Romney responsible. ‘I would not vote for him for anything,’ said Phyllis Detro, 68, who lost her job at a Bain-owned office paper products factory in Marion, Ind., closed in 1995. ‘I'd like to see the jobs that he's created. He has taken away jobs.’”

*** Another national poll show Romney in first, Bachmann in second: By the way, the Washington Post-ABC poll results on the GOP horserace are nearly identical to the numbers from our NBC/WSJ poll: “Romney tops the field at 30 percent to Bachmann’s 16 percent, with Paul at 11 percent. Perry is at 8 percent.”

*** On the 2012 trail: Pawlenty continues his RV tour through Iowa, stopping in Ames, Webster City, Fort Dodge, and Perry… Cain is in New Hampshire…

 *** Thursday’s “Daily Rundown” lineup: Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) on the debt talks… The Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson, The Grio’s Jeff Johnson and USA TODAY’s Jackie Kucinich on the latest 2012 news.

Countdown to Wisconsin recall general for GOP senators: 19 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 23 days
Countdown to Wisconsin recall general for Dem senators: 26 days
Countdown to NV-2 and NY-9 special elections: 54 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 110 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 200 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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