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First Thoughts: Debt-ceiling debate - here we go again?

Debt-ceiling debate: Here we go again? Or maybe not?... Three reasons why a debt-limit standoff might not happen (or at least not compare to the last ones)… RNC to consider changes to 2016 calendar… Assessing the damage to Christie: He’s returned to his pre-Sandy poll numbers… Virginia’s new attorney general says state’s gay-marriage ban is unconstitutional… Wendy Davis strikes back at critics… And so you want to be mayor of New York?

*** Debt-ceiling debate: Here we go again? Or maybe not? The Obama White House and Congress could very well be on their way to another collision course over the debt ceiling. On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew wrote a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and the other congressional leaders that the debt limit needs to be raised by late February, NBC’s Frank Thorp reports. "When I previously wrote to you in December, I estimated that Treasury would exhaust extraordinary measures in late February or early March," he said, "Based on our best and most recent information, we believe that Treasury is more likely to exhaust those measures in late February." Boehner’s office responded that House Republicans would demand something in return for a clean debt-ceiling increase -- a quid pro quo the Obama White House rejects. "The speaker has said that we should not default on our debt, or even get close to it, but a 'clean' debt limit increase simply won't pass in the House,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel, per NBC’s Luke Russert. “We hope and expect the White House will work with us on a timely, fiscally-responsible solution." So this has all the makings of yet another fiscal fight in the nation’s capital. Indeed, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) said last month, “We don’t want ‘nothing’ out of the debt limit. We’re going to decide what it is we can accomplish out of this debt limit fight.” Among the items Republicans have floated as a quid pro quo: approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

*** Three reasons why a standoff might not happen here: But three reasons suggest we might not see much of a showdown here. For one thing, the House -- just back in October -- pretty much passed a clean debt limit along with the funding to keep the government open. Republicans argue that the circumstances are different (that the hike came during the damaging government shutdown), but it’s also worth pointing out that we’re now far removed from the Boehner Rule (that is, any debt ceiling hike must be accompanied by equal or greater cuts in spending). So Republicans might have less bargaining power here. In addition, there’s the timing. Lew’s letter signals that any fiscal fight over the debt limit would probably come in the middle of next month’s Olympics. And we’re unsure that Congress -- and the public -- would have the stomach or attention span for a political battle during that time. And finally, a pitched fight over the debt limit probably isn’t good politics for a Republican Party that’s better positioned than at any time since 2011. The GOP is performing well on most midterm generic ballots, and perhaps the last thing that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell needs is the appearance of another fiscal standoff, given the general election (in addition to the primary) he’ll be facing next November. But what the GOP leaders want might not coincide with what the GOP rank-and-file want. And while GOP leaders would love to simply avoid this fight, it’s really in the hands of the rank-and-file (as we learned from the government shutdown). The next couple of weeks will be filled with various trial balloons on this front, and that’ll tell us just how much energy there is on the right to fight.

*** RNC to consider changes to 2016 calendar: Yes, it’s 2014, but this is a big week in Republican circles when it comes to setting the rules for the 2016 campaign. The Republican National Committee’s winter meeting in DC is underway, and on the agenda are likely changes and reforms to the 2016 calendar. First, the RNC is considering moving up its convention to late June or July (as a way to tap into general-election funds earlier than in late August/early September). That change would also shift the back end of the primary season from June to late April/May (the RNC will vote on whether the final primary contests should take place either 35 or 45 days before the convention). Second, the calendar proposal is that Iowa/New Hampshire/Nevada/South Carolina races take place in February; primaries that occur in the first two weeks of March must award delegates proportionately; and primaries that take place in second half of March or beyond can award either proportionately or winner-take-all. Also under discussion are stronger penalties for states -- other than IA, NH, NV, and SC -- that jump to February or earlier, as well as efforts to limit the number of primary-season debates. These rule changes will be discussed on Thursday with a vote on Friday.  Of course, many a national party has tried to dictate to the early states when they should hold their contests and never have they succeeded. Usually, the early states end up earlier than requested. Hard to imagine that pattern doesn’t hold. 

*** Assessing the damage to Christie: He’s returned to his pre-Sandy poll numbers: By now, we’ve seen plenty of polling -- both nationally and in New Jersey -- on Chris Christie two weeks after the bridge scandal became a national story. But this Rutgers-Eagleton poll, which was released Wednesday, probably captures Christie’s political situation best: He’s now lost the big bump he got after Hurricane Sandy. Just see this chart here. Per the poll, Christie’s fav/unfav rating among registered voters in the state is 46%-43%, down from 65%-27% in November. But his current score is almost identical to the 48%-42% rating he had in Sept. 2012 before the superstorm. In other words, his numbers have come down to earth, and he’s viewed through a more partisan lens than he was before the storm. In this Rutgers-Eagleton poll, he’s well-liked among New Jersey Republicans (78%-15%), viewed warmly among independents (55%-33%), and disliked by Democrats (19%-69%). Those are decent numbers, governing numbers, but they aren’t “shock and awe,” “this guy is the most electable Republican in the country” numbers anymore.

*** Virginia’s new attorney general says state’s gay-marriage ban is unconstitutional: Here’s some more big news coming out of Virginia: “Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring will announce Thursday that he believes the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and that Virginia will join two same-sex couples in asking a federal court to strike it down,” the Washington Post says. “The action will mark a stunning reversal in the state’s legal position on same-sex marriage and is a result of November elections in which Democrats swept the state’s top offices.” This might not be the attention that new Gov. Terry McAuliffe wanted early in his term, but it’s another reminder that elections (especially when you sweep GOV/Lt.GOV/AG) have consequences. 

*** Wendy Davis strikes back at critics: The Dallas Morning News, as we mentioned earlier this week, poked some holes in Wendy Davis’ bio. And Davis even admitted that her bio narrative had been a bit sloppy. “My language should be tighter,” she said. “I’m learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail.” But in a fundraising pitch tied to the Dem group EMILY’s List, Davis argues that she’s the victim of a political attack. “[O]ur opponents have gotten more and more desperate. But now they've stooped to a new low by attacking my family, my education, and my personal story -- playing politics with the journey that has been my life.” It looks a bit like damage control after a rough story, but Democrats argue that she’s responding to the attacks she’s received from conservative critics (see here and here) since the Dallas Morning News report. 

*** So you want to be mayor of New York? Finally, for all the attention Bill de Blasio got for what his agenda could mean to Democrats nationally, none of that will matter, many of us said, unless he can govern. And in New York that means keeping the city safe, picking up the garbage on time, and in the winter, cleaning up snow quickly! De Blasio’s response to this latest storm is not earning him praise. The New York Post cover: “Mayor Culpa: De Blasio admits he blew snow job.” Earlier: “Shambles: Turmoil as Blas botches ‘early’ snow.” The Daily News: “Looks like Mayor de Blasio has snow on his face.” Newsday: “De Blasio admits botched East Side snow cleanup.” The Upper East side was the biggest mess, but there were also reports of subways running slow and people struggling to get home to the outer boroughs. That snow was coming or that it can be a political hot potato shouldn’t be surprising. Other pols (Bloomberg, Christie) have suffered because of it.

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