By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
As President Obama goes on the road today to sell his deficit reduction plan, a new ABC News-Washington Post poll finds 57 percent of Americans disapproving of his handling of the economy while pessimism about the nation's financial health is the highest it's been in two years. http://abcn.ws/fRMAm8
On top of that comes the decision yesterday from the credit ratings agency, Standard & Poors, to downgrade the outlook for the U.S. debt, a decision that one House Democratic insider told The Note just “throws gasoline on this debate” over raising the debt ceiling and the 2012 budget.
“Today's announcement makes clear that the debt limit increase proposed by the Obama Administration must be accompanied by meaningful fiscal reforms that immediately reduce federal spending and stop our nation from digging itself further into debt,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said yesterday.
But, Democrats aren't backing down. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means committee said on ABC's “Top Line” yesterday that the S&P report sends a "very clear" signal to Republicans: "don't play games with the debt ceiling."
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., released a list of 114 House Democrats who support a similar position as Levin's. "If Mr. Cantor persists in playing politics with the debt limit,” Welch said in a statement, “he will be held accountable for unleashing the financial hounds of hell." http://wapo.st/eAu8Pi
But, when it comes to what form a debt ceiling vote would take, Republicans have more leverage to add spending and deficit-cutting additions. Both President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have signaled their willingness to support a bill with some strings attached. And, it's also clear from the recent continuing resolution vote that there are enough Democrats in the House willing to cross the aisle to support a GOP bill that includes spending cuts.
And even as President Obama's job approval rating has dropped to 47 percent, according to the poll, he leads all potential GOP candidates. In a head-to-head matchups, Obama leads Romney by 4 points, 49-45 percent; Huckabee by 6 points, 50-44 percent; Trump by 12 points, 52-40 percent; Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., by 12 points; former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Gingrich by 15 points each; and Palin by 17 points. http://abcn.ws/fRMAm8
CAN’T GET NO SATISFACTION. Americans may not be happy with the job the president is doing, but they aren't particularly optimistic that any other candidate would do better.
Just 43 percent of leaning Republicans said they are happy with their potential choices among the emerging GOP presidential field -- 22 points lower than at this point four years ago.
ABC polling analyst Gary Langer notes that nearly as many leaning Republicans are dissatisfied with the field (40 percent) as are satisfied and 17 percent have no opinion of the potential field of candidates. Even so, if voters remain pessimistic about the economy, these feelings of ambivalence about the GOP field may fade.
THE GOP FIELD. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who recently formed a presidential exploratory committee, takes top honors among Republicans when asked who they would vote for if the GOP primary were held today. Romney gets 16 percent support, real-estate and reality television mogul Donald Trump takes second place with 8 percent, followed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (6 percent), former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (5 percent). Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich tie for fifth place -- each with 2 percent support.
BOTTOM LINE: Palin's weaknesses cannot be overstated. Among the better known in the GOP field (Romney, Trump, Gingrich), she does the worst among independent voters, white voters with and without a college education, and Tea Party supporters.
TRUMP’S ULTIMATUM TO OBAMA: “Maybe I’m going to do the tax returns when Obama does his birth certificate…I’d love to give my tax returns,” Donald Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an interview yesterday. “I may tie my tax returns into Obama’s birth certificate.” Trump has promised to disclose the details of his finances if he decides to run for president, but not necessarily his tax returns. In the 35 minute sit-down, Trump weighed in on rising gas prices, offered his response to the Club for Growth’s accusation that he is liberal and explained why he no longer supports universal health care and abortion rights. http://abcn.ws/gpGy2A
Trump told Stephanopoulos that the birther controversy is not his "main issue" and said he "hopes" Obama has his birth certificate. But this issue is one reason Trump may be sky-rocketing to the top of national polls and is now interviewing candidates to be his campaign manager, such as Ralph Reed, formerly of the Christian Coalition. “I’m looking at the poll numbers. I see what’s happening with this country. This country is in such trouble,” he said. So what are the odds he’ll run? “Well, I don’t want to say odds. I don’t want to put myself in that position I don’t want to put you in that position. But I will tell you, I love this country. I hate what’s happening to it and you may very well be surprised.”
Trump explains his change of heart on health care and abortion: http://abcn.ws/i9gryv ; Trump offers to build $100 million White House ballroom: http://abcn.ws/f9unFf ; Full transcript of Stephanopoulos’ interview: http://abcn.ws/fDjn8z
JON KARL’S “SUBWAY SERIES”: DICK DURBIN. The Illinois senator says the bi-partisan group of senators working to find a way to reduce the deficit -- the so-called "Gang of Six" -- is near agreement on a plan that will chart a middle ground between the House Republican budget and the plan outlined last week by President Obama, Jonathan Karl reports in the latest installment of ABC’s “Subway Series.” While other top Democrats say Social Security should be untouched, Durbin says Social Security changes should be made now. “You have the House Republican budget from Congressman Paul Ryan, who I know and like, which is going to be placed somewhere on the right side of the spectrum. You have the president's suggestion, which will be on the other side of the spectrum. And if and when we reach an agreement, it will be in the middle, a bipartisan effort, which I think has a chance to succeed," Durbin said in an interview with ABC News.
Durbin, the second highest ranking Democrat in the Senate, has long been considered among the most liberal. He says his fellow liberals are slowly coming to realize the severity of the coming budget crisis and the need to dramatically cut the deficit. “Many of my friends on the left -- they are my friends, these are my roots politically -- are going through the stages of grief: denial, anger, frustration, sadness, resignation," Durbin said. "They are going through those stages because they understand that borrowing 40 cents for every dollar you spend, whether it's for missile or food stamps, is just unsustainable. But you've got to do something." Full interview with Sen. Durbin: http://abcn.ws/edBtOV
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Rick Klein and Amy Walter interview Chris Chocola President, Club for Growth. Chocola’s group released a strongly-worded statement yesterday accusing Donald Trump of being a liberal. Also on the program, Jon Karl’s “Subway Series” interview with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois (preview above). Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
“TOP LINE” REPLAY: SANDER LEVIN. On yesterday’s “Top Line,” the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, Sander Levin, D-Mich., said he hopes Standard & Poor’s decision to downgrade the U.S. debt outlook will provide a wake-up call to Republicans. Levin said Congress must act now: “Look what happened to the stock market already,” he said. “And if we continue to try and tread and try to combine it with other things we're really playing with fire. Don't do it. That's my message to the Republicans.” Levin also voiced his displeasure for Paul Ryan’s budget, which he called “irresponsible.” Regardless of whether Michigan loses a congressional seat, Levin, who has served Congress since 1983, said he plans to run for another term. http://abcn.ws/fK5KSy (h/t ABC’s Nick Gass)
DEMOCRATS TARGET REPUBLICAN SUPPORTERS OF RYAN BUDGET. ABC’s Amy Bingham reports that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is launching an ad blitz today targeting 25 House Republicans who voted for Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal last Friday. The Ryan budget includes sweeping changes to Medicare by creating block grant program that allocates money to states, giving them more flexibility in Medicare spending. The DCCC says the provision will “end Medicare for America’s seniors.” Only 4 Republicans voted against Ryan’s budget in the House; every Democrat voted against it. The DCCC’s ad campaign will include radio ads, live and automated phone calls, web ads and over 4.5 million emails. Here’s an example of one of the ads that will run in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District: “Did you know Congressman Chip Cravaack voted to end Medicare forcing seniors to pay $12,500 for private health insurance, without guaranteed coverage? Tell Cravaack to keep his hands off our Medicare.”
BIDEN TO LEAD DEBT TALKS. “Vice President Joe Biden might have struggled to stay awake last week when President Barack Obama spoke about his debt-reduction plan. Still, When Obama needed someone to forge a deal with Congress, he summoned his second- in-command,” Bloomberg’s Kate Andersen Brower reports. “Biden, who directed the White House campaign to reach an accord on this year’s budget and avoid a government shutdown, will now head negotiations between Republican and Democratic lawmakers to come up with a plan by the end of June for comprehensive debt reduction. He has also been tapped to find votes in Congress to raise the U.S. debt limit, according to an administration official who asked for anonymity. ‘He can do things; he has the president’s full accord,’ Alan Simpson, co-chairman of the president’s debt commission, told reporters after an April 14 White House meeting with Obama, Biden and Erskine Bowles, the debt panel’s other leader. Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, said one of the best decisions Obama made was asking Biden to be the ‘point person’ on the deficit discussions.” http://bloom.bg/gJHadk
WHITE HOUSE ENERGY POLICY GETS A BLACK EYE. One year after the largest oil spill in the nation's history began unfolding along the Gulf Coast, George Moorman of Lucedale, Miss., says he and hundreds of other former BP sub-contractors hired to clean up the mess continue to suffer from its consequences,” write ABC News’ Huma Khan and Devin Dwyer. “‘It's horrible down there, still,’ Moorman, 52, told ABC News as he took part in a protest Monday outside the White House. He said oil continues to wash ashore along with dead wildlife, and that the workers who toiled in 100-degree heat for months last summer have become sick after inhaling the toxic fumes. There has been no major legislative action on the environment in the past year, despite Obama's calls to curtail offshore drilling and promote ambitious new goals for clean energy. … Activists have accused the administration of being too friendly to major American energy companies, citing the inclusion of so-called clean coal, natural gas and nuclear power under the umbrella of a ‘clean energy’ plan Obama rolled out last month. They're also frustrated the administration is siding with major energy companies in a major Supreme Court case brought by environmental groups seeking the ability to sue over pollution levels.” http://abcn.ws/eYemnH
ARIZONA GOVERNOR VETOES BIRTHER BILL. “Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday shot down an effort by the Arizona Legislature to require presidential candidates to provide proof of citizenship in order to get on the state's ballot,” the Arizona Republic’s Ginger Rough reports. “In her veto letter, Brewer said House Bill 2177 ‘creates significant new problems while failing to do anything constructive for Arizona.’ The House and Senate could override the governor's veto with a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber, but on Monday, such a move appeared unlikely. … HB 2177 would have required the candidates' national political party to provide documents validating that information, preferably with a long-form birth certificate. That generally means a detailed birth certificate with extensive birth-related information, such as date and time of birth, the doctor's signature, the hospital and parents' names and birthplaces of the parents.” http://bit.ly/e8ySCL
INSIDE OBAMA’S TAX RETURNS. “Income for the Obama household continued to slip in 2010, tax returns show, as proceeds from President Obama’s best-selling books tapered off. But just as he has said, his income is easily high enough to make the family eligible for a tax increase under his own deficit-reduction proposals,” The New York Times’ Jackie Calmes reports. “The president and his wife, Michelle Obama, on Monday reported an adjusted gross income of $1,728,096 for 2010, down from $5.5 million in 2009. Most of their income came from sales of his books “Dreams From My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope.” The Obamas paid $453,770 in federal taxes, for an effective tax rate of just over 26 percent; the top individual tax rate is 35 percent. The Obamas donated $245,075 -- 14.2 percent of their income before tax deductions and exemptions -- to 36 charities.” http://nyti.ms/igGvt0
COURTING THE TEA PARTY. “Potential Republican contenders for the White House face a tough strategic decision: How much to woo the Tea Party? Some, like Sarah Palin, Donald Trump and Tim Pawlenty, appeared at Tea PartyTax Day events last weekend,” AB’s Huma Khan notes. “Others, like Mitt Romney and Haley Barbour, are charting a more cautious course. Potential candidates have increasingly courted Tea Party groups, the grassroots political force that seemingly helped propel Republicans into control of the House of Representatives in November. But Washington is set to consider issues such as whether to overhaul Medicare and raise the debt ceiling, which some fear could hamper GOP unity. Republicans needed help from House Democrats to pass a government funding bill after 54 Republicans, many of them aligned with the Tea Party, voted to shut the government down instead.” http://abcn.ws/i0Tjat
@ amandacarpenter : Media spending lots more time scrutinizing longshot Trump run than how Obama racked up trillions in debt that led to S&P downgrade. Quit it.
President Obama will hold a town hall in Northern Virginia, the first of three this week across the country "to discuss his vision for reducing our debt and bringing down our deficit, based on the values of shared responsibility and shared prosperity." White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday that the president “wants to explain why, for the sake of our economy, we need to move forward on fiscal reform, share responsibility and share the burden, as we go forward, to create an America that is stronger and creating more jobs in the future." Obama will also convene a meeting on immigration reform with, "a broad group of business, law enforcement, faith, and current and former elected and appointed leaders from across the political spectrum." http://abcn.ws/hPM5E3 (h/t ABC’s Sunlen Miller).
The Note Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV
* Get The Note delivered to your inbox every day.