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First Thoughts: Tax pressure

Tax pressure: Cain moves Perry (and possibly Romney, too) to embrace flatter taxes… Obama once again turns his attention to housing, perhaps his biggest economic shortcoming since taking office… President announces his housing policy in Las Vegas at 5:30 pm ET… Nevada moves its caucuses to February, clearing the way for NH to go on Jan. 10… Perry walks awfully close to bitherism… NBC’s Brian Williams to moderate Jan. 23 GOP debate in FL… And Jindal cruises to re-election in LA.

*** Tax pressure: In 2004, Howard Dean moved John Kerry and the rest of the Democratic field to the left on the Iraq war. In 2008, John Edwards forced both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to go big on health-care reform. And this presidential cycle, Herman Cain -- with his 9-9-9 plan -- is moving the GOP field on flat taxes. Tomorrow, from South Carolina, Rick Perry will unveil his flat-tax proposal. And the New York Times has observed that Mitt Romney, who has criticized the flat tax in the past, has shifted his tone. “I love a flat tax,” he said in August. The Times adds that Romney “is always careful to emphasize — as he did in his comments two months ago — that he would never support any plan that hurts the middle class and helps the wealthy. But by replacing the graduated income tax with one single rate everyone pays, that is precisely what flat tax plans generally do, at least those that try to generate anywhere near the same tax revenue.”  


Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaking to supporters in Concord, N.H., Monday, Oct. 24, 2011.

*** Watching Romney: The reason why Romney is saying he loves a flat tax -- but won’t embrace it completely, at least so far -- is because he doesn’t want to seem out of sync with a political party that truly wants to transform the tax code. It will be interesting to see what Romney decides to do in the coming weeks. It’s a fine line: Flat-tax proposals sell well to the GOP base, but they have failed to win over swing voters in competitive elections because of the attacks 1) that they could raise taxes on some middle-class Americans, and 2) that they could take away popular tax deductions (on mortgages and children). This is another case where Romney is trying to keep himself from being boxed in for the general election. That said, dumping the tax code is gaining REAL traction with Republicans.

*** Obama once again turns his attention to housing: The Obama administration’s biggest economic shortcoming over the past three year? Its inability to do anything about the housing crisis. As the Washington Post details, “Obama has spent just $2.4 billion of the $50 billion he promised [on housing]. The initiatives he announced have helped 1.7 million people. Housing prices remain near a crisis low. Millions of people are deeply indebted, owing more than their properties are worth, and many have lost their homes to foreclosure or are likely to do so. And today in Nevada -- one of the epicenters of the housing crash -- will once again turn his attention to housing. At 5:30 pm ET in Las Vegas, he will announce a new housing policy that will build off his original proposals. At best, this new addendum might help an addition 1 million homeowners refinance. But the big problem before and now is that you can’t force banks to refinance. And many lenders, while willing to refinance an underwater mortgage, want perfect credit scores and debt-to-income ratios that make it easy for banks to say no to the refinancing. 


President Barack Obama waving as boards Air Force One, Monday, Oct. 24, 2011.

*** More political success than economic success? So, economically, it’s unlikely that this new policy will have a big impact. But, politically, it could more successful. For starters, today’s housing announcement is part of a larger effort by the White House to begin unveiling executive-branch actions that Congress -- so far -- has been unable to pass. “With his jobs plan stymied in Congress by Republican opposition, President Obama on Monday will begin a series of executive-branch actions to confront housing, education and other economic problems over the coming months, heralded by a new mantra: ‘We can’t wait’ for lawmakers to act,” the New York Times says. The White House also might be using today’s housing announcement in Nevada to make political hay out of Mitt Romney’s comments to the Las Vegas Review Journal to not stop the foreclosure process. “Let it run its course and hit the bottom," he said last week.

*** Bracketing Obama in NV: Republicans, meanwhile, are bracketing Obama’s trip out West. The Romney campaign has released a web video -- entitled “Welcome to Nevada, President Obama” -- that includes voices from people who are upset with the state of the economy there. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has a similar video hitting Obama in Nevada (as well as Harry Reid and Shelley Berkley).

*** Nevada moves its caucuses, clearing the way for NH to go Jan. 10: A single move on Saturday ended New Hampshire’s belly-aching over the primary calendar, a candidate-backed boycott of Nevada, and speculation over the GOP calendar. “Nevada has moved its caucus date to Feb. 4, ending a long standoff between the state and New Hampshire, the state and the national Republican organizations, and several of the Republican candidates, including frontrunner Herman Cain,” the Las Vegas Sun noted over the weekend. “‘We just basically want to be the adults in the room here,’ Nevada GOP chairwoman Amy Tarkanian said. ‘This has turned into a huge debacle... It’s unnecessary. It’s turned into a distraction.’” With Nevada moved to Feb. 4, expect New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner to soon set his state’s primary for Jan. 10. And once that happens, the 2012 calendar will be officially set. Finally. And what does that mean? We’re probably days away from the first real round of negative TV ads.

*** Perry gets awfully close to birtherism: In an interview with Parade (yes, Parade!), Perry appeared to revive an issue that should no longer be an issue: President Obama’s citizenship. Asked if he believes Obama was born in the U.S., Perry responded, “I have no reason to think otherwise.” When the interviewer told him that wasn’t a definitive answer, Perry said, “Well, I don't have a definitive answer, because he's never seen my birth certificate.” When the interviewer followed up by asking him if he doesn’t believe the long-form birth certificate that the president released last spring, Perry said, “I don't know. I had dinner with Donald Trump the other night… He doesn't think it's real.” Perry concluded, “It doesn't matter. He's the President of the United States. He's elected. It's a distractive issue.” So that’s what Donald Trump talks about in these Republican candidate meetings? Good grief.

*** Brian Williams to moderate Jan. 23 Florida debate: NBC News, National Journal, The St. Petersburg Times, and the Florida Council of 100 today announced that NBC’s Brian Williams will moderate the Florida debate that they’ve set for Jan. 23. The debate will air nationally and in Florida on NBC.

*** On the 2012 trail: Romney files his candidacy papers in New Hampshire and nabs a big endorsement from John Sununu, Sr.… Santorum makes a whopping seven stops in Iowa… Gingrich is also in the Hawkeye State… And Cain is in Chicago.

*** Jindal cruises to re-election: “Gov. Bobby Jindal rolled to an easy re-election Saturday, defeating nine little-known and under-financed candidates in a record-setting landslide,” the New Orleans Times-Picayune wrote on Saturday. “Based on incomplete returns, Jindal had about 66 percent of the vote, eclipsing the 62.31 percent open-primary era victory margin Democrat Edwin Edwards tallied to oust then-Gov. David Treen in the 1983.”

*** Monday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: Romney Campaign Senior Adviser Eric Fehrnstrom…Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) on why he's leaving Congress… NBC's Luke Russert on the growing discontent among some rank-in-file GOP House members… NBC News Terrorism Analyst Roger Cressey on how the U.S. government considered a cyber attack on Libya… And more 2012 news with the Washington Post's Dan Balz, AP's Kasie Hunt, and National Review/Bloomberg View's Ramesh Ponnuru.

*** Monday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews former NH Gov. John Sununu, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, the Las Vegas Sun’s Jon Ralston, NBC’s Michelle Franzen (on the earthquake in Turkey), NBC’s Luke Russert, Wes Moore, and former Defense Secretary Bill Cohen (on Iraq and Libya).

Countdown to Election Day 2011: 15 days
Countdown to Iowa caucuses: 71 days
Countdown to Nevada caucuses: 82 days
Countdown to South Carolina primary: 89 days
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 134 days

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