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Posted at 6:23 AM ET, 03/ 4/2011

The GOP's entitlements problem

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza

In an otherwise very successful 2010 election, there was one issue where Republicans saw Democrats winning the message battle -- Social Security privatization.

By tying a series of Republicans to the proposal by President Bush a few years ago and a similar proposal being offered more recently by now-House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the Democrats actually got some mileage in an otherwise disastrous election year, even if it didn't swing many races.

As we get closer to 2012, Democrats hold out hope that Republican efforts at entitlement reform will pay much bigger dividends this time.

Republicans and Democrats are currently engaged in a cat-and-mouse game over entitlements. With both sides looking to make spending cuts, neither has been overly anxious to broach the idea of cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, even though most of those involved acknowledge those programs need to be on the table in order to make significant cuts. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) took a key first step toward including entitlements Thursday, but we still have yet to see concrete plans.

The reason neither side wants to go there is pretty clear; a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll this week showed less than a quarter of Americans support making significant cuts to Social Security or Medicare in order to balance the budget.

President Obama, in his State of the Union speech last month, urged both sides to come out on the issue together. Republicans, including Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) on Thursday, have been urging Obama to take the first step.

"Look, you've got the biggest microphone," Blunt said to Obama. "You've got the biggest podium, but we're ready to sign on before you go public."

Blunt and his GOP colleagues shouldn't hold their breath.

The fact of the matter is that Obama doesn't need to go first on this. Doing so may be the courageous thing to do, but it's not the smart thing politically.

To put it another way: Why would Obama go first, when he knows he just needs to wait for Republicans to go first?

Republicans have a whole caucus of freshmen elected with tea party support who will eventually push the issue to the forefront, and Democrats know this.

When they do, the proposals are likely to be very unpopular and force those Republicans into a tough position. For Democrats, saying 'no' to those proposals will be relatively easy; for Republicans, it will be a dance between pleasing the base and irritating lots of independents.

Unlike many other areas where voters are happy to see cuts, the entitlement programs are a political minefield just waiting for unsuspecting politicians to wander along.

And in a more neutral election year, that could cause all kinds of problems for Republicans -- or at least, more than they did in 2010.

Heather Wilson in for Senate: Former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) will announce her candidacy for the open New Mexico Senate seat on Monday, a GOP source with knowledge of her plans confirms.

The news was first reported Thursday by Politico.

Wilson ran for another open Senate seat in 2008, losing the primary to Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.). If the moderate former congresswoman can survive the primary this time, she may be Republicans' top candidate for the general election.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) is retiring. Other potential candidates include Pearce, Lt. Gov. John Sanchez (R), Rep. Martin Heinrich (D) and state Auditor Hector Balderas (D).

Pew poll shows gay marriage shift: A new survey from Pew Research Center finds Americans are evenly split on gay marriage. Forty-five percent say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, while 46 percent are opposed.

Support for marijuana legalization is also at an all-time high of 45 percent. Independents have become more supportive of both gay marriage and legal abortion since 2009.

The same poll found that anger among Republicans in general and tea party activists in particular has decreased significantly since the midterm elections.

However, there is no greater desire for compromise than there was then. A majority of all respondents prefer elected officials who stick to their positions -- and Republicans prefer them two to one over those who make compromises.


Republican National Committeeman Bill Crocker of Texas will serve as the new Republican National Committee general counsel, Chairman Reince Priebus announced Thursday.

In addition to Iowa, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) will be going to New Hampshire in April. He's going with his dad, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), so that means he's not looking to run for president himself, right?

A new potential primary challenger for Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine): Carol Weston, the state director for the conservative group Americans for Prosperity. Currently running are former congressional candidate Scott D'Amboise and tea party activist Andrew Ian Dodge.

Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu (R) says he will do what he can to prevent Ambassador to China and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman (R) from winning the GOP nomination for president.

Rhode Island State Police Col. Brendan Doherty has announced he will step down April 1 and sounds like he is considering a run for political office. Options include challenging Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and freshman Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.).

A new poll shows Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear well-positioned for reelection. He has a comfortable lead against a likely Republican challenger, Senate President David Williams.


"Gunning for Eliot" Charles Gasparino, New York Post

"Levin vs. Peters? Dingell vs. Conyers? Peters vs. Patterson? Speculation swirls as Michigan GOP prepares to redraw district lines" -- Jonathan Oosting,

Indiana's top elections official indicted for voter fraud -- Robert Annis, Indianapolis Star

Braun emails suggest factors that led to loss -- Chicago News Cooperative, Dan Mihalopoulos

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza  | March 4, 2011; 6:23 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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