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

First glance
Battle lines have firmed up on Social Security: The White House is willing to compromise so long as any compromise includes private accounts; congressional Democrats are willing to deal on tax increases and benefit cuts so long as private accounts are off the table.  We'll repeat what we suggested on Friday: Democrats are totally stoked by the effectiveness of their opposition to private accounts.  But will they spot a moment, if there is one, at which the public is looking for a break in the impasse? 

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Again, if Democrats succeed in stymieing the President's efforts and nothing happens on a program which a majority of Americans agree is in some degree of trouble, and Democrats themselves have vowed election year after election year to protect, what kind of victory will they have to tout? 

Oh-eighter and GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel today unveils his proposal to raise the retirement age by a year and allow people below the age of 45 to set up private accounts.  Bush's next round of Social Security travel comes on Thursday and Friday, when he hits Louisville, KY, Montgomery, AL, Memphis, and Shreveport, LA -- home to House Social Security point man Jim McCrery, who is being targeted by liberal groups.

More Bush outreach to African-Americans today: The President and Laura Bush focus on youth and gangs in Pittsburgh, where they visit a family support center at 3:10 pm, followed by remarks by the President on helping America's youth at the local community college at 3:50 pm.  Endangered GOP Senator Santorum will not be present, per his office.  Unclear whether Bush will say anything to commemorate the anniversary of the Selma march.  Prior to their trip, the Bushes welcome the King and Queen of Norway to the White House at 11:50 am. 

We may see a Senate vote by tonight on increasing the minimum wage as a possible amendment to the bankruptcy bill, but that effort is not expected to succeed.  The Senate meets at 2:00 pm; the House meets at 12 noon.

2004 GOP convention redux, minus the candidate: The New York Republican County Committee holds its big dinner tonight, featuring honorary chair Giuliani, Pataki, Bloomberg -- and Schwarzenegger.  The dinner takes place at the New York Sheraton; cocktails start at 5:30 pm and dinner at 6:30 pm.  Schwarzenegger, who is in the midst of a New York-DC fundraising tour, will make opening remarks.  Is this a stage full of socially moderate Republicans who wouldn't be able to win their party's presidential nomination?

And tomorrow brings the Los Angeles mayoral primary, which Mayor James Hahn may not survive.  See below for details.

Social Security
As President Bush heads to Pittsburgh, the Post-Gazette tops its news coverage with a story on how disability benefits are a snarl in his Social Security plan.

USA Today has details of the Administration efforts inside and outside the Beltway, including what Cheney has been up to -- like hosting 35 GOP House members at his house last week.  In a separate story, the paper reports that the members dined on mini-cheeseburgers. 

The Washington Times says that according to supporters of private accounts, news reports "asserting that President Bush's proposal... is losing ground with voters and in Congress are greatly exaggerated."  The paper got Chuck Grassley saying, "'I feel very positive that there is a door opening up'" -- and that "he has been having fruitful meetings with Sen. Max Baucus of Montana... and with a group of Democratic senators brought together by Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, a chief proponent of Mr. Bush's plan." 

Since almost "two-thirds of House Republicans have yet to hold a single district gathering on Social Security, and leadership strategists fear those lawmakers will be even less inclined to hold any meetings if they keep reading negative press reports," the RNC "is devising ways to support that effort."  Per Roll Call, the RNC this week will organize activists and volunteers to show up at members' town halls.  "At the same time, the pro-reform group Generations Together is increasing its own efforts to influence the direction of Congressional gatherings."

Joe Lieberman’s expressed willingness to work with Bush on Social Security (although he maintains he’s opposed to private accounts) has irked some of his colleagues, the New York Times notes.  “Their disappointment with Mr. Lieberman illustrates the difficulty of trying to be a centrist in an increasingly polarized political climate.  Mr. Lieberman has gone from a possible Democratic heir apparent to a presidential primary footnote in 2004 to the conspicuous odd man out in his own Senate party caucus.” 

Roll Call notes that Democrats' unity on Social Security has helped them rally after their November losses.

The Boston Globe looks at Bush's consideration of "a controversial new source of revenue to help fix Social Security: shutting off the exemption from Social Security taxes of future state and local public employees who otherwise would be contributing to public pension plans."  While "labor unions are fighting hard to make sure the proposal doesn't materialize,... [c]ritics say the unions are trying to have it both ways: fighting the Bush plan on grounds that private accounts are too risky, while fighting to ensure that 5 million workers are exempt from Social Security and thus able to benefit from pension plans that rely on stock market investments."

The Sacramento Bee looks at how  immigration could affect the debate: “At a time when many members of Congress want to curtail the near-record flow of foreign-born citizens to American shores, new studies suggest that a reduction from today's levels of immigration could deepen the Social Security crisis.” 

Tax cuts and Greenspan
The Washington Post front-pages how Bush/GOP hopes for further tax cuts are being stymied by spending on the war, by the focus on Social Security (which some Republicans are proposing to fix by increasing taxes), and by fiscal conservatives' concerns about the deficit.  "The shift is pragmatic, not philosophical, and reflects a trend playing out around the country.  Many governors are facing large deficits and rising costs, especially for Medicaid, which provides medical coverage to low-income Americans."

The Dallas Morning News also looks at how Bush's tax cuts have affected his plan to overhaul Social Security.  "[S]ome policy-makers wish they still had the revenue forgone in President Bush's $1.8 trillion tax cut package - a sum that promises to mushroom in future decades if the tax reductions remain intact." 

The Los Angeles Times' Brownstein takes after Greenspan for saying last week that the deficit is unsustainable after he did so much to help cause the problem, in Brownstein's view, including giving his blessing to the Bush tax cuts. 

The Wall Street Journal editorial page, meanwhile, takes up for Greenspan against Democratic charges that he's a partisan hack by arguing that Democrats are the ones playing politics and that they used to praise Greenspan when they held the presidency.

The values debate
The Los Angeles Times says the Bush Administration is sending a message that religious institutions spending public funds have the right to require employees to embrace their beliefs.  The story leads with how, when the publicly funded "Salvation Army was accused in a lawsuit of imposing a new religious litmus test on employees hired with millions of dollars in public funds," with employees charging that "they were being required to embrace Jesus Christ to keep their jobs, the Justice Department's civil rights division took the side of the Salvation Army." 

The Washington State Supreme Court tomorrow "will hear arguments in a challenge to the state's Defense of Marriage Act, a case that could result in Washington becoming the second state, after Massachusetts, to legalize same-sex marriage."  - Boston Globe

Another Massachusetts pol struggling to draw a clear line in the values debate: Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) seeks to explain his position on stem cells and cloning in a Boston Globe op-ed.

In addition to the New York GOP dinner and a little fundraising of his own today, Schwarzenegger also does Hannity and Colmes.  A Democratic source tells First Read that teachers, nurses, and other first responders plan to picket Schwarzenegger's fundraising events in New York today and in DC tomorrow.

The New York Times recalls how Schwarzenegger campaigned in 2003 on ridding California politics of special interests in pointing out how he hopes to raise $50 million -- much of that amount from business groups -- to ensure that his reform proposals become law.  The Times notes, “California Common Cause, which is a major backer of one of Mr. Schwarzenegger's most significant initiatives, the bid to have the boundaries of legislative districts decided by a panel of retired judges rather than elected officials, is among the groups expressing alarm at the fund-raising." 

Schwarzenegger said at his annual fitness expo in Columbus, OH yesterday that vending machine junk food should be replaced with fresh vegetables -- and that he's not focusing on running for president, which is a bit different from not being interested in running for president. – Los Angeles Times

Some political observers in Los Angeles believe that Mayor James Hahn's service will ultimately be cut short by tomorrow's primary.  As we have mentioned before, there is a real possibility that Hahn might not make the May 17 runoff; the most recent Los Angeles Times poll has Antonio Villaraigosa at 24%, Bob Hertzberg at 21%, and Hahn at 20%.  However, LA political consultant Joe Cerrell tells First Read that if Hahn makes the runoff, it's very likely he'll go on to win re-election.  In 2001, Cerrell says, Hahn won the run off against Villaraigosa because -- in city whose politics are divided by race, geography, and ideology -- he was everyone's second choice.  This year, either against liberal Latino Villaraigosa or against Hertzberg, who has been playing up his ties to Schwarzenegger, Hahn could once again be that second choice.

But Nathan James, a spokesman for Villaraigosa, doesn't think that history will repeat itself.  He tells First Read that Hahn won the 2001 runoff because an usual coalition of African-Americans and white conservatives.  James says that Hahn's African-American support this time around isn't as strong -- in part, because three years ago, Hahn helped block the reappointment of African-American police chief Bernard Parks (who also happens to be running for mayor).

As one uninvolved Democratic strategist observes, "Everybodys got Plan A and Plan B on the shelf waiting to see who the opponent is."

Whither the Democrats
Roll Call says DNC chairman Dean will visit with Senate Democrats at their policy luncheon tomorrow and with House Democrats at their weekly meeting on Wednesday.  The story says that Dean continues to reach out to Democrats in DC by phone while traveling to red states.  (Sounds like the only people he's avoiding are the national press.)

The Washington Post looks at declining union membership and the deepening splits among labor chiefs over how to turn things around. 

Tomorrow brings the debut of DemsTV.com, "a weekly online political talk show" which the creators hope "will showcase the party's message, lambaste Republicans and... open a new front in the ongoing media wars," per the Washington Post.

The media
A GOP member of Congress is holding a fundraiser Wednesday night that's being billed as a farewell party for Dan Rather.  The bar will be open to any who hold their drinks in their left hands. – The Hill

The Los Angeles Times uses Rather's departure to look at the planning habits of the networks.

And congrats to Garrett Graff, the first blogger to be granted a White House press pass.  He will attend the gaggle today.  The New York Times mentions Graff's deep family roots in the media, and as Graff himself notes in his bio, he was Dean's first presidential campaign webmaster.  


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