First Thoughts: Washington, we have a problem

Washington, we have a problem… But everyone appears to be denying they’re part of it… New NBC/WSJ poll comes out first thing tomorrow morning… Government shutdown talk -- and the blame game -- already begins… Meet the most optimistic man in Washington when it comes to immigration: Luis Gutierrez… The Two Americas on full display… Michelle Nunn is running in Georgia… And Elliot Spitzer’s new TV ad. 

*** Washington, we have a problem: The first step on the road to recovery is admitting that you have a problem. But when it comes to the political dysfunction in Washington, everyone appears to be denying they’re part of it. Roll Call reports that, for the upcoming August recess, House Republicans have armed their members with a guide on how to talk to their constituents who are fed up with Washington, and the guide recommends they make this argument: We’re fighting Washington for you. “We know that Washington is broken. It spends too much, borrows too much, and takes too much. It targets people for what they believe. It chokes out jobs… Our government is out of control,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers says in the booklet. “But every day Republicans are fighting to stop government abuse to make Washington work for all Americans. We’re working to spur economic growth and create more jobs… We’re fighting to fix Washington.” So you have House Republicans -- who have contributed more than their fair share to the political gridlock -- saying they’re working to fix Washington, and by fixing Washington they mean by running against it. But they aren’t the only ones who are denying they’re part of the problem. In his preview of President Obama’s economic speech on Wednesday, White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer wrote that Obama believes “Washington has largely taken its eye off the ball” when it comes to the economy. Umm, he’s president of the United States and thus the biggest leader in Washington. 

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

*** NBC/WSJ poll comes out first thing tomorrow morning: At some point, will anyone admit they are part of Washington? And what kind of credibility do America’s political actors have with the public when they don’t admit they’re part of the problem? That has to be one of the chief reasons why so many Americans are fed up with Washington right now. And how fed up are they? How do they view Congress and President Obama? What do they think is the chief reason for Washington’s dysfunction? Well, we have a new NBC/WSJ poll that will be released first thing tomorrow morning that attempts to answer these questions. By the way, here’s one additional point we want to make about that House GOP guide for the August recess: How does saying you’re fighting Washington not equate to more partisanship and gridlock? The message isn’t: We’re trying to find common ground with Democrats (who control the White House and Senate) to solve this country’s problems. Instead, it’s message is more: We’re fighting the Democrats (who control the White House and the Senate). As a re-election message goes, it’s a pretty negative one. No doubt the Democrats will have their own negative counterpoint. This is the start of what’s going to be long, nasty battle for 2014. 

*** Government shutdown talk -- and blame game -- already begins: In advance of the president’s upcoming economic speech that’s supposed to frame the budget debates later this fall, House Speaker John Boehner’s office fires this warning shot at the White House: Obama IS THE ONE who’s potentially threatening a government shutdown, if he demands higher taxes to replace the sequester cuts. “You see, last month, through a series of Statements of Administration Policy, the president announced that he would not sign ANY spending bills this year unless sequestration spending cuts are eliminated – and replaced with his plan for higher, job-destroying taxes,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck blogs. “The result of refusing to sign into law any spending bills, of course, would mean an unavoidable government shutdown.” But that message isn’t helped when some Republicans -- see Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) -- are explicitly threatening to shut down the government if the president’s health-care law is funded. “If Republicans in both houses simply refuse to vote for any continuing resolution that contains further funding for further enforcement of Obamacare, we can stop it, we can stop the individual mandate from going into effect,” Lee said on FOX yesterday, per Politico

*** The most optimistic man in Washington: Despite all the talk about Washington’s political dysfunction, meet the most optimistic person in the nation’s capital, especially when it comes to immigration: Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL). “The 45, 50 Republicans that we were always looking for — they’re present. And they’re present and they’re embodied in Carter, and they’re embodied in Paul Ryan, and in Sam Johnson, and in [Rep. Mario] Diaz-Balart [R-Fla.], who has been wonderful. He’s been very good, very upfront and I think has helped to give hope, especially as we communicate with immigrants and the Latino community, and they see the two of us working together,” Gutierrez said in an interview with the Washington Post. But what about the House GOP demand that there must be “majority of the majority” support to bring any immigration bill to the House floor? “Well, it is a constraint. And part of what I am attempting to do is to work with members of the other side of the aisle. That’s why I will be visiting California and Denver this weekend to build what it is Speaker Boehner says is necessary, but also to build the voice of America.” 

*** The Two Americas: To us, the most striking finding from the recent New York Times study on economic mobility is the lack of it in the Deep South. Just look at the map the Times provides. Folks, the South has a big problem -- it’s economic, it’s intertwined with race. The political polarization in those states, which is more race-based there than in other parts of the country, also can’t be overlooked. Meanwhile, there’s another study out there, via the Brooking Institution, showing that more poor inhabitants live in the suburbs than in the cities or rural America. So while the poverty problems haven’t changed a lot in the South, in the rest of the country, it is shifting. A reminder of the growing problem that many talk about but no one has a good answer for and that is the growing income disparity gap.

*** Michelle Nunn’s running in Georgia: Well, Democrats got a top-tier candidate to run for the Senate seat in Georgia being vacated by retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA): Michelle Nunn. The AP: “Nunn, the daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, said Monday evening that she is seeking the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution adds that Nunn’s formal announcement will come today. While Nunn is a good get for Democrats, they’re best chance at winning this race hinges on the GOP opposition -- hoping that Republicans wind up with the wrong nominee after a bruising primary, a la what happened in Indiana and Missouri in 2012. Here’s one more point we’ll make about Nunn: 2014 is going to be a year when you’ll see plenty of familiar (and famous) last names running for office -- Liz Cheney in Wyoming, George P. Bush in Texas, Michelle Nunn in Georgia, Gwen Graham in Florida, and Bill Daley in Illinois. 

*** Spitzer’s pretty remarkable TV ad: Lastly, we have to mention Elliot Spitzer’s new TV ad in his race for NYC comptroller. “Look, I failed – big time,” Spitzer says at the top of the ad. “I hurt a lot of people. When you dig yourself a hole, you either lie in it the rest of your life or do something positive.” He also seems to blame Wall Street for negativity coming toward him. “So if you hear any negative noise out there, and you will, keep in mind where it’s coming from.” That’s over a headline in the Daily News that reads, “Spitzer rankles powerful New York.” He ends with: “Everyone, no matter who you are, deserves a fair shot. I’m asking voters to give the same to me.”

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