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Monday, September 19, 2005 | 9:15 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma Zaidi

First glance
On President Bush's jam-packed to-do list this week:
-- maintain his intense focus on hurricane relief, including figuring out how to pay for it without raising taxes, and taking short- and long-term steps to bolster relations with African-Americans and improve the circumstances of America's poor;
-- make a strong case to the nation for sticking out the war in Iraq, as Republicans were starting to quietly suggest Bush needed to do back in August before Katrina hit;
-- (cautiously) tout the apparent breakthrough in North Korea's pledge to drop its nuclear weapons program, and the elections in Afghanistan, in the interest of racking up some foreign-policy successes;
-- decide on that next Supreme Court pick; and,
-- figure out how to pass some of the rest of his agenda while fending off efforts by conservatives in his own party to roll back some of his legislative successes, the recent highway bill and his Medicare prescription drug law, to offset the spending on hurricane relief.

  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

Also on the list: if Bush and his Administration are going to take the position that a strong economy will pay for hurricane relief, they probably need to make the case that the economy is strong to begin with, a belief that the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll and recent consumer confidence surveys show many Americans don't share.  Incidentally, the price of crude oil, which had been dropping, is now rising again as Tropical Storm (i.e., potential Hurricane) Rita appears to be heading for the oil refineries off the Texas coast.  The Fed meets tomorrow and, in a rare moment of quasi-suspense, may or may not raise interest rates for the 11th time in a row.

Today, Bush meets with his homeland security council at 9:40 am.  He sits down with members of the Carter-Baker commission on election reform at 10:35 am, and meets with the Prime Minister of Thailand at 2:40 pm.  Bush heads back to the Gulf Coast tomorrow; spends his Wednesday talking about Social Security reform and meeting with the bipartisan Senate leadership about his next SCOTUS pick; and devotes Thursday to the war against terror.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote to approve John Roberts for chief justice on Thursday, setting up his nomination for a floor vote next week.

Laura Bush spends today in Houston at several events on hurricane relief.  And we also hear from two prominent Democrats on the topic.  Kerry-Edwards give (unintentionally) dueling speeches on the hurricane today, Edwards at the Center for American Progress in Washington at 1:15 pm, and Kerry at Brown University in Providence, RI at 4:00 pm.

Edwards, per an aide, will say that the "Two Americas" he has long talked about, the alleged split between the working and the wealthy, is "perpetuated" by Bush's goal of an "ownership society."  He'll lay out a proposed "new social contract" called the "working society.”  According to excerpts of the speech, Edwards will raise the image of "people packed into the Superdome and convention center with only the clothes on their backs," talk about poverty as a longstanding issue, and charge, "This Administration may think every American is an island.  But Americans know that Katrina’s victims shouldn’t have been out there on their own, and that no American should be out there on their own."

One aide tells First Read that Kerry's speech will be his toughest since the election.  Kerry will address "the ideology of 'what's in it for me?' vs. a belief in shared sacrifice that asks 'what's in it for all of us?'"  He also will charge that Republicans want to turn the Gulf Coast "into a vast laboratory for right wing ideological experiments," and that former FEMA chief Michael Brown "is to Katrina what Paul Bremer is to peace in Iraq; what George Tenet is to slam dunk intelligence; what Paul Wolfowitz is to... Baghdad; what Dick Cheney is to visionary energy policy; what Donald Rumsfeld is to basic war planning; what Tom Delay is to ethics; and what George Bush is to Mission Accomplished."

Lastly, in the "other people have election issues, too" department, both German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and challenger Angela Merkel are claiming victory but suffering from defeat after close parliamentary elections yesterday failed to produce a majority for either contender's party.  Some rapid coalition-building is in order...

Hurricane politics: Spending
USA Today: "the economic and political questions raised by Katrina's price tag are complex.  The recovery effort is likely to increase the federal budget deficit, intensify pressure on Bush to raise taxes and delay some of his priorities...  It also is exposing the extent to which the budget already has been squeezed to pay for the Iraq war and calls into question Bush's commitment to the Republican tenet of small government.  Those issues don't change the bottom line: Katrina is not just a Gulf Coast problem anymore.  It will affect the federal government and taxpayers for years."

The Washington Times details House GOP conservatives' "Operation Offset," "a spending-cut plan to help offset the billions needed" for hurricane relief "that would eliminate some of the 6,000 congressional pet projects tucked inside the massive transportation bill."  Also being proposed by some: "delaying President Bush's prescription-drug plan," which "would put $40 billion back into the budget."

Roll Call says that the House Appropriations Committee's planned oversight program for federal spending on hurricane relief will include hearings that may start this week, and the deployment of investigative staffers to the Gulf Coast to conduct audits.

The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore slams the GOP's rush to spend on the paper's op-ed page: "Both political parties are now willing and eager to spend tax dollars as if they were passing out goody-bags to grabby four-year-olds at a birthday party.  The Democrats are already forging their 2006 and 2008 message: We will spend just as many trillions of dollars as Republicans, but we will spend them better than they do.  After witnessing the first few Republican misappropriations for Hurricane Katrina, the Democrats may very well be right."

The Wall Street Journal covers concerns within and outside Louisiana about its ability to properly -- i.e., ethically -- spend its relief funds.

Hurricane economics

"Crude oil, gasoline and heating oil rose for the first day in three on forecasts Tropical Storm Rita will strengthen into a hurricane, enter the Gulf of Mexico and threaten refineries in southern Texas by the weekend...  Rita may skirt the Florida Keys tomorrow, enter the Gulf and cut across it to reach southern Texas in five days, according to maps from the hurricane center forecasting the projected path of the storm. Some of the refineries located along the Texas coast include Exxon Mobil Corp.'s Baytown, the largest in the U.S., and Royal Dutch Shell Plc's Deer Park."   - Bloomberg

"Economists are split on whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates when it meets Tuesday or hold off to assess the extent of the economic damage from Hurricane Katrina," says USA Today.

The Chicago Tribune notes that while the money being poured into the rebuilding effort may stimulate the economy, analysts say it "will drive the federal budget deficit higher in the next several years, putting the treasury in a more perilous condition just as the first Baby Boomers reach retirement age in 2008."  The paper also says, "Relatively speaking, Bush isn't the biggest-spending president since World War II.  The deficit totaled 7.2 percent of gross domestic product in 1946 under Harry Truman and 6 percent in 1983 under Ronald Reagan."

Hurricane politics: The Bush administration
The Wall Street Journal says Bush's proposed Urban Homesteading Act is "a concept along the lines of Mr. Bush's broader agenda to expand asset ownership -- not just housing, but shares of stock, and savings accounts -- to lower-income families.  But it's a modest step for meeting needs in Louisiana and Mississippi, according to housing experts across the political spectrum, who say tax incentives and many additional rental vouchers also will be needed to get developers and nonprofit groups to do the rest."

The Sunday Washington Post examines the "patchwork of policies" that has resulted from uncoordinated federal, state and local relief efforts, "causing relief agencies to sometimes work at cross-purposes."

The Sunday Los Angeles Times gets at the extent of the FEMA-related issues: "Large contracts are pouring out of agencies, but the task ahead involves issues Washington hasn't thought seriously about since the 1960s."

More hurricane politics
The New York Times, in its wrap of the Sunday shows, covers Bill Clinton’s criticism of the Bush Administration (“‘You can't have an emergency plan that works if it only affects middle-class people up’”), and the disagreement between Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen and New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin over whether residents should begin returning to the city.

The Senate Democratic Policy Committee holds an unofficial hearing on gas prices and oil company profits at 1:30 pm.

The Des Moines Register covers Edwards' fourth visit to Iowa this weekend -- "the most of any Democrat considering the 2008 caucuses."  Edwards criticized the Administration's Katrina relief effort, calling it "inadequate."

Republican Sen. Sam Brownback, Rep. Tom Tancredo and Gov. Mike Huckabee also visited Iowa over the weekend with Katrina on their minds.  Tancredo said he "is concerned that people could draw the wrong lessons from the massive aid effort. that "'the federal government is the answer."  And "Huckabee said in an interview that his state had coped well with the evacuees, thanks in part to help from churches.  But he'd like to see federal emergency management officials provide more consistent information, 'which has been hard to come by,' he said.'"  - Des Moines Register

The Democratic National Committee postponed their fall meeting in Phoenix because of the hurricane, First Read has learned that some business that was scheduled to take place leading up to, and at the meeting is happening right now: the election of at-large and DNC committee members via mail-in ballot.  The new DNC membership and reconstituted standing committees will meet in Phoenix in December.

SCOTUS politics
The Boston Globe previews the political fallout that could threaten some Senate Democrats -- especially those who might run for president in 2008 -- over their votes for or against Roberts.  "A number of leading Democratic strategists, including some centrists, have insisted that a unified 'no' vote would not hurt the Democratic Party -- or individual candidates -- but a 'yes' vote could if Roberts turns out to be a very conservative justice."

The Los Angeles Times covers GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham's warning to his colleagues yesterday that they shouldn't vote to confirm John Roberts "if they expected that doing so would automatically lead to a dismantling of" Roe vs. Wade.

Bob Novak writes that Roberts’ refusal to answer many questions Senate Democrats posed last week was a defeat for Sen. Chuck Schumer (D).  “Ever since President Bush's election, Schumer has been planning how to force nominees to take broad policy positions.”

Roll Call says the GOP goal is to have Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement seated by the end of the year, "which could mean a floor fight in December over that nomination...  If Bush waits until after Roberts clears the Senate to announce the new pick, the week after Thanksgiving would be the earliest the full Senate would take up the nomination, according to recent history of nomination fights."

Election reform
The Washington Post says the Carter-Baker commission, in its report being released today, will call for "photo IDs for all voters, verifiable paper trails for electronic voting machines and impartial administration of elections."  The ID requirement is the most sensitive: "Critics... say the requirement could raise privacy issues and intimidate or discourage some Americans, particularly the elderly, the poor and minorities, from participating in elections.  To alleviate those concerns, the Carter-Baker commission urges states to make it easy for non-drivers to obtain such cards and seeks measures to ensure privacy and security for all voters." 

Ethics
The new head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Chris Cox, tells the Wall Street Journal in his first "extensive" interview as chair that "he plans to implement a controversial rule that would apply a stronger government hand to the trillion-dollar U.S. hedge-fund industry.  He also said he wants companies to do a better job of disclosing executive compensation...  Another area where Mr. Cox may need to weigh in soon is the SEC's growing use of big fines to punish corporate wrongdoers."

Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan (R) faces trial today on a "22-count indictment with racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud, lying to the FBI and tax fraud."  Ryan "has denied the charges."  - Los Angeles Times

Despite denying being involved, current Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) is still getting hit with questions from the press about whether or not he had a lead role in a kickback scheme involving state pensions investments.

The FBI has contacted aides to Reps. Bill Jefferson (D) and Randy Cunningham (R) in their probes into ethical issues surrounding both members, raising "separation-of-powers concerns."

2005 and 2006
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) declared his support for Proposition 75 over the weekend, "simplifying the marketing of his agenda for the special election."  The measure "would bar public-employee unions from spending member dues on political campaigns without prior consent."  He and his backers are now campaigning for passage of Propositions 74, 75, 76 and 77.  That said, they still face an uphill fight to get all four passed: "Recent polls found that voters favored Proposition 75, but rejected the three others."  - Los Angeles Times

The Sacramento Bee reports on California Republicans' frustrations with Schwarzenegger’s reluctance so far to go on the counterattack against all the Democratic ads and protests hitting the governor.

The Los Angeles Times looks at Schwarzenegger's dual challenges of strengthening his Republican support while "rebuilding his image as a centrist," asking, "How much of a Republican can Schwarzenegger afford to be?...  Some Democratic strategists believe Schwarzenegger has taken his courtship of conservatives too far...  Schwarzenegger did, indeed, mention stem cell research and the environment as he campaigned last week for his ballot measures. He also repeatedly invoked the Kennedy family heritage of his wife, Maria Shriver."

A week after a Washington Post poll showed Jerry Kilgore (R) with a slight lead over Tim Kaine (D) in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, a Richmond Times-Dispatch survey released on Sunday showed that the race is a tossup -- with Kilgore leading Kaine, 41%-40%, a statistical tie.  The poll comes “in the wake of Kilgore's widely disparaged performance in a debate Tuesday with Kaine before the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.”

If Jon Corzine (D) wins this year’s contest for New Jersey governor, he will be able to select his successor in the Senate, and the New York Times profiles one of the frontrunners: Rep. Bob Menendez (D), "who would be the state's first Hispanic United States senator…  But Mr. Menendez also brings with him a reputation for extreme tactics.”

The Washington Post rounds up the measures on 2005 state ballots.

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