Thursday, August 17, 2006 | 9:30 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma Zaidi

  1. Other political news of note
    1. Animated Boehner: 'There's nothing complex about the Keystone Pipeline!'

      House Speaker John Boehner became animated Tuesday over the proposed Keystone Pipeline, castigating the Obama administration for not having approved the project yet.

    2. Budget deficits shrinking but set to grow after 2015
    3. Senate readies another volley on unemployment aid
    4. Obama faces Syria standstill
    5. Fluke files to run in California

In today's issue:
Pension bill-signing makes some Bush tax cuts permanent
Lieberman's over 50% among likely voters; Edwards stumps for Lamont
The DNC considers punishing '08 candidates who go where it thinks they shouldn't

First glance
President Bush signs the pension reform bill into law at 1:15 pm. The bill is one of the GOP-run Congress' few accomplishments from their summer session, and will make some of his lesser-known tax cuts permanent. He then heads to Camp David, where tomorrow, he will huddle with his economic team and hold a press availability. These events, which don't appear to be timed to the release of any key economic data, may be another effort by the White House to ward off the bad karma of last August, when rising gas prices and other economic concerns soured Americans' view of the US economy. Per CNBC, tomorrow's statement will be about the Bush economic team and how they're following the right policies for the times. No major news is expected.

As we've written before, in making their case that the US economy is strong, Bush and GOP officials tend to focus on the nation's unemployment rate. "Five-point-five million jobs created since 2003" is the Administration economic rallying cry, and the Bush tax cuts are their stated reason for low unemployment. The trouble is, as we also have written before, jobs are no longer the pressing economic concern they were in the 1990s. Many Americans are now using other standards to measure their own circumstances and how the overall economy is performing, including wages relative to inflation, the cost of gas and health care, and home values. In the most recent NBC/Journal poll from late July, 40% ranked gas prices as the most important economic issue facing the country; unemployment rated near the bottom with 5%.

Over the next two days, listen for what Bush might say to address the list of traditional economic "truths" which, to many Americans, no longer seem quite so true: that if you work hard, you'll get ahead; that health insurance will keep you from going bankrupt over medical costs; that owning a home is a means to financial security; that real estate and stock investments always increase in value; that Social Security will always be there; that your company retirement fund is safe; and, that your children will face a brighter future than you. Until the Administration focuses on these concerns, it seems unlikely that Americans are going to see eye to eye with them on a strong US economy.

The Democratic National Committee gathers today in Chicago, where the Connecticut Senate race might actually trump 2008 as the hot topic now that a new Quinnipiac University poll shows Sen. Joe Lieberman leading Democratic nominee Ned Lamont among likely voters, 53%-41%. DNC chair Howard Dean has called for Lieberman to drop out of the race. Also at the meeting, on Saturday, members are expected to approve changes to the party's presidential nominating calendar, adding a Nevada caucus shortly after Iowa's and a South Carolina primary one week after New Hampshire's, for the purpose of giving a more geographically and demographically diverse electorate greater say over who becomes the party's nominee.

The presidential candidates will focus intently on the fate of a related but lesser-known proposal by Carol Fowler, a DNC member from South Carolina, to punish those candidates who campaign in states which schedule their contests earlier than the DNC intends for them to be held. Provided that the calendar changes are approved, the DNC's current plan is to hold the 2008 Iowa caucuses on Monday, January 14, followed by Nevada caucuses on Saturday, January 19, the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, January 22, and the South Carolina primary on Tuesday, January 29. As the proposed means of punishment, candidates who make certain moves defined as "campaigning" in any state holding too early a contest will become ineligible to receive any delegates they win in that state.

Some might say Fowler's proposal is aimed specifically at punishing candidates who continue to campaign in New Hampshire, which might schedule its primary for earlier than January 22 if it decides that its first-in-the nation status is threatened by the calendar changes. Others involved in the process say the proposal is aimed at all states, and would have been a handy resolution to have in place to keep Delaware from going early in 1996 and 2000. Fowler herself tells First Read that her plan is aimed at state legislators who are often the ones driving calendar moves. If the rules and bylaws panel approves her proposal on Friday morning, the full DNC will vote on it at the general session on Saturday morning. Much more on the DNC meeting below.

First Read will be taking Fridays off in August, so we'll return on Monday, August 21. Have you checked out MSNBC.com's political calendar lately?

It's the economy...
Bloomberg says of today's pension reform bill-signing, "Wall Street firms are anticipating an influx of investment capital from the law, which contains $59 billion in tax breaks while making permanent tax incentives enacted in 2001 that are likely to boost workers' savings and investments."

Some investors worry that further efforts to extend the Bush tax cuts will be blocked if Democrats retake control of even one chamber of Congress, much less the presidency in 2008. The Washington office of economic research firm ISI tells clients that in fact, even if Democrats don't actually retake control, further tax-cut extensions seem unlikely at this point. For one thing, "[t]he only way tax cuts could be extended temporarily with a majority (rather than 2/3) vote is with a budget resolution in place," and Republicans weren't able to pass one this year even with their current numbers, which will likely be reduced in November. Second, "[t]he generic Democratic candidate is already the narrow favorite in 2008 whether or not Democrats win the House or Senate this year." Only once since Franklin Roosevelt has the party holding the White House for two terms managed to keep it for a third consecutive term. And third, "[o]dds are very high there will be some kind of tax increase after the 2008 election," in part because it's likely that "the next president will be a Democrat or McCain."

Bush appears to refute suggestions by his new Treasury Secretary in an interview on trade issues with USA Today: "Henry Paulson earlier this month called for 'thinking more creatively' about helping those who lose out from globalization. But... the president dismissed the need for new initiatives to address worker unease. Existing trade-adjustment funds, which provide retaining aid for some workers who lose their jobs because of foreign competition, and community college programs are adequate, he said. (Treasury spokesman Tony Fratto said Paulson has a long-term goal of studying the issue and does not intend to propose any new policies.)"

Bush knows better than to try to talk about falling oil prices, but they are in fact at almost a two-month low. - Bloomberg

The New York Times front-pages how Democrats of all stripes "have found a new rallying cry that many of them say could prove powerful in the midterm elections and into 2008: denouncing Wal-Mart for what they say are substandard wages and health care benefits... In interviews on Wednesday, company executives warned that they would alert their 1.3 million American employees to the anti-Wal-Mart campaign."

The Financial Times, which also examines how Wal-Mart "has in the past year expanded beyond the usual realm of corporate lobbying to wage a fully-fledged campaign in the mainstream of American politics," notes that while many prominent Democrats rail against the behemoth, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) "in 1986-92 served on the board of the" Arkansas-based retailer.

Security politics
Bush invoked the GOP's "cut and run" argument yesterday, the AP says, though he "kept the criticism of his opponents gentle, and left partisan politics out of it. His critics are mostly Democrats who contend he has not outlined a plan for success in Iraq. They are increasingly supportive of a timetable for bringing troops home."

It's House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's week to choose who will give the Democratic response to President Bush's radio address, and a Pelosi aide says she has tapped House candidate Joe Sestak, a former Navy vice-admiral who is now challenging GOP Rep. Curt Weldon in Pennsylvania's 7th district. Sestak will talk about national security.

Whoops. "The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) yesterday pulled an ad from its Web site after Hispanic groups accused Democrats of unfairly equating illegal aliens to terrorists." The ad "criticizes the Bush administration as leaving America unsecured by showing illegal aliens scaling a border fence. That scene is mixed with images of Osama bin Laden and North Korean President Kim Jong-il. While the DSCC did not publicly apologize for the ad, it had been removed from the site by last night." – Washington Times

Lieberman vs. Lamont
The latest Quinnipiac University poll showing Lieberman leading Lamont among likely voters, 53%-41%, also shows Lieberman with the support of 75% of likely GOP voters and 58% of likely independents. Among likely Democratic voters, Lamont leads Lieberman, 63%-35%.

Former Sen. John Edwards (D) campaigns with Lamont and New York service employee union leaders in New Haven at 5:45 pm. Edwards' former ticketmate, Sen. John Kerry, e-mailed his list of supporters yesterday calling on them to contribute to Lamont's campaign. A Kerry spokesperson says Kerry is refraining from calling on Lieberman to get out of the race, for now.

The New York Times writes that Lamont and other Democrats "struck back yesterday at attacks suggesting that their party's support of him portrayed the Democrats as weak on national security... 'We don't need any sermons on the meaning of 9/11,' Mr. Lamont said of remarks by Vice President Dick Cheney, adding that Mr. Lieberman was 'becoming more and more the de facto Republican candidate.'"

The latest Republican to praise Lieberman is Rudy Giuliani, who called him a "'really exceptional' senator," the New York Post notes.

For Republicans, the new national party line about why they aren't endorsing GOP nominee Alan Schlesinger is that they were warned by state officials not to get involved in the race. Which led to Tony Snow getting asked during the White House press briefing yesterday if he had "found any examples of other Republican Presidents not endorsing Republican candidates?"

Here's what was listed at the end of the briefing transcript: "* Some examples: In 1970, President Nixon took a neutral position in the US Senate race between Sen. Charles E. Goodell (R-NY) and challengers Rep. Richard Ottinger (D-NY) and James L. Buckley. In 1980, Republican officials refused support for Rep. William Ford's (D-MI) Republican opponent Gerald R. Carlson. In 1981, President Reagan promised not to campaign in the home districts of Democrats who voted for his tax cuts. One year later, the White House produced a list of 20 Democrats who the President and Vice President would not campaign against that cycle. In 1990, [DNC] Chairman Ron Brown denounced Rep. Gus Savage (D-IL) and pledged to not fund his reelection campaign. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush refused to endorse Louisiana Gubernatorial candidate David Duke."

MSNBC.com's Tom Curry looks at the "Lieberman as voodoo doll" effect, noting that Lieberman has become a source of intraparty discord not only in Connecticut but next door in Rhode Island. Jennifer Lawless, the Democrat challenging three-term Rep. Jim Langevin (D) in the state's September 12 primary, has launched a new website, LangevinequalsLieberman.com.

"We didn't mean to alienate any voter at all" by equating the two, Lawless spokesman Adam Deitch tells Curry. But 48% of Democratic voters right next door to Rhode Island just voted for Lieberman, Curry points out. Might Lawless not risk offending some Democratic voters in Rhode Island? "This [website] illuminates parts of Jim Langevin's record that show him to be out of touch with Democrats and with Rhode Island voters. There are many parallels between Jim Langevin and Joe Lieberman." In fact, Deitch argued, "Jim Langevin is less of a Democrat than Joe Lieberman."

Langevin won in 2004 with 74% of the vote in that very Democratic state. He also voted "no" on the Iraq war resolution in October 2002. But he has since voted to continue funding of the war, Deitch tells Curry. Lawless herself is calling for US troops to be pulled out of Iraq starting immediately, with the bulk of them out by December 31, 2006, according to Deitch.

"It's disappointing she has stooped to these negative, immature antics," says Langevin campaign spokeswoman Joy Fox. "She's grasping at straws." Fox points out that not only did Langevin vote "no" on the war resolution on which Lieberman voted "yes," but he voted "no" on the GOP-sponsored resolution the House passed in June.

The Democrats
As mentioned above, DNC members will descend on Chicago tonight for their summer meeting, which will run through Saturday. With just over two months to go before the midterm elections and the imminent kick-off of the 2008 presidential election (read: November 8), the meeting should offer news on both of these fronts.

On Friday morning, the rules and bylaws committee will discuss Internet voting, changes to the 2008 primary calendar, and what incentives, if any, can be offered to states to hold off on scheduling early nominating contests in order to prevent frontloading. New Hampshire Democrats are adamant about maintaining their first-in-the-nation primary status, and while the changes are expected to pass, state party chair Kathy Sullivan and other New Hampshire activists have been raising objections for months. Last December, Sullivan called the decision to "strip" Iowa and New Hampshire of their "heritage" a "crazy" move that would "damage key swing states, our national party as a whole, and our next nominee."

Also on the 2008 front, the three cities vying to host the party's presidential convention -- New York, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Denver -- will hold receptions to woo members. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will attend his city's event tonight.

And looking ahead to the midterms, DNC chair Howard Dean will give two speeches outlining the party's strategy and message. At his address to the executive committee tomorrow night, he'll be joined by representatives from the party's House and Senate campaign committees, who will offer general guidance on which races they're focusing on and how much money they'll be spending over the next several weeks. And on Saturday morning during the general session, DNC press secretary Stacie Paxton tells First Read, Dean "will make it clear that Democrats will not cede the security issue to Republicans."

USA Today looks at how Democrats are focused on winning secretary of state posts around the country in the wake of the Florida and Ohio recounts. States on the target list include those "where they expect the presidential vote to be close:" Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and Ohio. "At least four Democrats with presidential aspirations... have donated to secretary of State candidates. Among Republicans, Arizona Sen. John McCain has helped candidates in Michigan, South Carolina and New Mexico; national party Chairman Ken Mehlman also helped out in New Mexico. Overall, however, the Republican Party is not highlighting these contests."

More on the midterms

The Washington Post front-pages how lobbying firms and trade associations are starting to stock up on Democratic personnel.

In California today, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani appears with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and the fathers of Polly Klaas and Jessica Lunsford to rally support for Proposition 83, known as Jessica's Law. Yesterday, Schwarzenegger's Democratic challenger Phil Angelides proposed $1.4 billion in tax breaks, mainly for the middle class. "The tax breaks were the centerpiece of a broad fiscal agenda that Angelides laid out... in an effort to blunt the Republican governor's attacks and reinvigorate his campaign." – Los Angeles Times

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has his eye on 2008, has announced that the Republican Governors Association will donate $500,000 to Rep. Jim Nussle's bid for governor of IOWA. The Des Moines Register says "[n]o Republican campaign has received more money from the association than that of Nussle."

The New York Times examines Sen. Hillary Clinton's first TV ad for her NEW YORK campaign. Its "subtext - that she can win over skeptics - is one that could be applied in a presidential race. And there is no mention of the Iraq war, which Mrs. Clinton voted to authorize, a subject that has become increasingly problematic for candidates across the board."

Meanwhile, the New York Daily News has Clinton saying that the attack ad by possible opponent John Spencer (R) linking her to Osama bin Laden is "'outrageous.'"

Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman has closed-press events today in New York.

Roll Call reports that the Senate race in Pennsylvania might be so close that it's inspiring both parties' Senate campaign committees to ask the FEC "to clarify the rules covering recounts," as well as the rules covering soft-money spending.

The Wall Street Journal says the race "is a barometer for a crucial question this election year: Will widespread public anger -- about Mr. Bush and issues ranging from war to scandal -- lead voters to toss out large numbers of Republican incumbents and end Republican control of Congress? Or can Republicans do enough to distance themselves from their party's leader and his track record to hang on?"

In the latest sign of GOP discord about who to endorse to fill former Rep. Tom DeLay's seat in Texas, the Houston Chronicle writes that the GOP chairman of Fort Bend County urged people not to attend last night's endorsement meeting, "saying it excluded grass-roots Republicans. But his counterpart in Harris County... said the gathering was the best way to unify the party behind a single Republican candidate."

And in the Virginia Senate race yesterday, Sen. John McCain (R) sought to boost veterans' support for his colleague George Allen, while Allen's Democratic challenger Jim Webb "issued his harshest critique to date of how Republicans have handled Iraq and the fight against terrorism." The events were overshadowed by the "macaca" incident. – Washington Post

The AP reports that Allen yesterday met with officials from the US Indian Political Action Committee. "Allen said the leaders told him he has a strong record of supporting issues of interest to the Indian-American community, including the economy and immigration. ''They said they see this as a silver lining for recommitment,'' Allen said. 'I said, "This is a heck of a way to get a silver lining."'"

Oh-eight
Per the Boston Globe, Romney made two donations to conservative non-profits the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society for Law and Public Studies, which have "provided him with a platform as he readies for a potential run for president," while "[t]ax specialists interviewed this week said the donations could help Romney with conservative activists." "Eric Fehrnstrom, a spokesman for Romney, said the governor doesn't make donations for political reasons."

Sen. Joe Biden (D) was in Iowa yesterday for the first time in nearly 20 years to appear at a press conference on Wal-Mart's business practices. Biden also said he "hopes the 15 days he plans to spend in Iowa this month will begin to address questions about whether his effort is for real this time." – Des Moines Register

“First Read” is an analysis of the day’s political news, from the NBC News political unit. Please let us know what you think.  Drop us a note at FirstRead@MSNBC.com.  To bookmark First Read, click here.

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