Budget Budges: Across sea of red ink, will GOP reach back to Obama?

By Rick Klein:

Now that Michael Steele is taking himself out of the running and Scott Brown isn’t quite... We get to see what ground Republicans are willing to claim as their own. (And remember that one way to stop being the party of no is to start saying yes.)

It’s budget day, that annual Washington tradition of making far too much out of a proposed budget that needs to thrash its way through a Congress that has its own ideas.

But the ideas President Obama is leading with -- the discretionary spending freeze, the slashed programs, the jobs package built on tax incentives -- have a particular design to them: They will test the commitment among his opponents to stand in his way.

Republicans are relevant again, between their 41st vote in the Senate, and the wide-ranging, extraordinary question-and-answer session Friday between the president and House Republicans. (Which side wants a repeat more?)

What do they do with that relevancy? Do they seek to sink Democrats in a sea of red ink, focusing on the new deficit records, the areas where the president would have spending increase, and the expiring Bush tax cuts?

Or do they offer something more conciliatory -- offering a chance, perhaps, to build on the bipartisan push that’s been the president’s priority coming out the State of the Union address?

The budget is a chance to put some numbers behind the words -- and maybe some words in support of the numbers. (Remember, in a budget this huge, you can tell just about any story you want.)

The president makes remarks on the budget in the White House Grand Foyer at 10:45 am ET Monday morning. Then comes an online town hall, with the president getting asked questions submitted by YouTube users at 1:45 pm ET.

Plenty to find here to love -- and plenty to choose to hate:

“The $3.8 trillion budget blueprint President Obama plans to submit to Congress on Monday calls for billions of dollars in new spending to combat persistently high unemployment and bolster a battered middle class. But it also would slash funding for hundreds of programs and raise taxes on banks and the wealthy to help rein in soaring budget deficits,” Lori Montgomery writes in The Washington Post.

“The budget is also expected to revive a series of tax increases from last year, as well, including a cap on the value of itemized deductions for families earning more than $250,000 a year and higher income taxes for hedge-fund managers.”

More on the tax front -- per ABC’s Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller: “One reason for the slightly smaller projected deficit include the decision to let the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 expire for individuals making more than $200,000 a year and families making more than $250,000 a year. This tax increase, which will occur automatically, will bring in a projected $678 billion over the next decade, the administration says. The tax cuts are due to expire at the end of the 2010 calendar year.”

Saying goodbye to... “Goodnight Moon: NASA will also experience some cuts, including a cancellation of the NASA Constellation program to develop spacecraft to replace the Space Shuttle with the goal of sending astronauts to the Moon and perhaps even Mars,” Tapper and Miller report.

“Obama's new budget attempts to navigate between the opposing goals of pulling the country out of a deep recession and getting control of runaway budget deficits,” the AP’s Martin Crutsinger reports.

The challenge for Republicans: “Republicans realize they have to look like they are at least trying to get something achieved this year, even as they benefit politically from continued gridlock on Capitol Hill,” Time’s Jay Newton-Small reports.

Should you choose to believe the numbers... “President Barack Obama will propose on Monday a $3.8 trillion budget for fiscal 2011 that projects the deficit will shoot up to a record $1.6 trillion this year, but would push the red ink down to about $700 billion, or 4% of the gross domestic product, by 2013,” Jonathan Weisman reports in The Wall Street Journal. “The budget embodies Mr. Obama's larger predicament of needing to contain the deficit without harming the economy, which remains fragile.”

“Obama will propose cutting or eliminating some 120 programs for $20 billion in savings,” the Los Angeles Times’ Richard Simon and Christi Parsons report. “Democrats hope to win Republican support for the [jobs] measure by including tax cuts for small businesses, a GOP favorite. The tax credit is designed to encourage businesses to hire workers. But while the Democratic president and congressional Republicans held an unusually frank exchange before TV cameras last week in the hope of promoting bipartisanship, little of it appeared Sunday.”

White House talking point: “It's not a left-wing budget, it's not a right-wing budget -- it's a common-sense budget,” said White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer, per USA Today’s Richard Wolf.

What Republicans on the Hill will be saying: “We're seeing the rhetoric of fiscal discipline, but not seeing the follow-through in fiscal policy,” Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the top Republican on the House Budget Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

From the memo out from members of the House Budget Committee’s Republicans Monday morning: “Despite recent rhetoric of fiscal responsibility, the President’s budget more than doubles the debt, drives spending to a new record of $3.8 trillion in FY 2011, pushes the deficit to a new record of $1.6 trillion in FY 2010, and raises taxes by over $2 trillion through 2020 by the Administration’s own estimates.”

If lawmakers can swallow another year of gaping deficits... “The president’s shift from stimulus spending to deficit reduction in his new budget for the 2011 to 2020 fiscal years assumes that the economy will have fully recovered from the worst recession in eight decades,” Jackie Calmes writes in The New York Times. “It will rely on projections of higher tax collections from revived businesses and workers, and less spending for unemployment compensation and other safety-net programs for those out of work.”

She continues: “In an unusual accompaniment to the budget that underscores the dire fiscal outlook, Mr. Obama will direct a bipartisan commission to recommend a plan to balance the budget, not counting growing payments on the country’s amassed debt, by the 2015 fiscal year. Congressional Democratic leaders have committed to holding a vote in December on whatever plan such a commission produces.”

Though it could have had real teeth... The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt whacks Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for voting against the fiscal commission he once strongly endorsed: “It's impossible to avoid the conclusion that the only thing that changed since May is the political usefulness of the proposal to McConnell's partisan goals. He was happy to claim fiscal responsibility while beating up Obama for fiscal recklessness. But when Obama endorsed the idea, as he did on the Saturday before the vote -- and when the commission actually, against all odds, had the wisp of a chance of winning the needed 60 Senate votes -- McConnell bailed.”

Building off of last week -- Dan Balz, in the Sunday Washington Post: “Friday's encounter between President Obama and House Republicans proved to be riveting political theater. The question is whether it will be remembered as a moment that began to ease the tensions between the two parties -- or an asterisk in this era of polarized politics.”

“The Obama slide has little to do with ideology or a too-ambitious agenda. [It] is a reflection of both the difficulty of the situation he inherited and the administration’s inability to balance conflicts, which is what effective leaders do,” Bloomberg’s Al Hunt writes. “The president threaded some of these needles in his State of the Union speech last week, adhering to his basic principles and articulating them well, while offering some concessions to political opponents. It won’t be easy to build on that over the next few months.”

One big reason why not: “As buoyant Republicans devise their game plan for the 2010 campaign, party officials are counting on a boost from an unlikely source – President Obama,” Politico’s Jonathan Martin reports. “A tactic that would have seemed far-fetched a year ago, when the new president was sworn in with a 67 percent job approval rating, is now emerging as a key component of the GOP strategy: Tie Democratic opponents to Obama and make them answer for some of the unpopular policies associated with the chief executive.”

Watching his left: “President Barack Obama’s new budget, to be released Monday, forecasts two consecutive years of near $160 billion in war funding, far more than he hoped when elected and only modestly less than the last years of the Bush Administration,” Politico’s David Rogers reports. “In 2011 alone, the revised numbers are triple what the president included in his spending plan a year ago. And the strain shows itself in new deficit projections, already hobbled by lagging revenues due to the weak economy.”

On education: “The Obama administration is proposing a sweeping overhaul of President Bush’s signature education law, No Child Left Behind, and will call for broad changes in how schools are judged to be succeeding or failing, as well as for the elimination of the law’s 2014 deadline for bringing every American child to academic proficiency,” Sam Dillon reports in The New York Times. “The White House wants to change federal financing formulas so that a portion of the money is awarded based on academic progress, rather than by formulas that apportion money to districts according to their numbers of students, especially poor students.”

Health care’s pulse: It’s reconciliation now -- or maybe later. “It just rested for about a week. But it’s not dead,” Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, told Roll Call’s David M. Drucker.

“Democrats have made progress -- more progress, certainly, than might be evident from all the dire headlines of the past few days. There seems to be a plan in place for enacting reform, even with the Massachusetts setback,” The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn reports.

“What you might not know is that House and Senate leaders are already finding common ground on issues like improving the Senate bill's affordability protections and getting rid of the ‘Cornhusker kickback.’ Instead of the federal government picking up the entire cost of Nebraska’s Medicaid expansion -- a special deal that became an embarrassment even to Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, for whom the deal was made -- the federal government would simply cover a greater share of Medicaid costs for all states.” (But yes, that’s expensive...) Primary season kicks off Tuesday, in Illinois: “ 'Tis the season when Democrats and Republicans eat their own,” the AP’s Liz Sidoti writes. “In Illinois, Democrats have no heavyweights in their lineup for the seat that Obama gave up for the White House. The front-runner is state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who is only 33, hasn't served a full term in office and previously worked for a family bank now in financial trouble.”

“President Barack Obama's old Senate seat and the Illinois governorship, held by Democrats, are GOP November takeover targets as voters head to the polls for Tuesday's primary, the earliest in the nation for the 2010 election cycle,” Lynn Sweet writes for Politics Daily. “The Democratic exuberance in Illinois from 2008 -- the Obama high -- has vanished.”

Remember when incumbency was an advantage? “Gov. Pat Quinn and Cook County Board President Todd Stroger find themselves in the rare spot of being incumbents battling to hang onto their jobs when voters decide in Tuesday's primary whether opponents' charges of incompetence are valid,” Rick Pearson reports in the Chicago Tribune. “With several contests in the tossup category, about the only thing more uncertain than the outcomes is whether the number on the thermometer Tuesday will exceed the voter turnout percentage for the first non-presidential February primary elections in Illinois.”

Meet Sen.-elect Scott Brown, R-Mass. -- parodied in an “SNL” sketch before he’s even sworn in -- and a “Scott Brown Republican”:

On being No. 41: “It's cute now,” Brown told ABC’s Barbara Walters on “This Week” Sunday. “But everyone really is the 41st senator. And what it means is that now there will be full and fair debate. And there will be no more closed -- behind closed doors actions.”

Tea parties? What tea parties? “You are making an assumption that the Tea Party movement was influential, and I have to respectfully disagree. It was everybody. I had a plurality,” Brown told Walters, saying that he wasn’t approached by anyone in Massachusetts claiming a tea party connection.

That wasn’t a no, to running for president in 2012: “let the political pundits…talk about that stuff.”

Did Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla., need to fall into the middle of this? “Things seemed to hit a dysfunctional low point over the weekend when all those relief components began blaming each other for a suspension of military medevac flights from Haiti to Florida for more than four days — a decision that doctors say risked scores of patient deaths in Haiti,” Time’s Tim Padgett writes. “The military, whose large C-130 transport planes had until last Wednesday ferried out some 500 of the worst injured, indicated that it had halted the flights because Florida hospitals could no longer receive the patients, due to cost concerns that Republican Governor Charlie Crist expressed in a letter to the Obama Administration.”

“In an interview on ‘Good Morning America Weekend,’ Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said ‘to his knowledge’ no flights had been halted -- though, according to the White House, that is not the case,” per ABC’s Kate Snow, Rachel Martin, and Jake Tapper. “In any event, Crist said he did not personally order any stop to airlifts to his state. ‘It's all hands on deck here in the Sunshine State,’ Crist said.

Coming Monday, on the Hill: “100 of ONE's top student activists will hit Capitol Hill to meet their elected representatives, raise awareness and advocate for increased funding in the fight against global extreme poverty and preventable disease. The lobby day coincides with the President's budget announcement and wraps up ONE's Power 100 Summit, a weekend of workshops and speakers at GW including Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).”

The Kicker:

“How many different ways can you spell 'no'?” -- RNC Chairman Michael Steele, ruling out a run for president in 2012.

“Ayla actually respects Simon greatly about his critiquing even though he's kind of harsh, what he says -- if you actually listen to what he says, it was right.” -- Sen.-elect Scott Brown, telling Barbara Walters that he wants one more chance for his daughter on “American Idol.”

For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day:

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