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« Toomey For Senate, On Again? | Blog Home Page | Obama Still Selling Stimulus Plan »

Strategy Memo: Rush's Party

Good morning, Washington. Today, President Obama has a full schedule, with the main event being a visit by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The economy should be the focus as both countries look toward recoveries. Obama will also visit both the Transportation and Interior Departments -- the former to promote the stimulus plan, and the latter in honor of its 160th birthday. The president also hosts Boy Scouts in the Oval Office, before meeting with Eagle Scout and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

On the Hill, the Senate continues consideration today of the $410 billion omnibus appropriations bill, with votes scheduled to begin by noon. Treasury Sec. Tim Geithner and OMB Dir. Peter Orszag will be testifying in separate House committees today on Obama's budget.

And it's always a good day when voters are voting. Today it's in Chicago, where the Fifth District seat once held by Rahm Emanuel is up for grabs. The Democratic primary is where all the action is, and despite a wide field, the favorites are Mike Quigley (backed by the Tribune and Sun-Times), Sara Feigenholtz (heavy union support and EMILY's List), and John Fritchey (backed by most ward organizations).

Here's what we're reading this a.m.:

**President Obama
*Yesterday's nominations of Kathleen Sebelius and Nancy DeParle set up a week that will mostly be dominated by health care. Michael Scherer profiles the lesser-known DeParle, "known in health care policy circles as one of the brightest minds of her generation, and, Obama now hopes, one of a select group who know enough to make health reform happen this year." Her new position as "health czar" was originally part of Tom Daschle's job description. "But with Daschle out, the White House still decided it needed a high-level coordinator for the reform effort."

*WSJ looks at questions heading into the health care fight: "Should large businesses be required to offer workers coverage? ... Would a bare-bones plan with limited coverage qualify? Should individuals be required to buy insurance? ... Should a public plan be created to compete with private insurers? ... How to pay for it all?"

*Rep. John Marshall (D-Ga.), a member of the Blue Dog coalition, told ABC he's unlikely to support Obama's health care plan unless he's shown it won't add to America's long-term debt. "Frankly all of us would like to see more Americans have access to health care and there will be a lot of different arguments concerning the appropriate plan, but I think there's a larger issue on the table now and I think the President has a real opportunity to show some leadership with regard to that issue, and it's the long-term fact that our budget just isn't sustainable," he said.

*Prime Minister Gordon Brown plans to sell the idea to Obama that the effects of the two countries' economic bailout packages would be "magnified" if they worked closely together. BBC: "Downing Street dismissed suggestions that the visit had been downgraded by President Obama after it emerged there would not be a formal joint press conference. Mr Brown's spokesman said there 'will still be a media availability' when the two men meet." (Press secretary Robert Gibbs seemed unsure of the format yesterday; the official schedule called only for a pool spray.)

*More Tax Problems...Really?: "Leaders of the Senate Finance Committee this afternoon revealed that another of President Obama's nominees -- U.S. Trade Representative-designate Ron Kirk -- has tax problems," reports CongressDaily.

*Washington Post reports that Obama made private overtures to Russian President Medvedev. A letter hand-delivered to the leader "raises the prospect of the United States halting development of its missile defense program in Eastern Europe if Russia helps resolve the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program, senior administration officials said last night."

*Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, joined by envoy George Mitchell, is in Israel today. At a meeting this morning with President Shimon Peres, Clinton repeated her warnings that rocket attacks from Gaza against Israel "must cease." She was also to meet with both party leaders (they haven't sorted out the new prime minister).

*How low can it go? The Dow is back to '97 levels as it dropped below 7,000. USA Today: "Of all the bear markets in Dow's long history, only the 89.2% drop during the Great Depression was worse."

**Congress
*Budget on the Hill: Obama "is sending his Treasury secretary and budget director to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to defend his proposed tax increases, which are being met with misgivings by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress," reports the AP.

*"White House budget chief Peter Orszag is preparing to push back against critics portraying the Obama budget as a massive increase in federal spending. Mr. Orszag says President Barack Obama's fiscal blueprint would put funding for basic government operations -- outside of the military -- on a downward path over the next decade," reports the WSJ.

*The Senate is considering the $410 billion omnibus appropriations bill, which the House passed last week. The package reportedly has more than 8,000 earmarks attached to it. Republicans have criticized Obama for agreeing to a earmark-laden bill, though WH Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced yesterday that Obama "will release new rules for earmarks prior to signing the bill," writes the Washington Times.

*WaPo's Milbank details McCain's Senate floor outburst: "In the four months since the presidential race, the former Republican nominee has been, for the most part, a graceful loser, returning to the Senate to lead the loyal opposition with dignity. But yesterday, he exploded."

**Republicans
*RNC chair Michael Steele told Mike Allen that he reached out to Rush Limbaugh "to tell him he meant no offense" for calling him an "entertainer" whose show can be "incendiary." Steele: "My intent was not to go after Rush - I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh. I was maybe a little bit inarticulate. ... There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership." More: "I went back at that tape and I realized words that I said weren't what I was thinking. It was one of those things where I thinking I was saying one thing, and it came out differently. What I was trying to say was a lot of people ... want to make Rush the scapegoat, the bogeyman, and he's not."

*AP notes that Democrats couldn't have been happier to see Steele apologize. Gov. Tim Kaine: "Chairman Steele's reversal this evening and his apology to Limbaugh proves the unfortunate point that Limbaugh is the leading force behind the Republican Party, its politics and its obstruction of President Obama's agenda in Washington."

*Howard Kurtz writes about how eager the White House is to make Limbaugh out as the party leader. "White House officials contend that, with Limbaugh commanding more airtime than any other prominent Republican, they are obliged to respond to his call for the president's failure -- which they are more than happy to equate with financial ruin."

*Bobby Jindal talked to Larry King about his State of the Union response. "Let's be clear, the president is a great speaker -- probably the greatest we've seen in a generation. I'm certainly not nearly as good of a speaker as he is. And I'm not the only one that's got that opinion. I hope people look at the content of the speech, not just the delivery. You know, for years, I've been told I speak too quickly. Now I'm told I speak too slowly."

**Campaign Stuff
*Today is primary day in Chicago in the race to succeed Rahm Emanuel. From the Sun-Times: "The candidates have their volunteers working phone banks, calling and re-calling supporters to make sure they will be turning out to the polls today in what is expected to be a very low-turnout election. The temperature outside is expected to be below freezing today, which bodes well for candidates such as State Rep. John Fritchey, who has the lion's share of the Democratic ward organizations backing him."

*KY SEN: "Republicans have a new strategy for dealing with the wildly unpredictable Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.): keep their distance and hope he implodes. That means little fundraising help from top Republicans in Washington, little to no engagement with the National Republican Senatorial Committee and a cold shoulder from Kentucky political strategists," reports Politico.

**Of Course He Is: Blago is writing a book about the Senate appointment. Ca-ching!

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad