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First Thoughts: So much for that charm offensive -- at least for now

So much for that charm offensive, at least for now… Yesterday was marked by tons of partisanship, obstruction, and dysfunction… Obama visits with House Republicans at 1:30 pm ET… Senate to unveil their budget today… Do balanced budgets really matter?... Obama speaks to Organizing for Action… A compromise on background checks?... 2012’s highest (and lowest) turnout… And Bolling Alone: Bill Bolling won’t run as indie VA GOV candidate, which is probably good news for both Cuccinelli and McAuliffe.

*** So much for that charm offensive -- at least for now: President Obama’s so-called charm offensive continues today, as he meets on Capitol Hill with House Republicans at 1:30 pm ET. But after the president’s events over the past week (dinner with GOP senators, lunch with Paul Ryan, meetings on the Hill with Democrats and Republicans), it’s important to note that being nice and cordial doesn’t immediately fix the gridlock and partisanship in Washington. Just consider what happened yesterday: GOP Sens. John McCain and Tom Coburn -- both of whom dined with Obama last week -- stalled the Senate legislation to keep the government operating past March 27; House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan -- who lunched with the president last week -- introduced his budget, which calls for the repeal of Obamacare and transform Medicare into a voucher/premium support system; Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee indicated they have no intention of confirming Richard Cordray to head up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; and the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a universal background check legislation on guns by a straight party-line vote. Yes, folks are being nicer to each other. And yes, the charm offensive and outreach could pay dividends in the future. But it isn’t paying dividends right now. The reason: This is simply what happens when you have divided government.  

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

President Barack Obama departs the Capitol after meeting with Senate Democrats in Washington March 12, 2013.

*** Senate Dems unveil their budget: A day after Ryan unveiled his House GOP budget blueprint, Senate Democrats will do the same – and their budget is completely different. USA Today: “Senate Democrats plan to release a competing budget Wednesday that includes about $1 trillion in new revenues from closing tax loopholes for corporations and the rich, despite widespread GOP opposition to any new taxes after the January deal that raised $620 billion from wealthy Americans… “[T]heir plan also includes about $1 trillion in spending cuts, which is far below the threshold Republicans are seeking for deficit reduction It also proposes a $100 billion stimulus plan for new spending on the nation's infrastructure and no structural changes to Medicare.” It’s truly amazing how far apart the House GOP and Senate Dems are on these budget offers. It’s as if NOTHING happened since the debt-ceiling debacle of July 2011. Neither budget seems to reflect the reality of where things are in DC. It appears these budgets were created for interest groups who keep score to decide who is a “real” Democrat and who is a “real” Republican.

President Obama is ramping up his outreach to Congress with four meetings on Capitol Hill this week, including lunch today with Republican leaders just a day after Paul Ryan released the Republican budget. NBC's Kristen Welker reports.

*** Do balanced budgets really matter? Yet here’s the biggest difference between the two plans: Ryan’s balances the budget in 10 years, while the Senate Dems’ doesn’t, although it does reduce the deficit. Given this difference, the New York Times asks a good question: Does balancing the budget really matter? The answer: Not really, at least in the short and medium term. “While economists generally agree that narrowing the government’s deficit and limiting the size of the debt are necessary in the long run, most argue that balancing the budget would not restore the nation’s still-weak economy to health in the near term. Indeed, rushing to do so with unemployment still elevated and the economy growing at only a sluggish pace could even set back the effort to reduce the deficit.” Obama weighed into this debate, with this answer on ABC: “My goal is not to chase a balanced budget just for the sake of balance. My goal is how do we grow the economy, put people back to work, and if we do that we are going to be bringing in more revenue.” Here’s the simple truth when it comes to the politics of deficits: They REALLY matter when you’re the party out of power, and they don’t as much when you are in power. Remember what Dick Cheney said about deficits when the GOP controlled the White House? Parties out of power push the “balanced budget” idea because it polls well (who is against a balanced budget?), and it’s a way to be against the governing party without having to say SPECIFICALLY what you are against, per se.

*** Obama speaks to Organizing for Action: In addition to Obama meeting with House Republicans at 1:30 pm ET, he delivers remarks at 6:30 pm ET to the initial Organizing for Action summit. So earlier in the day he’s trying to schmooze with the opposition; and later in the day he’s meeting with his political arm. As we’ve mentioned before, Organization for Action -- registered as a social-welfare 501c4 organization -- has received plenty of criticism because it raising big bucks from contributors, who might get access to the president (like at today’s speech). Organizing for Action has promised to disclose its donors, and to bar lobbyists and corporations from giving money. But think about the larger message the president is sending today: On the one hand, he wants to reach out and show Congress he’s ready to talk; on the other, he’s gearing up for a potential ideological war.

*** A compromise on background checks? As we mentioned above, the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday passed -- by a 10-8 party-line vote -- Sen. Chuck Schumer’s legislation that would institute universal background checks for all gun purchasers. Given that party-line vote and given Schumer’s inability so far to find a Republican to co-sponsor that legislation, it’s more than likely that Republicans would be able to successfully filibuster the measure. So where do we go forward? NBC’s Kasie Hunt reports that senators from both parties are privately expecting the National Rifle Association not to fight any compromise background-check legislation as long as it doesn’t require private gun sellers to maintain records of the checks. Now there’s a difference between the NRA supporting something, opposing it, and not saying a word. And, per our understanding, the NRA simply won’t say a word if this record-keeping is excluded, which would give some Republicans (read: Tom Coburn) the cover to back the background-check legislation. But as Hunt notes, gun-control advocates believe that leaving out the record keeping would render the law toothless.

*** The highest (and lowest) turnout from 2012: This is a fun recap from the 2012 election. Which state had the top turnout? Politico, per a new report released by Nonprofit VOTE: “Minnesota topped the turnout list for the eighth time in the last nine presidential and midterm elections, with 76.1 percent turnout. Hawaii came in last, with turnout at a mere 44.1 percent. Overall turnout was down from 62 percent in 2008, when the possibility of the nation’s first black president caused a surge at the polls, to 59 percent in 2012. Low turnout in the nation’s three most populous states — Texas, New York and California — contributed to the drop. All saw declines of nine percent or higher.” None of it is that surprising: Treat a state LIKE a battleground, and voters become more engaged and they show up to vote… Go Figure!

*** Bolling Alone: Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling’s (R) announcement yesterday that he WILL NOT mount an independent bid in this year’s gubernatorial contest is good news for the GOP and its candidate, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R). But it’s also good news for Terry McAuliffe (D), because a Bolling indie candidacy could have hurt him, too (the reason: Bolling could have occupied the middle ground, potentially taking those votes away from the Macker). So we’re left with the two-way slugfest between Cuccinelli and McAuliffe – two very, very flawed candidates. This campaign will probably be defined by the candidate that makes the least amount of gaffes that play into their pre-conceived stereotypes that the other side is trying to create. Today, McAuliffe steps in it when he refuses to answer a question from a Norfolk reporter about whether he can name all the Cabinet posts in the administration.

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