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First Thoughts: Managing expectations

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd talks about President Barack Obama's efforts to ensure a compromise is made before the deadline.

Both sides begin to manage fiscal-cliff expectations for their bases… GOP Rep. Tom Cole: In the short term, Republicans would be better off extending the Bush tax cuts for everyone BUT the wealthy… Dick Durbin: Entitlements, in some form or fashion, will be on the table… New WaPo/ABC poll shows two-thirds oppose raising Medicare’s eligibility age… Susan Rice’s meeting with McCain/Graham/Ayotte didn’t go well… And brace yourselves from Cuccinelli vs. McAuliffe.

*** Managing expectations: We wrote yesterday that the current fiscal discussions essentially amounted to running in circles, because the real negotiations won’t take place until mid-to-late December. The reason: Washington typically needs hard deadlines to force members to act. But there is something quite significant that’s going on during this running-in-circles period. Republicans and Democrats are beginning to prepare their own bases for what the deal will ultimately look like. That’s perhaps the best way to describe the news that GOP Rep. Tom Cole, a former National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, told some GOP colleagues that the party would hold a stronger hand if Republicans backed President Obama’s idea to immediately extend the so-called Bush tax cuts for everyone BUT the wealthiest. “I think we ought to take the 98% deal right now,” he told Politico. “It doesn’t mean I agree with raising the top 2%. I don’t.” Translation: House Republicans right now don’t have the upper hand in the negotiations, and they’re going to have to grapple with raising rates, at least in the short term. And Cole is actually giving them a way out of this box, short term, which is do the de-couple on rates and live to fight another day.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., center, accompanied by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., left, and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., gestures while speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov, 27, 2012, following a GOP strategy luncheon.

*** Tom Cole vs. Dick Durbin: And it’s just not Republicans who are trying to prepare their bases for what a deal might look like. Here’s the New York Times on Sen. Dick Durbin’s speech yesterday to the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress: “He made clear that the parties agreed on what a final deal would look like: an initial deficit-reduction down payment to calm financial markets and avoid most of the fiscal jolt that would otherwise hit in January; instructions to congressional committees to draft tax, spending and entitlement legislation to save around $4 trillion over the next decade; and some form of fallback deficit plan in case Congress fails to pass those changes.” But it’s what Durbin said -- or didn’t say -- about entitlements that was striking. His prepared remarks read, "Progressives should be willing to talk about ways to ensure the long-term viability of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, but those conversations should not be part of a plan to avert the fiscal cliff," Durbin said. Yet he didn’t say that in his speech. But he later clarified that those entitlement conversations shouldn’t be part of the down payment, but rather as part of the longer-term deal. Translation to liberals: Entitlements, in some form or fashion, will need to be on the table, and it’s going to be something you won’t like but that’s the price of not controlling the House.

Top Talkers: On Tuesday, November 27, 2012, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice met with GOP leaders over her version of the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, Libya. The Morning Joe panel – including New York Magazine's John Heilemann, NBC News' Andrea Mitchell and Mike Barnicle – discusses the continuing controversy and whether or not GOP Sens. McCain, Ayotte and Graham are entering the fray for political reasons.

*** The public: Don’t raise Medicare’s eligibility age: But when discussing Medicare, there’s something the public is adamantly against -- raising the eligibility age. Per a new Washington Post/ABC poll, 67% oppose increasing the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67. On the other hand, 60% favor raising taxes on incomes more than $250,000, but there’s a partisan split. “While 73 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of independents are in favor, far fewer Republicans, 39 percent, agree.” We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Both parties have done such a good job demagogue-ing Medicare over the years (see ’96, ’10, ’12) that it’s made the program arguably more untouchable than Social Security, at least politically. 

*** Rice’s meeting didn’t go well: Turning to the other big Washington story -- Susan Rice’s meeting yesterday with Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte -- let’s not pretend it went well. The Washington Post: “What was supposed to be a make-nice meeting on Tuesday seemed only to make things more contentious between the White House and Senate Republicans over U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s comments following the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya… ‘Bottom line, I’m more disturbed now than I was before,’ said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.).” But Rice and the Obama White House did get some good news from outgoing Sen. Joe Lieberman, who also met with Rice. “‘I’ve interrogated and cross-examined a lot of witnesses in my day, but I felt she was telling me the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth based on that and corroborated by the director of the CIA,’ Lieberman said. ‘I don’t see a basis for disqualifying Susan Rice for some other position in our government.’” Remember, Lieberman, as a former member of the McCain-Graham three amigos clan, is an influential voice. And it also sends the signal that Rice might have all the votes she needs. If she’s got Lieberman’s support, what Democrat would be against her?

*** Ayotte, Graham pledge holds; Dems vow to fight for her: Additionally, Ayotte and Graham would place a hold on a Susan Rice nomination to be secretary of state, aides to the senators told NBC News yesterday. Democrats, though, tell NBC they’re ready and willing to fight for Rice and believe they could overcome those holds. Anyone who thinks that John McCain, Ayotte, and Graham’s caustic reaction to their meeting with Rice yesterday gives Democrats any pause on Rice’s nomination, should think again, according to a Democratic Senate aide. “People are happy to fight for her,” the aide said, adding, "This is getting people’s back up. The general sense of the mood is this is ridiculous. She’s obviously qualified.” The aide also questioned whether Republicans besides McCain, Graham, and Ayotte would think this is a “smart fight to pick” given Rice’s qualifications and that this would mean a “high-profile fight with a qualified African-American woman.” As to the threat of holds from Ayotte and Graham, the aide said that if Rice is nominated and presents well at her confirmation hearing, there’s a “good chance cooler heads prevail” and there would be more than enough votes to confirm her. That would make Ayotte and Graham’s holds “moot” once it goes to a cloture vote, the aide said, because “either we have the votes or we don’t.”

*** Get ready for Cuccinelli vs. McAuliffe: Lastly, Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling is expected to drop out of next year’s gubernatorial race, meaning that the race will likely be Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) vs. Terry McAuliffe (D). Politico: “Bolling, now in his second term as lieutenant governor, was widely seen as the underdog against the conservative Cuccinelli, whose supporters engineered a move to change the 2013 nominating process from a primary to a convention. Conservatives typically dominate Virginia GOP conventions.” While this year’s Tim Kaine-vs.-George Allen Senate contest didn’t produce any real fireworks – the two men seemed to respect each other – a Cuccinelli-vs.-McAuliffe race will be NASTY and EXPENSIVE. Folks, it’s going to be personal, ugly, and divisive. As one veteran Virginia GOP operative told First Read: “This will be the least inspiring race for governor Virginians have seen in a long time.” By the way, the joke among operatives on both sides for months on McAuliffe and Cuccinelli has been, the only chance either has to become governor is if their opponent in the general election is each other. This campaign has all the signs of being a race to the bottom, will the C.W. be wrong?

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