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First Thoughts: Boehner's boxed in

Boehner now finds himself boxed in… And because he’s fixing his legislation after the CBO score, he has a harder argument to make that Reid and the Dems are on board with his plan… Desperately searching for an acceptable trigger… Due to all of this chaos and confusion, the odds of a short-term extension (like 10 days) are more likely… The WSJ: Debt-ceiling debate is creating business uncertainty… Is Mitt Romney counting his chickens before they hatch?... On the trail: Pawlenty and Santorum are in Iowa, Romney’s in Ohio, and Gingrich is in Georgia.


House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (right), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) (left).

*** Boehner’s boxed in: Speaker John Boehner had to walk away from the negotiations with President Obama, in large part because too many members of his House GOP conference wouldn’t accept the deal (even before the controversy over that extra $400 billion in revenue). Now, a growing number of House conservatives -- along with the Club for Growth and the Heritage Foundation’s political arm -- oppose Boehner’s go-it-alone debt plan. To make matters worse for the speaker, the Congressional Budget Office determined that his legislation cut less spending than promised, and a vote is now postponed until tomorrow as he goes back to the drawing board. What’s more, Standard & Poor’s said on CNBC it’s “concerned” about Boehner’s plan requiring the debt limit to be raised once again in early 2012. Bottom line -- Boehner is boxed in. But there’s an escape hatch: Does he go back to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and his GOP conference and make his case that a “grand bargain” with the president is an easier lift than what they have now, since at least they'll have the help of Democrats to pass something and the "grand bargain" actually could change the deficit trajectory?

*** Boehner now has a harder argument to say that Reid and Dems are on board: Here’s another consequence of the CBO score: Boehner has argued to his caucus that Senate Majority Harry Reid accepted his plan (which Reid denies, but clearly the similarities between Reid and Boehner on the first round of cuts show there's some truth buried in there), and therefore Reid and Senate Democrats will ultimately vote for it if it reaches the Senate. But now that Boehner has to go back to the drawing board to fix his legislation, is it harder for him to argue that Reid and the Dems will accept it? And does Boehner "fix" the bill so much in order to get the votes that it becomes even less credible as a compromise vehicle?

*** Desperately searching for an acceptable trigger: Before yesterday’s CBO score, we can report that Boehner and Reid were in agreement on a two-step process to reduce the deficit. But the sticking point is the enforcement mechanism for the second round of cuts. Boehner wants that enforcement mechanism to be a second debt-ceiling hike to get through 2012. Reid, on the other hand, wants the second step to be deficit reduction that ISN’T tied to another debt-ceiling raise. In that respect, Boehner and Reid are stuck in the same place where Boehner and Obama were last week -- looking for an acceptable enforcement mechanism or “trigger.”

*** The odds of a short-term extension are now more likely: Due to this impasse, the CBO score, and the general uncertainty that anything is going to get done, the odds that the White House could sign a short-term debt extension (by 10 days or so) are MUCH more likely. It’s clear that everyone needs more time. Folks, this isn't speculation; this is a whisper that is growing louder among the players involved. By the way, with SO much uncertainty in the talks today, don't be surprised to see/hear all sorts of things today: Obama-Boehner talking? Reid-McConnell? Reid-Boehner? Gang of Six? It's all possible today. Thunderdome? In all seriousness, the new "key player of the day": Mitch McConnell. When does he simply cut a deal with Reid again and help move the ball forward?

*** Talk about business uncertainty: Last year, Boehner often attacked the Obama White House’s policies, arguing that they created business uncertainty. But as we’ve pointed out before, the GOP’s insistence on tying the debt ceiling to deficit reduction has created plenty of business uncertainty, too. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal reports that businesses are hoarding cash and delaying hiring because of the possibility of a U.S. debt default. “While companies generally expect Washington to resolve the debt-ceiling impasse at the last moment, they are lining up extra sources of financing, and carefully husbanding cash just in case a deal falls through. All the uncertainty comes just as businesses were starting to spend some of their record piles of cash. The confusion is also giving them another reason to delay hiring and investment.”

NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports on the debt impass in Washington.

*** Is Romney counting his chickens before they hatch? Turning to the Republicans campaigning for president, Mitt Romney is starting to resemble a gambler who’s up $500 at the blackjack table and is already counting the ways he’s going to spend his earnings -- but before he walks away from the table. As we’ve said before, he’s acting like someone who’s already wrapped up the GOP nomination, or even the White House. In the past month or so, he told a New Hampshire lumber company owner that he’d be back in four years, “only this time it will be a larger group and I will probably have Secret Service." His public events have taken him to states (like Pennsylvania, California, and today Ohio) that aren’t early primary states. And now it’s being reported that Romney mentioned at a Virginia fundraiser that the VP shortlist was Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. A source later told Politico that Romney wasn’t revealing his own VP list, but rather the obvious contenders for any GOP nominee. Still, as Romney knows well -- and Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton know it, too -- being the front-runner in the summer isn’t a guarantee of winning the nomination.

*** On the 2012 trail: Pawlenty and Santorum stump in Iowa… Romney holds another campaign event in a non-early nominating state -- this time Ohio -- as he delivers remarks in Pataskala, OH… And Gingrich is in Georgia.

***Wednesday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) on what debt limit bill(s?) will/can move through each chamber and how… PolitiFact’s Bill Adair breaks down some debt declarations… The Washington Post’s Perry Bacon, Republican strategist Kevin Madden and Democratic strategist Karen Finney on 2012 news.

*** Wednesday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: Democratic Congressman James Clyburn, Dem Sen. Kent Conrad, and GOP Rep. Tom Price.

Countdown to Wisconsin recall general for GOP senators: 13 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 17 days
Countdown to Wisconsin recall general for Dem senators: 20 days
Countdown to NV-2 and NY-9 special elections: 48 days
Countdown to Election Day 2012: 104 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 194 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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