“First Read” is a daily memo prepared by NBC News’ political unit, for NBC News, analyzing the morning’s political news. Please let us know what you think. Drop us a note at FirstRead@MSNBC.com.

Monday, February 7, 2005 | 9:20 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Kasie Hunt

First glance
It's a broccoli kind of day in politics, but unlike Imus, we don't have the luxury of opting not to discuss the Bush budget just because it's tedious. 

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The President today rolls out a $2.5 trillion budget that includes an expected overall spending increase of around 2.5%.  It will not include spending on Iraq, Afghanistan, or his proposed reforms of Social Security, which the Vice President yesterday said will require "trillions" of dollars in borrowing.  Bush meets with his Cabinet to talk about the budget at 10:20 am; OMB director Josh Bolten briefs the media at 12 noon.  Tomorrow, Bush addresses the Detroit Economic Club. 

Per all the reporting out there, the Bush budget is expected to include increases in, among other things:
-- defense and homeland security spending;
-- foreign aid, though not by as much as Bush had pledged;
-- funding for community health centers and low-income schools; and,
-- an expansion of Pell grants.

Bush is also expected to propose eliminating or cutting 150 programs, one-third of them education-related.  They include, among others:
-- cuts in farm and commodity programs, along with proposed overall limits on farm subsidies;
-- an increase in veterans' co-pay for prescription drugs and new fees for some veterans in accessing government health care;
-- cuts in Medicaid and a $1 billion cut in the $32 billion food stamp program;
-- cuts in and consolidation of job-training programs;
-- consolidation of housing and community development programs;
-- elimination of federal subsidies for Amtrak; and,
-- elimination of some Energy Department programs and cuts in conservation efforts.

In addition, Bush is expected to ask Congress to commit to billions more in as-yet-unspecified spending cuts.

Of the ensuing give and take between the White House and congressional Republicans, many of whom will see pet projects bound for the knife, we wonder what the ratio will be between adversarial and acquiescent.

Beyond budgetary matters, the President today also takes part in a photo op with NASCAR Nextel Cup champ Kurt Busch at 2:05 pm.  The Senate meets at 2:00 pm; the House is not in session.

On the Democratic side, Howard Dean emerges from the weekend with a lock on the DNC chairmanship, no longer facing even semi-significant significant opposition.  The DNC holds its winter meeting Thursday through Saturday in DC, with the vote on Dean scheduled for Saturday. 

After that, the DNC can get down to business, including figuring out its 2008 presidential nominating calendar, for which outgoing chairman Terry McAuliffe has appointed a commission which starts meeting in March.  Any effort by Democrats to deprive Iowa and New Hampshire of their first-in-the-nation status could be complicated by the fact that Republicans already have ensured that those two states will continue to go first on their schedule: The chance for the RNC to change its calendar for 2008 came and went with the party's presidential convention in 2004.

The budget
OMB director Josh Bolten, in an interview with Roll Call, "predicted that appropriators will need to dig deep to hit the president’s spending targets, and hinted that the Bush administration is prepared to take a tough line in negotiations to preserve the item-by-item blueprint it will lay out today."  The story calls this "an implied challenge to lawmakers who may have their own pet priorities."

The Washington Post: "Some congressional officials pronounced many of the proposed cuts dead on arrival.  One lawmaker involved in the negotiations said that House and Senate leaders have told the White House that no more than two dozen of the 150 proposals are likely to be accepted, although Congress might agree to reductions in some programs targeted for elimination."

"Some administration officials... acknowledged that they faced an uphill struggle on the proposed cuts, some of which were rejected in the past.  One official said the White House plans an elaborate marketing strategy to sell the cuts to voters and lawmakers as 'centralizing government services and saving taxpayer money.'"

The New York Times notes that all of Bush’s cuts “would total less than $15 billion next year and barely dent the deficit.  By far the biggest parts of the budget - Medicare, Social Security and military spending - would be immune from cuts and are expected to grow rapidly for years to come.”

“The cornerstone of Mr. Bush's budget strategy is a belief that vigorous economic growth, spurred by supply-side tax cuts… will generate big jumps in tax revenue that gradually reduce the deficit.  At first glance, he would seem to have grounds for optimism... Republican and Democratic budget analysts, however, say that such an event is much less likely this time around.”

The Wall Street Journal reports "a decrease in domestic spending, outside defense and homeland-security programs, of about 0.7%.  Mr. Bush's budget will argue that government services will be maintained -- and might even be increased -- through greater efficiency produced by consolidating similar programs and cutting overhead costs, much as merging companies often promise."

The story focuses on expected cuts in and consolidation of job-training programs, noting that "the White House will propose combining four Labor Department jobs programs and reduce spending to $3.9 billion from the $4.1 billion appropriated for the current fiscal year.  The programs cover adults, youth and dislocated workers, as well as employment-service centers."

The New York Times front-pages that the Administration is looking to more than double the co-pay that veterans pay for prescription drugs and require some of them to pay a new $250 fee to use government health care.  “The proposals could provoke months of furious debate on Capitol Hill. Democrats have already indicated that they are poised to pounce on any sign that the Bush administration is stinting on veterans' benefits.”

"In addition to the cuts proposed in the 2006 budget, Bush is expected to ask Congress to approve in principle many billions of dollars in additional, unspecified cuts."  - Los Angeles Times

The Sunday New York Times looked at expected "deep cuts in farm and commodity programs," and an anticipated proposal of "overall limits on subsidy payments to farmers".

The Washington Times covers the increases.  On the Pentagon budget, "leaked budget documents show that the funding will actually be... 4.8 percent higher than this year.  Much of the increase will go to beefing up manpower in the enlisted ranks, increasing salaries for civilian and uniformed forces and more money to secure and destroy chemical and biological weapons.  The president also is expected to request about $157 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, with a big chunk going to training and preparedness for firefighters and police officers.  Increased spending also is expected to cover Mr. Bush's plan to give a tax incentive to Americans to get private health insurance."

And the Sunday Washington Post followed up on earlier Wall Street Journal reporting on Bush's foreign aid budget.

The deficit
The Los Angeles Times reports that "students of the budget say that the president will find it nearly impossible to steer the government along the course that the budget will map out between now and 2009."  In part, this is because "[i]t is the 2004 deficit that Bush is promising to cut in half, but he's not starting with the actual 2004 deficit of $412 billion.  Instead, his benchmark is the projected $521-billion deficit that his Office of Management and Budget estimated a year ago..."

"There are more twists.  Bush proposes to cut the deficit in half not in dollars but as a share of the economy.  If the economy grows, as is projected, then the deficit will decline as a share of the economy even if it does not shrink by a single dollar...  Finally, the budget that the president will send to Congress will, like his past budgets, omit some major deficit-raising items."

The Washington Post says "signs are blossoming that deficit politics is finally making a comeback...  Concern by fellow Republicans about borrowing as much as $2 trillion in transition costs, for instance, is one of the big problems facing his plan to restructure Social Security to allow individual investment accounts."

"It's not only budget numbers that are chastening the GOP.  Public opinion may be doing the same."

Social Security
Vice President Cheney "acknowledged yesterday that the federal government would need to borrow trillions of dollars over the next few decades to cover the cost of the personal retirement accounts at the heart of President Bush's plan to restructure Social Security...  Despite such costs, the vice president said the price tag of restructuring the system would grow even more expensive if changes to Social Security were delayed." -- Washington Post

The Los Angeles Times' Brownstein says Bush is "facing a potentially decisive shortage of two ingredients indispensable to a cause as big as restructuring Social Security: money and trust."  Despite other assets Bush still possesses, "even many of Bush's staunchest allies are expressing open pessimism about his prospects on Social Security."

Progress for America starts its second flight of ads today, but the ads don't target specific members of Congress.  The Club for Growth, on the other hand, "will spend upwards of $10 million on ads urging" certain moderate Hill Republicans to back Bush’s Social Security reform proposal," Roll Call reports.  "The commercials will begin running Tuesday," targeting Sen. Lincoln Chafee and Reps. Joe Schwarz of Michigan and Sherwood Boehlert of New York.

USA Today rounds up the ad campaigns by both sides.

Roll Call, in a story about an unprecedented good mood among House GOP conservatives, picks up on "a sense of wariness" about the President's Social Security plan, and says they feel the House should move first on the effort.

Style yesterday consulted with sales experts in rating Bush's abilities as seller of his Social Security plan:.

Partisan warfare
As Bush prepares to talk about limiting malpractice awards on Wednesday, the Boston Herald is the latest to point out that "Bush's priorities could bring him political gain through legislative reforms that broaden Republican appeal while sapping the Democratic base of powerful union, trial-lawyer and other support...  Several top policy proposals could win more voters to the GOP cause and reduce financial support to traditional Democratic allies, such as class-action reforms that would deprive money from trial lawyers."

Roll Call reports that the RNC is about "to begin a prolonged attack against newly installed Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) aimed at weakening his support in his home state as well as on the national level," based on the tactics the party used successfully to oust Tom Daschle in South Dakota.  The effort includes "a 13-page research document... detailing Reid’s alleged obstructionism among other topics."

Bob Novak argues that Democratic opposition to Bush Cabinet nominees demeans the Senate.

The Republican members of Georgia's congressional delegation and the GOP governor have signed off on a new district map, which party leaders in the state legislature will now try to push through, Roll Call reports.  The story notes, "Georgia is a Voting Rights Act state, and therefore any new lines would have to be approved by the Justice Department."

The New York Times rounds up efforts across the country, from California to Massachusetts, to reform the ways congressional districts are drawn.  “The increased attention to the issue is in part due to the effectiveness of efforts in 2003 in Texas, where Republicans… forced through a midterm redistricting that effectively cost four Texas Democrats their seats.  The complaints are also spurred by the way computers and the enormous amount of available voting data have turned redistricting into a surgically precise procedure and opened up to anyone with a laptop what was once dominated by legislative tacticians with decades of knowledge.”

Whither the Democrats
The Boston Globe surely meant nothing yesterday in placing its Kerry interview on lessons he learned from 2004 next to an article about tsunami victims rebuilding.  Kerry spoke more openly and to a greater extent about his faith than he did at any point during the campaign.  In the interview, Kerry:
-- "said he was determined to play a leading role in his party's efforts to integrate values and religion into its message, especially as directed at his fellow Catholics;"
-- "said he hopes to sit down with President Bush to talk about foreign affairs before Bush's trip to Europe at the end of this month;"
-- "expressed no resentment toward the president;"
-- "expressed frustration over surveys showing he lost to Bush among Catholic voters, a problem Kerry promised to address by pursuing an agenda that reflects 'the whole cloth' of Catholic teachings, not just abortion;"
-- said he "was unaware for a while that his campaign had never cleared up" what he says was a misinterpretation of his Grand Canyon moment in which he "answered yes to a question about whether he would have voted to give the president the authority to go to war in Iraq knowing... that there were no weapons of mass destruction;"
-- repeated his pledge made on Meet the Press to sign Form 180, releasing all of his military records -- and "challenged his critics, including Bush, to do the same;" and,
-- in "discussing his own dilemma of whether to run again for the presidency, he said he wasn't fully prepared to consider it.  But he appeared willing to seek the guidance of a higher power.  'God will figure it out,' he said quietly."

Asked by Imus today when he'll effort release of his military records, Kerry said there's been some back-and-forth with military bureaucracy but that it'll get done.

At the New Hampshire Democratic Party's 100 Club fundraiser Saturday night, Edwards road-tested some new anti-poverty remarks that may serve as his pre-2008 stump speech.  He was noncommittal about running for president again in the print interviews he gave beforehand:
Washington Post
New York Times
Union Leader
Raleigh News Observer

Also, in his Union Leader interview, Edwards vaguely expressed support for keeping New Hampshire's primary first in the nation.  (Democrats who are critical of the state's continuing first-in-the-nation status, had they been present on Saturday night, might have noted how very, very few minorities were in the hall, and step up their argument that the New Hampshire Democratic electorate, like Iowa's, is hardly reflective of the party's electorate on the whole.)

And in his interview with the Raleigh News & Observer, Edwards said the disappearance of a mole that used to be on his upper lip was "to provide a medical biopsy, rather than for any cosmetic reasons."

The San Francisco Chronicle ponders the somewhat "pro-life" statements uttered lately by Hillary Clinton, Kerry, and even Dean.  "The debate over tone, message -- and the subtle shape of outreach to voters -- reflects the current hand-wringing over the Democratic Party's efforts to broaden its appeal after its defeat at the polls in November."

The values debate
Maryland state lawmakers today "are expected to introduce legislation to spend state money on science that the federal government refuses to fund."  Since California passed its $3 billion stem cell funding initiative, "a similar initiative has been launched in Florida.  New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Wisconsin have also dedicated state money to stem cell research or are considering doing so.  Massachusetts legislators are weighing the need for stem cell subsidies."  - Boston Globe

The Sunday Washington Post took a long look at a growing environmental movement among evangelicals who "view stewardship of the environment as a responsibility mandated by God in the Bible".

Media notes
Howard Kurtz considers the increasing partisanship among columnists and TV pundits and public affairs show hosts, as more get hired straight out of politics.


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