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First Thoughts: A truce - for now

Both sides declare a budget truce -- for now… How a Grand Bargain could still take place… And why achieving a Grand Bargain has been so difficult… NYT on a GOP that’s united on just one issue right now: taxes and spending… Obama to tap Wal-Mart Foundation’s Sylvia Mathews Burwell to head OMB, as well as his Energy and EPA picks… The Romney interview -- unable to move on… And Jeb Bush keeps the 2016 door open.

*** A truce -- for now: After their fifth budget battle in the past two years and after the sequester cuts went into effect on Friday, both sides seemed to wave the white flag and declare a political truce -- for now. President Obama, during his press conference on Friday, suggested little appetite for a showdown over government operations, which will expire later this month. “If the bill that arrives on my desk is reflective of the commitments that we’ve previously made, then obviously I would sign it because I want to make sure that we keep on doing what we need to do for the American people.” And in interview on “Meet the Press,” House Speaker John Boehner did the same. “We, the House next week will act to extend the continuing resolution through the end of the fiscal year, September 30th,” he said. “The president this morning agreed that we should not have any talk of a government shutdown. So I'm hopeful that the House and Senate will be able to work through this.” What does this mean? Frankly, both sides have to be politically exhausted. Obama wants to move on to other issues like immigration reform and guns, as he said on Friday. (And it’s no coincidence that Obama’s job-approval numbers seem to decline during these budget battles.) Republicans, meanwhile, want to pass their budget and move on to the appropriations process. Bottom line: Everyone wants a timeout.

Mark Wilson / Getty Images

President Barack Obama speaks to the media after meeting with House Speaker John Boehner at the White House, March 1, 2013.

*** How a Grand Bargain could still take place: And if everyone gets a break and if the sequester cuts do have impact in the next few months, count us as ones who are a bit optimistic that a Grand Bargain on the budget could be reached in September. Yes, we know that a Grand Bargain has been harder to find than the Loch Ness Monster. But here’s how it could happen: After some breathing room, after both parties let their budget processes play out, and after evidence that the U.S. economy has been negatively impacted by the sequester, both sides could determine that a Grand Bargain is in their interest -- Republicans decide they really, really want entitlement reforms and are willing to put up some additional revenue; Democrats decide they really, really want additional revenue and are willing to put up additional entitlement reform. And in September, the president and Democrats will have this response when Boehner and Republicans say, “The president got his tax increases.” They’ll be able to say, “The Republicans got their spending cuts.”

*** Why achieving a Grand Bargain has been so hard: But here’s the simple reason why reaching a Grand Bargain has been so hard to obtain: Republicans have been unable to say “yes” to Obama, and they have no political incentive to do so because it could cost them their jobs in a GOP primary. (This isn’t an “it could happen” kind of thing for these Republican leaders; it’s a “it WOULD happen” to a Mitch McConnell or John Cornyn.) The president reflected on that dynamic during his news conference on Friday: “I am prepared to do hard things and to push my Democratic friends to do hard things.” But he added, “I recognize that Speaker Boehner has got challenges in his caucus. I recognize that it's very hard for Republican leaders to be perceived as making concessions to me.” So forget the constant calls from pundits for more leadership. Forget Boehner’s demand that the Senate vote on Obama’s deficit-reduction plans. And forget Democrats highlighting that Republicans once favored putting revenue on the table and are now refusing to do so. As long as this dynamic continues to take place -- a GOP inability to say “yes” because it could cost them their jobs -- achieving a Grand Bargain will be hard to do.

*** A GOP that’s united on just one issue -- taxes and spending: And as the New York Times’ Stevenson notes, spending cuts remain the one issue where Republicans are now united. “Conservative governors are signing on to provisions of what they once derisively dismissed as Obamacare. Prominent Senate Republicans are taking positions on immigration that would have gotten the party’s presidential candidates hooted off the debate stage during last year’s primaries. Same-sex marriage has gone from being a reliable motivator for the conservative base to gaining broad acceptance,” Stevenson observes. “All of which helps explain why Speaker John A. Boehner and Congressional Republicans have been so intent on facing down President Obama in their budget dispute.” More: “Four months after Mr. Obama won a second term, the only issue that truly unites Republicans is a commitment to shrinking the federal government through spending cuts, low taxes and less regulation. To have compromised again and agreed to further increase taxes or roll back spending cuts would have left Republicans deeply split and, many of them say, at risk of losing the core of the party’s identity.” The party has to start somewhere, and this is that place.

*** OMB, yeah you know me: Per NBC’s Peter Alexander, Obama today will announce he’s nominating Wal-Mart Foundation head Sylvia Mathews Burwell to be his next OMB director. Burwell served as deputy OMB director and Treasury Department chief of staff during the Clinton administration. Reuters: “She brings a certain outsider status to Obama's inner circle and may offer a fresh perspective from the business world far away from Washington. Burwell would also bring gender diversity to the top echelons of the Obama White House after the president drew fire from critics for picking men for many top jobs.” Obama also will nominate his picks to lead the Energy Department (MIT scientist Ernest Moniz) and EPA (current assistant administrator Gina McCarthy). Obama also holds a cabinet meeting at 1:00 pm ET.

*** Unable to move on: In his first interview since losing last year’s presidential election, Mitt Romney made it pretty clear through his words and tone that he hasn’t moved on from his loss. “I look at what's happening right now, I wish I were there. It kills me not to be there, not to be in the White House doing what needs to be done.” Ditto his wife, Ann. “It was a crushing disappointment. Not for us. Our lives are going to be fine. It's for the country.” Given that the Romneys haven’t moved on, it raises this question: Why did they do the interview? In fairness to Romney, he’s not the first losing presidential candidate to have a hard time getting over a loss -- George McGovern, John McCain and Al Gore all come to mind. Not everyone ends up like Mondale or Dole and moves immediately to elder statesman status. By the way, don’t miss what Romney said about his infamous “47%” comment: “What I said is not what I believe.” Folks, that one sentence sums up Romney’s two failed presidential bids.

*** Jeb Bush keeps the 2016 door open: Moving from 2012 to 2016, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was asked on “TODAY” about any future presidential plans. Bottom line: He didn’t rule them out. “That’s way off into the future,” Bush told NBC’s Matt Lauer, adding that he wants to share his voice after his party’s losses in the ’12 election. “We have lost our way,” Bush said. When Lauer once again asked Bush if he was ruling out a presidential bid in 2016, he answered and joked: “I won’t, but I won’t declare it today, either.” This is the clearest Jeb has EVER been on the presidential question. He would never even entertain the idea of running during the run-up to 2012. Clearly, his mindset has shifted to a degree.

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