“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, May 9, 2005 | 9:10 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Kasie Hunt

First Glance
With the Senate back this week, the seeming collision course over the filibuster, along with the Bolton nomination, the war supplemental with its federal drivers' license standards, and asbestos litigation reform are all in the spotlight again.  Not quite so much in the spotlight right now, casting a shadow over its prospects: Social Security reform.

  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

The House Ways and Means Committee holds a hearing on Thursday as part of chairman Bill Thomas' effort to achieve Social Security reform through a broader effort on retirement security.  But for the first time since he first began pushing changes to the system, President Bush has a week without any scheduled Social Security events.  Of course, he's in Russia today and Georgia tomorrow -- reviving our running question of whether the increasingly lame-duck President eventually will have to give up pushing on big domestic initiatives and build his legacy in the international arena.

One prominent conservative and longtime vocal supporter of private accounts concedes to NBC's Rosiland Jordan that if the President ceases to focus on Social Security, the public will stop paying attention, and the opportunity for change may be lost.  That said, this particular conservative tells Jordan that it may be time for the Administration to throw in the towel altogether: "You can only bang your head against the wall for so long."

The problem: No one anticipated that the Democrats would build what's being called the "Berlin Wall of opposition."  "I don't think the Democrats want to find a solution," this conservative says, adding they've been "really resolute."  The source also faults Bush for being too vague for too long about his plans -- but says Democrats are more at fault for just not playing ball -- that Democrats, who once campaigned for means testing, showed their hypocrisy last week by rejecting Bush's "olive branch" of means testing.

Now, the source tells Jordan, many supporters of private accounts are quietly discussing possible exit strategies.  The three options: 1) Use the current annual Social Security surplus to create private accounts.  Chances of success: this would require a change in the law governing the Trust Funds -- too hard to achieve in the current political climate.  2) Have the President launch a full-scale campaign to pass the Sununu-Ryan proposal, which would create bigger private accounts than Bush wants.  Chances of success: very slim to none.  Or 3) quit now and move on to something such as tax code reform, where bipartisanship might be possible.  Chances of success: this source says it's the only way the President can preserve his political capital for another fight.

Bill Frist is widely expected to move to eliminate the filibuster sometime in the next three weeks.  Again, Washington has been on the edge of its seat over this for two months now.  Talk of a deal persists, though interest groups and activists on both sides are trying to hold their ranks' feet to the fire.  Both sides have invested so much time and so many resources to this debate, and have made such a commitment to their respective bases, that they may have to follow through even as the risks for both sides become increasingly apparent.

Thursday's the big day on the Hill, bringing: the scheduled final committee vote on Bolton, which remains up in the air due to Democratic discontent over some unfulfilled document requests; the Ways and Means hearing on retirement security; Senate Judiciary votes on some Bush nominees to federal appeals courts, which could -- could -- trigger Frist going nuclear; and the Judiciary mark-up of the asbestos bill.  Also on Thursday, Senators McCain and Kennedy are expected to introduce their guest-worker bill, which looks something like the President's.

The Senate meets at 2:00 pm today; the House meets at 12 noon.

Social Security
With Ways and Means chair Bill Thomas and the House poised to turn the Social Security debate into a broader examination of retirement security, the Retirement Security Project -- which is supported by Pew, Brookings, and Georgetown University -- holds a conference call at 10:00 am to discuss a new study looking at incentives to increase private retirement savings.

New Spanish-language TV ads funded by anti-private accounts forces are going up in Thomas' district and that of GOP Rep. Heather Wilson in New Mexico.

The USA Today editorial page comes out in favor of increasing the retirement age.

On Medicare and Medicaid, in addition to Social Security, the Los Angeles Times' Brownstein asks whether, at a time when "employers are retreating from the guaranteed benefits that once defined the American social safety net, should government accelerate or resist the trend?...  Across all these fronts," Brownstein says, "Bush and other Republicans are looking to limit government's financial exposure and shift more of the risk for ensuring pension and healthcare security to workers and retirees..."  Brownstein concludes that "the public resistance to Bush's Social Security plan suggests that for now, the loss of guaranteed benefits in the workplace has made Americans prize such guarantees from government even more" -- even though, as he notes, "Bush is right that rising costs eventually will force government to scale back its healthcare and retirement promises."

It's the economy
Judging from the weekend coverage, Friday's unexpectedly positive jobs data got some analysts questioning whether the economy is really in a soft patch, or if the patch might be ending.  The folks at DC-based economic research firm International Strategy & Investment note that while the jobs report was strong, they "still expect employment to slow as GDP slows under the weight of high oil prices."

Also, not like labor needs more problems than it already has -- the AFL-CIO layoffs have begun, and a bunch of unions are meeting today to discuss how hard they should try to oust the AFL chief -- but ISI notes "a number of reasons 2005 could be a negative year for labor...  1) Assuming the economy slows, airlines and autos, two cyclical industries, will come under more intense pressure to obtain labor concessions.  2) Like today, the 1995 mid-cycle slowdown was preceded by a jobless recovery, i.e., labor was relatively weak going into the slowdown...  3) If the economy slows, layoffs could accelerate -- IBM's 13,000 announcement [Thursday] could be the start of a string of trophy layoffs."

The Wall Street Journal: "A string of reports last week -- on jobs, car sales, retail sales and tax revenue -- suggests that the economy is on a more solid footing than it appeared to be just a few weeks ago.  That means economists are going to be spending more time" looking for "signs of incipient inflation" -- and that the Fed can be expected to raise interest rates again.  But, the Journal adds, "Worries about an economic slowdown certainly haven't disappeared, not with corporate titans like General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. now living with junk ratings on their debt; not with high gasoline prices still sapping consumer confidence and purchasing power; and not with soaring imports continuing to direct factory production overseas."

USA Today connects the dots between the jobs report, the likelihood of another interest rate hike, and a stock market that could continue to struggle: "stocks aren't likely to snap out of their funk until there's a strong sign the Fed is close to done with its rate-raising campaign."

Bob Novak bemoans the Fed's interest rate hike spree: "The problem is that, historically, central banks go too far in tightening money, to overshoot their anti-inflation goals.”

The New York Times says "there is a problem" with Bush’s plan to reduce oil imports by increasing nuclear power: "reactors make electricity, not oil.  And oil does not make much electricity…  Could a few dozen more reactors, in addition to the 103 running now, cut into oil's share of the energy market?  ‘Indirectly, but very indirectly,’ said Lawrence J. Goldstein, president of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation, a nonprofit group that studies the economics of oil.  People who think nuclear power is a way to reduce oil imports are ‘confusing several issues,’ he said.”

The Wall Street Journal previews Bush's big push for CAFTA on Thursday, when he will meet with Latin American leaders, by spotlighting the sugar industry's opposition to the trade measure.  The story says Bush "will need to use his bully pulpit aggressively.  Because, so far at least, he is losing to the sugar industry, which is raising deep concerns among loyal Republicans and normally reliable free-trade legislators about the pact."

The Senate and the judiciary
Roll Call outlines the potential bipartisan deal being forged by Senators Lott and Nelson (NE): "six Senate Republicans would commit to opposing the so-called nuclear option..., which would leave GOP leaders short of the 50 votes they need to execute the parliamentary move...  In exchange, the six Senate Democrats would pledge to allow votes on four of the seven circuit court nominees who were already filibustered in the 108th Congress and have been renominated."  Those six Democrats also "would pledge to vote for cloture to end filibuster attempts on all other judicial nominees named by President Bush, including Supreme Court picks, except in 'extreme circumstances...'"

The National Coalition to End Judicial Filibusters holds a news conference at the National Press Club at 12:15 pm to announce its coast-to-coast activities.  The Washington Post, in its lengthy roster of related events, lists an 11:00 am presser by GOP Sen. John Cornyn "to mark the fourth anniversary of [Miguel] Estrada's nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and [Priscilla] Owen's nomination to the 5th Circuit."

Former Bush Administration appellate court judge Charles Pickering Sr., in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, calls for a statute and a constitutional amendment to deal with the issue.  The statute "should provide that within a certain period of time after a judicial nomination is received a hearing will be held, within a specified time a nominee will be voted out of committee, with or without a favorable recommendation, and within a certain period of time the full Senate will debate and confirm or reject a nominee by majority vote.  This will be fair to presidents from either party."  The amendment should declare that "the sole method for changing the meaning of the Constitution will be by the amendment process."

Bush II
USA Today says the committee vote on Bolton scheduled for later this week "could strengthen his hand in future battles over Social Security and judicial nominations if he wins, or weaken him if he loses...  When presidents lose a nomination vote - especially in the second term, when they're unable to run for re-election - it's a dangerous sign that they can be beaten."

The pro-Bolton crowd is e-mailing around a new ad today -- which is not yet scheduled to air anywhere -- that specifically attacks the "John Kerry crowd" for being "sore losers" because last fall, "the American people... rejected the idea of making the U.S. submit to the UN and its so-called 'global test.'"

Governors and state legislators have come up with proposals to reform Medicaid by requiring beneficiaries to pay more for care and also by giving states the flexibility to limit Medicaid services, the New York Times says.  “Many of the proposals resemble ideas advanced by President Bush as part of his 2006 budget.  In some cases, the governors embrace Mr. Bush's proposals but go further.  At the same time, they also reject some of the president's recommendations that they believe would shift costs to the states.”

The Washington Post front-pages its look at how DeLay's famous political sixth sense "is on the wane.  The leader recognizes -- belatedly, some GOP colleagues say -- that the latest questions about his relationships with lobbyists are a problem threatening his career and the GOP majority he helped to build and sustain since coming to the House 20 years ago.  Everywhere there are signs of a politician in retreat."

The Sunday New York Times reported that Abramoff arranged for a junket to Pakistan for some members of Congress without informing them that he was lobbying for the government of Pakistan at the time.

Doing Sunday TV yesterday, Arnold Schwarzenegger basically repeated his recent comments on talk-radio that private organizations like the Minutemen are moving to patrol the nation's borders because the federal government isn't doing the job.  – Washington Times

The Des Moines Register reports that arrests "of suspected illegal immigrants smuggled through the state on major highways in central Iowa have increased sharply."

Over the weekend, Bob Novak reported that Rep. Jim Kolbe (R), a staunch supporter of liberalizing immigration controls, will once again receive a challenge to his House seat from a former Arizona state senator -- primarily over the issue of immigration.

Schwarzenegger is expected to roll out his budget on Friday.  He has an event focused on his reform proposals in Santa Ana today at 1:30 pm ET.

Despite his sinking poll numbers and his semi-retreat on some of his ballot initiatives, the Sacramento Bee says that Schwarzenegger is almost certain to call a special election by the June 13 deadline to do so.  “Unless there is a surprise late compromise with legislators, he still intends to push forward on a spending control measure, another that would make it harder for teachers to win tenure and a third that would use retired judges - instead of legislators - to draw legislative and congressional district boundaries…  But political experts say there are minefields Schwarzenegger must be wary of if he does decide to take his scaled-down agenda to voters in November.  For one thing, he could lose.”

The Sunday Los Angeles Times reported that with tax revenue higher than expected, Schwarzenegger may scale back some of the spending cuts which had opposing interest groups riled up.

Oh-eight (D)
Fronting visits to red and blue states in recent weeks as "'thank-you receptions for his supporters and fund-raisers for local candidates", the Boston Globe notes that Kerry is "running against the political establishment" to "push a new message: Get angry at Washington."  The paper calls this a "striking transformation for someone who has been identified with that establishment for so long, but a change he and his aides insist is sincere...  In essence, Kerry is trying to reignite a fire that never quite raged for his presidential bid on behalf of a domestic agenda he is pushing in Congress...  But an image makeover figures to be difficult for a man who spent as much time in the public eye -- and in public office -- as Kerry has."

The New York Times reports that the trial for David F. Rosen, the former fundraising director for Hillary Clinton who has been accused of under-reporting the cost of a fundraiser for her 2000 Senate campaign, begins on Tuesday.  “The case is being closely watched because of its political implications for Mrs. Clinton…  While she has not been accused of any wrongdoing and is not expected to testify, the trial represents another potentially embarrassing chapter for the Clintons, who have been criticized for their associations with other questionable figures.”


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments