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First Thoughts: Votes appear to be there to pass budget deal in Senate

Votes appear to be there to pass Ryan-Murray budget deal in the Senate… On Paul Ryan and compromise… Your 113th Congress: Working hard, or hardly working?... Polling Iowa -- more than two years away until the 2016 caucuses… And Chris Christie and that Bridge to Somewhere (in 2016).

*** Votes appear to be there to pass budget deal in Senate: As we said on Friday, we’ve entered Bizarro Washington where the usually divided and almost-always partisan House of Representatives passes a budget deal by an overwhelming 332-94 vote, but where that same deal is far from a sure thing in the Senate. But before tomorrow’s cloture vote, we can now say that there appear to be the 60 votes needed to clear the procedural hurdle. Per NBC News’ count, at least five Senate Republicans say they’re supporting “yes” on the cloture vote -- Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Susan Collins (R-ME), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI). In fact, Johnson released this statement on Sunday: “Although I disagree with a number of provisions in the bill, on balance the good outweighs the bad. As long as the Senate does nothing to worsen the bill, I intend to support it.” What’s more, NBC’s Kasie Hunt says that GOP Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), John Hoeven (R-ND), and Bob Corker (R-TN) are on the fence at least when it comes to the decision about whether to cut off debate. Bottom line: While there might be a Democratic defection or two, 60 votes appears to be much more obtainable today than it was late last week. There won’t be much drama.

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*** On Paul Ryan and compromise: In the past, your First Read authors have made this observation about House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI): Despite all the attention he’s received on budget matters, he had never once seriously compromised with Democrats in an attempt to get “something.” After all, he was a “NO” vote on Simpson-Bowles, even as he was rhetorically praising the work of the group. And his budgets -- even after being on the losing ticket in the 2012 race -- never budged an inch. So with that said, we want to underscore the role that Ryan played in forging this bipartisan budget deal. “Government has to function. And we saw the specter of two possible government shutdowns in 2014, one in January and one in October,” he said on “Meet the Press” over the weekend. “I don't think that's good for anybody. It's not good for the country.” Yes, the budget deal was the bare minimum. And yes, Ryan himself is saying that House Republicans might not raise the debt ceiling next year without concessions from Democrats. But the fact is, Ryan -- for the first time -- used his considerable political capital with conservatives to work with Democrats. And without him, this deal probably doesn’t pass as smoothly as it did. While there has been a ton of focus on Speaker Boehner speaking out against some of the conservative groups, realize, Ryan’s authorship on this deal was probably more important in getting a majority of the GOP conference than Boehner’s fighting words against Heritage or the Club.

*** Working hard or hardly working? By now, we’ve told you how unproductive the 113th Congress has been so far, now passing just 57 bills into law (compared with 67 passed at this same point in time by the previous 112th Congress, which then was the least productive modern Congress on record). But here’s another way to measure how unproductive the Congress has been -- in terms of hours worked. “According to data analyzed by The New York Times, the House of Representatives, which ended its business for the year last week, left town with the distinction of having been at work for the fewest hours in a nonelection year since 2005, when detailed information about legislative activity became available. Not counting brief, pro forma sessions, the House was in session for 942 hours, an average of about 28 hours each week it conducted business in Washington. That is far lower than the nearly 1,700 hours it was in session in 2007, the 1,350 hours in 2005 or even the 1,200 in 2011.” We know members of Congress do much of their work with constituents back home. But the TV ads here kind of write themselves. Who wouldn’t want a 28-hour work week? Expect every incumbent to get dinged with that “28 hour work week” hit while “you at home struggle to make ends meet working 40 or 50 hours” yada yada.

*** Polling Iowa -- more than two years away until the ’16 caucuses: Yes, 2016 is still far away, but a new Des Moines Register poll has a good reality check of the popularity of potential presidential candidates. On the Republican side, Paul Ryan is the most popular 2016 possibility among GOPers with a 73%-10% fav/unfav score. (Remember, he’s just a year removed from being the party’s VP nominee). He’s followed by Mike Huckabee at 66%-17%, Rick Santorum at 58%-21%, Rick Perry at 55%-19%, and Chris Christie at 51%-30%. (Those Christie negatives are higher than for any other Republican). And that group is followed by Rand Paul at 51%-23%, Ted Cruz at 46%-17%, Marco Rubio at 46%-15%, and Scott Walker at 46%-11%. On the Democratic side, meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s fav/unfav score among Dems is a whopping 89%-7%, and Vice President Joe Biden’s is 71%-18%.

*** Our takeaway on that poll: So what should you take away from this poll? Ryan’s one of the few Washington INSIDERS with credibility with the GOP base on the OUTSIDE. As we noted above, he used that capital to get this budget compromise done. It will be interesting to see if Ryan can keep that popularity with the GOP base in a place like Iowa after a few months of intra-party debate over this budget deal. And the Christie numbers are a reminder that, with Iowa’s very conservative GOP electorate, he’s going to struggle. Sometimes the conventional wisdom is accurate and this Iowa poll reflects the C.W. on Christie with the GOP base. On the Dem side, while the Clinton numbers will surprise no one, the Biden numbers might. But realize: If there’s no Clinton, he’ll be more formidable as a de factor non-Hillary frontrunner than perhaps the chattering class realizes. Sure, he’s no shoo-in for Dems if Clinton is no-go, and there will be a lot of Dems whose tires will get kicked by voters. But Biden will have a stronger hold on key Democratic constituencies in a primary than he gets credit for now.

*** A Bridge to Somewhere (in 2016): For New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the George Washington Bridge controversy has become a national political story for three reasons. First, Christie is eyeing a presidential bid. Second, two of Christie’s top Port Authority officials resigned over the matter. And third, the whole controversy hits at one of the chief negative narratives about Christie (fair or not) -- that he can be a bully. The controversy? Christie’s administration closed two lanes to the G.W. Bridge to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, NJ who didn’t endorse Christie in November’s gubernatorial election. Or at least that’s’ the allegation. (Seems a tad absurd in this day and age, right?) The Newark Star Ledger: “No one has publicly accused Christie of ordering two of his top appointees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to close lanes to the world’s busiest bridge to get back at a Democratic mayor who wouldn’t endorse his re-election bid. But questions about the incident have fueled a scandal that even Christie’s masterful team of brand managers can’t make go away.” And if the Christie administration DIDN’T close the lanes for political reasons, it hasn’t given a really good reason WHY it closed them. In addition, if politics had nothing to do with these decisions, then why did he accept the resignations of his Port Authority appointees? If there is nothing to see here then these two officials shouldn’t have lost their jobs, right?

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