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First Thoughts: In retreat

Dems in retreat… They draw another line in the sand, but will we see another concession?... Democrats reply: They might be losing this negotiating battle, but they could end up winning the larger war… Today’s House vote on the Boehner bill is expected early this evening, and the momentum appears to be on Boehner’s side… Reid’s two options if Boehner’s legislation passes… Romney still hasn’t taken a position on the Boehner bill… Cain apologizes… DNC seizes on bundler transparency… And Palin to return to Iowa in September.

*** In retreat: In this debt debate, who’s up one day can quickly go down the next -- and vice versa. That’s why, after we wrote yesterday that House Speaker John Boehner was boxed in, he now appears likely to get his legislation through the House today (he turned things around the old fashioned way; he willed it). But when you take a step back from the hour-by-hour movements in this debate, it’s obvious how much ground the White House and Democrats have conceded. First, they retreated on their push for a clean debt-ceiling raise. Then they retreated on the size of the spending cuts (now both sides say the cuts must equal or exceed the eventual debt-limit hike). Then they backed away from insisting that tax revenues be included in the final package (both the Boehner and Reid plans exclude them). And now it seems that their final line in the sand is insisting that the debt ceiling must -- in one step -- be raised beyond 2012, versus Boehner’s two-step approach, which would guarantee another debt showdown early next year.

*** Another line in the sand, and another retreat? Yesterday afternoon, the entire Dem Senate caucus -- the 51 Democrats and two Dem-leaning independents -- signed a letter to Boehner saying they’d oppose his legislation if it gets to their chamber. “A short-term extension like the one in your bill would put America at risk, along with every family and business in it,” the letter states. “Your approach would force us once again to face the threat of default in five or six short months. Every day, another expert warns us that your short-term approach could be nearly as disastrous as a default and would lead to a downgrade in our credit rating.” But will Democrats once again blink? Bottom line: It looks like they’ve gotten their clocks cleaned in these negotiations, and Republicans are once again counting on Democrats to retreat. The one thing that could bail out Democrats: that the GOP doesn't know when to declare victory and walk away from the blackjack table.

*** Losing the debt battle, but winning the larger war? Democrats admit that this entire debt battle hasn’t been a big winner for them. But they argue that they could end up winning the longer-term war. They point to polls showing them winning the actual tax debate (that the public wants balance and is willing to pay higher taxes); they say they could still get their revenues through the commission the eventual legislation sets up, or with the expiration of the Bush tax cuts (if Obama wins in 2012); and they contend that the president likely comes out this messy debate looking better than anyone in Congress. In large part, Republicans have gained the upper hand in this game of chicken, because they’ve proved that their Tea Party is tying their hands to the steering wheel (and Republicans have proven adept at using the "we can't control these guys" negotiating strategy). But Democrats could wield this argument in 2012: No matter how much ground they gave up, they protected the country from the guys who were willing to crash both cars.

*** Today’s House vote on the Boehner bill: As for today’s House vote on Boehner’s legislation, NBC’s Frank Thorp reports that it’s expected to occur in the early evening. There are 10 bills and seven amendments that the House will consider today in addition to Boehner’s bill, and the last votes are scheduled to be between 6:00 pm and 7:00 pm ET. So it would make sense for them to wait until then, Thorp says, so they can use as much of the day to whip for more votes. Anecdotally, it appears that Boehner’s motivational speeches, the GOP whipping, and even “The Town” reenactment have worked to shift the momentum to get the 217 votes Boehner needs. “In a meeting with House Republicans on Wednesday morning, Mr. Boehner and the majority leader, Representative Eric Cantor, scolded members for allowing Democrats to unify in protest against them,” the New York Times recounts. “‘This is the bill,’ Mr. Boehner said, according to those who attended the meeting, who said he advised them to ‘get your ass in line.’”

*** Reid’s two options: So what happens if Boehner’s bill passes the House? Harry Reid and Senate Democrats essentially have two options. One, they could schedule a vote on it, and try to vote it down -- proving that it can’t pass the Senate. Or Reid and the Dems could take the Boehner bill and amend it. Right now, we’re hearing that they would probably pursue Option 2.

*** Romney still hasn’t taken a position on Boehner’s bill: NBC’s Garrett Haake reported that Mitt Romney told reporters in Ohio yesterday that he would not comment on the debt negotiations in Washington. And so far, he has refused to either endorse Boehner’s legislation (as Huntsman has done) or oppose it (as Pawlenty and Bachman have done). Our question: How does someone who wants to be the leader of the Republican Party not have a position on one of the biggest issues facing Washington, especially after the dueling primetime speeches by Obama and Boehner? It's actually quite surprising; this isn't just another Washington fight. Is the lack of a position proof of how fragile Team Romney believes its front-runner status is right now?

*** Cain apologizes:  In other 2012 news, Herman Cain apologized “to Muslim leaders for vitriolic remarks he made about Islam while campaigning for the presidential nomination,” the AP writes. “On Wednesday, Cain met with four Muslim leaders in Sterling, Va. He said in a statement later he was ‘truly sorry’ for comments that may have ‘betrayed’ his commitment to the Constitution and the religious freedom it guarantees. He also acknowledged that Muslims, ‘like all Americans,’ have the right to practice freely their faith and that most Muslim Americans are peaceful and patriotic.

*** DNC seizes on bundler transparency: At 12:15 pm ET today, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz will hold a conference call with reporters, emphasizing that all the GOP presidential candidates have so far refused to reveal their fundraising bundlers. By contrast, the Obama campaign has revealed its bundlers. 

*** On the 2012 trail: Pawlenty and Santorum remain in Iowa… McCottter joins them in the Hawkeye State… Gingrich is still in Georgia… Bachmann, in DC, addresses the National Press Club… And Romney’s wife, Ann, stumps in New Hampshire. 

*** Palin to return to Iowa: In “Summer of Speculation” news, Sarah Palin is headed back to Iowa on Sept. 3. She will be the keynote speaker at a Tea Party of America event in Waukee. The Des Moines Register: “Political strategists from both parties agree the former Alaskan governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate risks falling flat in organizing a presidential campaign in Iowa if she plays the waiting game beyond her next visit.” Also today, in New Hampshire, former New York Gov. George Pataki holds a roundtable discussion on the debt the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College.

*** Thursday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe on the debt deliberations… Former Reps. Tom Davis (R-VA) & Martin Frost (D-TX) on how Hill leaders whip a vote like this… 2012 and more with National Journal’s Major Garrett, N.Y. Times’ Helene Cooper, and L.A. Times’ Matea Gold.

*** Thursday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: Meanwhile, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews GOP Sen. John Thune, Dem Congressman Chris Van Hollen, and GOP Sen. Mike Crapo.

Countdown to Wisconsin recall general for GOP senators: 12 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 16 days
Countdown to Wisconsin recall general for Dem senators: 29 days
Countdown to NV-2 and NY-9 special elections: 47 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 103 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 193 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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