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First Read's Morning Clips

<p>A roundup of the day’s most important political stories</p>

OBAMA AGENDA: A health-care headline the White House will like

From National Journal: “Study: Obamacare Is Cheaper Than Employer-Backed Plans.” From the story: “Health plans on Obamacare's insurance exchanges will on average cost less than employer-sponsored coverage, according to a new report. The lowest-priced plan in 2014 on the Affordable Care Act's exchanges carries on average a premium that is 20 percent less than a comparable employer-sponsored plan, according to the report from the Health Research Institute at PricewaterhouseCoopers.”

A new website launched aimed at encouraging young people to sign up for health care, featuring well-known athletes, called USA Today: “This week, launched a series of videos and interviews with athletes including Tamika Catchings, Victor Cruz, Keyshawn Johnson and Dikembe Mutombo explaining why insurance is important.”

Continuing a tradition that began in 1953, President Obama participates in the National Prayer Breakfast.

Politico on John Podesta’s impact on the White House so far: “In the month since he returned as a senior counselor, Podesta has quickly picked up the kind of long-term, big-picture strategic thinking that this White House has always talked about priding itself on but struggled to do in its 2013 year of hell. Still frantically trying to turn things around, Podesta brings what it needed: fresh but experienced perspective, and the clout that comes from having the confidence of the president, despite coming from outside an Obama inner circle that’s resistant to newcomers.”

On yesterday’s meeting with Senate Democrats at Nationals Park, Politico writes, “President Barack Obama rallied Senate Democrats behind his election-year agenda on Wednesday, even privately urging senators to ‘keep your powder dry’ on his push to expand international trade despite the strong opposition from many leading Democrats, according to several people at the closed-door session.”

There are global economic fears that have markets spooked. Some are looking toward Friday’s U.S. jobs report for signs of hope, but AP warns “anyone looking to Friday's report for a clear picture of the U.S. economy's health might be disappointed.”

Amid Navy and Air Force cheating scandals, Defense Secretary Hagel wants more of a focus on ethics.

CONGRESS: “218 frogs in a wheelbarrow”

National Journal reports that House Republican leadership, after meeting with members, realizes it doesn’t have the votes to pass a debt-ceiling increase even if it’s traded for the Keystone XL Pipeline OR changes to the Affordable Care Act’s risk corridors.

So, Robert Costa reports that House Speaker John Boehner’s testing out the idea of trading a restoration of recent military retirement cuts.

Quote of the day in the Costa piece: “Right now, Jesus himself couldn’t be the speaker and get 218 Republicans behind something,” Boehner ally Rep. Patrick J. Tiberi (R-OH) said, “so I think Speaker Boehner is trying his best to come up with a plan that can get close to that.”

Flashback: “I like to describe my job as trying to get 218 frogs in a wheelbarrow long enough to pass a bill. It’s hard to do.” – Boehner on The Tonight Show Jan. 24. He also made a similar statement back in May 2012.

Democrats are worried that the longer the debt-ceiling fight goes on, there could be panic about the timeliness of tax refunds.

Tea Party Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) believes there won’t be a debt-ceiling fight this time around, and he’s disappointed. “I think there should be (conditions); I think there won't be this time around.”

He also said that it’s not part of the Tea Party ethos to make offensive remarks and hints that Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio are all considering White House bids. “It's kind of a bummer when three of your favorite people in the Senate are all considering a run for the presidency at the same time,” he said.

How does Ted Cruz have time to write a 10,000-word legal essay for the Harvard Law Review?

National Journal’s out with its annual conservative-liberal rankings. The most conservative senator: James Risch (R-ID). (By the way, Liz Cheney, Sen. Mike Enzi is No. 2.) Here are the 15 most conservative.

The most liberal? It’s a tie between Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Chuck Schumer of New York, and Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

Here are the most liberal and conservative members of the House.

State of the Union curse? “Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., a member of the House Republican leadership team, spent nearly $70,000 late last year on legal fees, including payments to a firm that specializes in white-collar criminal defense and congressional investigations,” USA Today reports of the only woman in GOP leadership and who gave the Republican response to the State of the Union.

OFF TO THE RACES: Pizza and politics

Mother Jones gets a glimpse at a Koch Brothers donor list, which includes John Schnatter, founder of the Papa John's pizza chain, who was a prominent Mitt Romney backer. “The meeting list illustrates the interwoven nature of the Koch brothers' corporate, political, and philanthropic activities,” it writes, adding, “At least half of the one-on-one sessions involved representatives of Americans for Prosperity, the political advocacy group founded by the Koch brothers and their top political adviser and strategist, Richard Fink, a Koch Industries executive vice president and board member. … In the past, Koch Industries has distanced itself from AFP and its political activities. The company has said the group is just one of "hundreds of organizations" that receive funding from the Kochs and that it operates "independently" of Koch Industries. But the document suggests a close collaboration between officials of Koch Industries, AFP, and Freedom Partners.”

The Washington Post: “This is not the first time we’ve learned the names of some of the Koch network donors. But the document reveals the vast resources of the group’s backers, which includes top corporate executives, hedge fund billionaires and longtime Republican financiers. Several of those in attendance also have been top contributors to American Crossroads, the super PAC co-founded by Karl Rove.”

Meanwhile, Roll Call finds, “Business-friendly GOP organizers who launched a new crop of super PACs to counter the tea party have failed to cash in, recent campaign disclosures show, leaving them badly outraised on both the right and the left.”

Doug Elmendorf, head of the Congressional Budget Office, said at hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday “that the health insurance law creates a ‘disincentive for people to work’ because they can obtain health coverage elsewhere immediately sparked a GOP hashtag #ObamaCaretoWorkLess,” USA Today writes.

Get ready for Round 2 of the IRS-Tea Party controversy? Treasury is looking to tighten who can and can’t be a 501(c)4 group.

Chelsea Clinton is headlining South by Southwest March 11 at 2:00 pm in Austin, Texas.

ARKANSAS: “Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor’s campaign launched two TV ads Wednesday going directly after his Republican opponent’s legislative record on Medicare,” Roll Call writes. “The Democrat’s ads, airing statewide behind a “substantial” six-figure buy, feature one woman in each looking at their computers and highlighting what they had read about Rep. Tom Cotton.”

CALIFORNIA:Politico table-sets Tuesday’s special mayoral election in San Diego: “An off-season mayor’s race in America’s eighth-largest city has become an unexpected magnet for national political groups, as labor unions and Democrats scramble to keep San Diego government in liberal hands and Republicans seek to capture their first big-city mayoral election win in half a decade.”

COLORADO: Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) gets a 52% approval as he faces reelection this fall, Quinnipiac finds. Voters are split 45%-45% on whether he should be reelected, but he tops potential GOP contenders – Tom Tancredo 48-39%, Secretary of State Scott Gessler 46-40%, State Sen. Greg Brophy 47-37%, State Sen. Mike Kopp 47-38%. The economy and guns rank as the top-two issues for the gubernatorial race.

NEW JERSEY: Gov. Chris Christie heads to Texas today for Republican Governors Association fundraising, but two top Texas Republicans are keeping their distance – Rick Perry, who is the previous RGA chairman, and Greg Abbott, the state attorney general favored to succeed Perry as governor. "Candidates have to think about the TV ads that could air,” handicapper Larry Sabato said.

Politico profiles John Wisniewski, the man leading the state Assembly investigation into Christie’s administration over the bridge scandal. It calls him, “The man who keeps Christie up at night.”

PROGRAMMING NOTES. *** Thursday’s “The Daily Rundown” line-up: Chuck speaks with former American Idol contestant Clay Aiken about his run for Congress in North Carolina. Then, we’ll talk to Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) about the latest news from Capitol Hill and the recent CBO Report. Plus, we’ll speak with NBC’s Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel about the latest security concerns in Sochi. Plus, a jam-packed data bank and Chuck’s Thursday Takeaway.

*** Thursday’s “Jansing & Co.” line-up: Guests include Rep. William Keating (D-MA); Don Borelli, NBC News National Security Analyst; Suzy Khimm,; Ron Fournier, National Journal; Daniella Gibbs Leger, Democratic strategist; Hector Barreto, Chairman of The Latino Coalition; Ryan Grim, Huffington Post; Ronald Hoffman, Hoffman Center Medical Director

*** Thursday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews singer/songwriter Carole King, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and Ruth Marcus, NBC’s Richard Engel, Anne Thompson and Pete Williams and Robert Edsel, author of “The Monuments Men”.

*** Thursday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall” line-up: Craig Melvin, filling in for Tamron Hall, interviews attorney Faith Jenkins and NBC news legal analyst Lisa Bloom (on the Michal Dunn stand-your-ground trial), Rep. Barbara Lee, Patrick Sessions (the father of Tiffany Sessions on new information on her disappearance), and Variety Editor Ted Johnson.

And there’s also this: Ronan Farrow reveals name of his new 1:00 pm ET show “Ronan Farrow Daily” in a video tweet.