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First Thoughts: One step forward, two steps back

Fiscal talks: one step forward, two steps back… Cautiously optimistic vs. cautiously pessimistic… It’s NBC/WSJ poll day!!!... What does labor do now after Michigan passes right-to-work legislation into law?... And Haley narrows down her appointment list to five names.

Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

President Barack Obama speaks about the economy at the Daimler Detroit Diesel engine plant Dec. 10, 2012 in Redford, Mi.

*** One step forward, two steps back: That’s probably the best way to view what has transpired in the fiscal negotiations between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner over the past 72 hours. The step forward: Sunday’s meeting between the two men. The two steps back: yesterday’s news of dueling counteroffers, which really didn’t go anywhere. On Monday, the White House sent over a proposal that lowered its revenue target from $1.6 trillion to $1.4 trillion, NBC’s Luke Russert confirms. The White House also reportedly threw in increasing spending cuts from $400 billion to $600 billion, as well as a promise to achieve corporate-tax reform. Yet that counteroffer is what prompted Boehner to take to the House floor. “Where are the president’s spending cuts?” Boehner asked, per the Washington Post. “The longer the White House slow-walks this process, the closer our economy gets to the fiscal cliff.” Then Boehner’s side made its counterproposal, which essentially was the same as its original proposal -- $800 billion in revenue. That was their way of telling the White House, “We’re not impressed with your counteroffer.”

*** Cautiously optimistic vs. cautiously pessimistic: So where do things stand? We saw a little bit of negotiating movement, but not nearly what either side thinks it needs to begin feeling that real progress was made. That’s the bad news. The good news that is both sides are still talking (Obama still spoke by phone with Boehner last night). More importantly, neither side is PUBLICLY trashing the specifics of either proposal. If that happens, then you know things are bad. Talk to insiders involved in the talks and you get this sense: The White House is cautiously optimistic about a deal, while House Republicans are cautiously pessimistic. So we still have a ways to go. Meanwhile, for his part, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is also calling on the White House to focus on spending cuts as much as the taxes. "The president seems to think that if all he talks about are taxes, and that's all reporters write about, somehow the rest of us will magically forget that government spending is completely out of control, and that he himself has been insisting on balance," he said, per the AP.

*** NBC/WSJ poll day! What does the American public think of the fiscal-cliff negotiations? Does it want higher tax rates on the wealthy, more spending cuts, or both? Also, what are Americans thoughts about President Obama one month after his re-election? And how do they view Mitt Romney and the Republican Party? For the answers to these questions, tune into NBC’s “Nightly News” -- or click on to NBCNews.com -- beginning at 6:30 pm ET. By the way, here are two other polls that are out today. Washington Post/ABC poll: Voters are split, 47%-46% on how Obama’s handling the fiscal cliff negotiations, but they overwhelmingly disapprove Boehner’s handling them, 24%-54% disapprove. And Bloomberg: “President Barack Obama won the public argument over taxes so decisively that almost half of Republicans now say he has an election mandate to raise rates on the rich.”

*** What does labor do now? Here’s the Detroit News on yesterday’s action-packed day in Michigan: “Gov. Rick Snyder's signature Tuesday made Michigan the nation's 24th right-to-work state on a day both sides of the politically charged labor issue predicted would change the course of its history… Snyder's action capped a drama-filled day at the Capitol that put the birthplace of the modern labor movement in the national spotlight as an estimated 12,500 right-to-work advocates and protesters swarmed the capital.” A separate Detroit News piece notes that labor and its allies essentially have two options to overturn the new law. First, they have filed legal actions charging that the process violated the state’s Open Meetings Act. “Opponents said quick passage of the bills in the Legislature — outside the normal committee process and without public hearings — was unconstitutional because citizens didn't have a chance to weigh in.” Second, critics say they could overturn it by passing a voter-initiated law, which would require getting 258,000 signatures to get on the ballot. And, of course, there’s 2014, when Snyder is up for re-election.

*** Haley’s final five: NBC’s Ali Weinberg yesterday confirmed a report that South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) has whittled her list of possibilities to fill Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate seat to these five candidates: Rep. Tim Scott, Rep. Trey Gowdy, former state Attorney General Henry McMaster, former South Carolina First Lady Jenny Sanford, and Catherine Templeton, who heads state Department of Health and Environmental Control. Among these five names, Scott has to be the odds-on favorite, while Jenny Sanford (!!!!) is the buzzy name. But don’t lose sight on McMaster, who quickly endorsed Haley after he failed to make the 2010 gubernatorial run-off. MSNBC’s Michael LaRosa reminds us that Jenny Sanford is no ordinary political spouse (or ex-spouse). “She has confronted the challenges of South Carolina's rough and tumble political world before, starting in 1994 when she managed her husband's upstart campaign for Congress proving to be the ultimate Cinderella story for a candidate and manager with no prior political experience. Jenny went on to manage Sanford's winning congressional and gubernatorial campaigns.”

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