The Note: Washington’s New Kids On The Block


Today Washington gets an injection of new blood as freshman members of the House and Senate from around the country flood Capitol Hill on the first official day of the 112th Congress.

“Hard work and tough decisions will be required of the 112th Congress. No longer can we fall short,” incoming House Speaker John Boehner plans to say in a speech today. “No longer can we kick the can down the road. The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin carrying out their instructions.”

But how much can they really get done? Republicans are already putting the brakes on a campaign promise to cut $100 billion from the federal budget, a goal that was enshrined in the GOP’s “Pledge to America.”

The New York Times’ Jackie Calmes reports today that “aides say that the $100 billion figure was hypothetical, and that the objective is to get annual spending for programs other than those for the military, veterans and domestic security back to the levels of 2008, before Democrats approved stimulus spending to end the recession.”

Democrats are sharpening their knives at the prospect of a Republican broken promise. “It’s now clear that the House Republicans’ pledges aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on as they start breaking them before even being sworn in,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Jesse Ferguson notes.

The lowering of expectations may not sit well with some of the newbies.

Incoming Republican Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said in an interview on “Good Morning America” today said that a cut in the range of $50 billion “is not enough to scratch the surface; we have to find much, much more.” The younger Paul, who appeared with his father, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, did express openness to voting to raise the debt ceiling as long as it was tied to a “balanced budget rule.” (Watch the full interview:

BOTTOM LINE: On Congress: there's lots of talk about lofty goals and promises kept, but in the end Speaker Boehner's biggest challenge will to keep expectations at a reasonable level. ABC’s Jonathan Karl told Diane Sawyer last night on “World News” that GOP leadership had assured him the debt ceiling vote will pass, a prospect that seems likely when even Sen.-elect Paul is sounding more like a pragmatist than a bomb thrower. And then there's the issue of cutting spending. Democrats are giddy at the potential of running two years from now on a GOP record of cutting off assistance to needy and vulnerable.

WHITE HOUSE WATCH. Team Obama is, of course, girding for a contentious two years with Republicans in control of the House of Representatives. As we reported this week, change is coming to the Obama administration where rumors that former Commerce Secretary William Daley is a top choice for the job of chief of staff seem to be going over well. So far, there’s been little carping from liberals or labor at the prospect of a Daley pick.

Vice President Biden will also have to fill the same job in his office with the exit of current Chief of Staff Ron Klain and President Obama is likely to be welcoming even more fresh faces to his team in the coming weeks. Speculation that Press Secretary Robert Gibbs would be leaving the White House sooner rather than later ramped up yesterday.

THE FRESHMEN. Watch more of Diane Sawyer’s interview with the “Tea Party 10” -- new members of Congress from around the country who weigh in on the freshman year agenda:

PLAN OF ATTACK. "I think you could sum up what our new majority is going to be about by saying it is a 'cut and grow' majority," said Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, who takes up the mantle of majority leader today. "We are going to be about cutting spending and cutting the job-killing regulations that this administration has been about over the last two years.” ABC’s Jon Karl and Z. Byron Wolf preview some of the action we’ll be seeing in the opening weeks of the new Congress:

EXCLUSIVE: BACHMANN 2012? ABC News’ John Parkinson scoops: Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is seriously weighing whether to seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012. “A source close to the three-term congresswoman said Bachmann will travel to Iowa this month for multiple meetings to seek advice from political forces there and party elders close to the caucus process before coming to a final decision regarding a potential presidential run. Bachmann, a native of Waterloo, Iowa, also is set to deliver a keynote speech at an Iowans for Tax Relief PAC fundraiser Jan. 21 in Des Moines, Iowa. … Bachmann's appearance in the Hawkeye State later this month will be her third trip over the past eight months to the significant early-caucus state … ‘Nothing is off the table,’ Bachmann chief of staff Andy Parrish told ABC News when asked whether the Iowa trip signaled Bachmann's intent to run for president. ‘The congresswoman is excited about her first trip to Iowa this year.’”

ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Rick Klein and Amy Walter speak with Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, a vice chairman of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. Also joining the “Top Line” discussion: The New York Times’ Jeff Zeleny. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern.


DANIELS WEIGHS IN. The New York Times’ David Leonhardt recently sat down with potential 2012 presidential candidate, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who he calls the governor with “the most credibility” talking about budget deficits. From the interview: “He says he avoids using the phrase ‘waste, fraud and abuse’ because ‘it’s too glib — there’s no wand you can wave.’ He says military spending should be cut. He called the Republicans’ recent attacks on Democratic efforts to slow Medicare’s cost growth ‘not a proud moment for our party.’ He had kind words for the Tea Party but pointed out that it did not have a solution. … [He] laid out what amounted to a three-part vision of American government. The first part revolves around simply making government work better. ‘Government is, essentially, the last monopoly,’ he said.”

MEANWHILE, IN THE SENATE. "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) face fresh challenges as last Congress’ near-filibuster-proof Democratic majority gives way to a more evenly split chamber,” Roll Call’s David Drucker reports. “The Senate’s new partisan breakdown stands at 53-47, and a typically reserved McConnell indicated during an interview Tuesday that he expects the Senate to function much differently than it did the previous two years … ‘Elections have consequences,’ McConnell said during a conversation in his Capitol office. ‘Let’s assume [Senate Democrats] were able to jam something through. Do you think it would go anywhere in the House? It’s completely futile for them to continue the tactics that they used in the last Congress. To what end’”

SEBELIUS MAKES HER CASE. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius penned an Op-Ed in the Chicago Tribune today taking a pre-emptive strike at GOP promises to try to repeal health care reform (an effort that, as we have noted, has little chance of succeeding.): “The law is giving Americans more freedom in their health care choices. It's freeing families from the worry that they'll lose their benefits when insurers unfairly cancel or cap their coverage. It's freeing children with disabilities and pregnant women from being discriminated against by insurers because of their health status. It's freeing seniors to get the care they need, whether it's a prescription medication or a preventive screening like a mammogram,” she wrote. “Repeal would slam the brakes on this progress, taking control away from families and their doctors and putting it back in the hands of insurance companies.”

WILL CHENEY NEED A TRANSPLANT? “After a lengthy recovery period following heart surgery last summer, former Vice President Dick Cheney is quietly and slowly re-emerging in public … the New York Times reports.” ABC’s Karen Travers notes that the story also explores the possibility of a transplant for Cheney who had a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) implanted last July. Cardiologists said that in Cheney's case, the pump is likely a "bridge" that will keep him alive until he can receive a heart transplant. Many cardiac experts said at the time of his surgery that Cheney may be only one step away from a transplant but could find himself on a wait list for "months or years."


@ JillDLawrence: Would GOP vote to repeal #hcr law (" #obamacare") if they thought they might succeed? I think not. Here's my case.

@ marincogan: my story: freshmen on a tightrope--Rs discuss a tough vote on the debt ceiling & how to keep a factious GOP together

@ MajoratNJ: My colleague @ HotlineJosh on Obama and the emerging GOP field.....good read.

@ edhenrycnn: Sen. Reid had big breakfast with lobbyists this AM to kick off new Congress, introducing Patty Murray as new DSCC chair

@ markknoller: Meanwhile, here at the White House, Pres. Obama is keeping a decidedly low profile. He has no public events at this writing.

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