POLITICS
03/03/2011 05:59 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

HUFFPOST HILL - White House Blinks Before Budget Negotiations Start

Newt Gingrich's not-quite presidential announcement only increases the inevitability of his ESPN special, "Newt Gingrich: The Decision" (though some observers still think it's more likely that Newt will "take his talents to South Beach" than run for president). The White House continued to perfect the art of the good faith capitulation. And a GOP lawmaker in Texas wants to racially profile Mexicans ... unless it's that Mexican she regularly leaves $80 for on the kitchen counter with instructions on where to find the Mr. Clean. That Mexican is A-OK. This is HUFFPOST HILL for Thursday, March 3rd, 2011:

Man, the Internet sure works fast: http://newtinfrontofstockphotos.tumblr.com/

WHITE HOUSE AGREES TO FURTHER BUDGET CUTS AS GOP LEADERSHIP BEGINS MEETINGS WITH BIDEN - Shortly before the negotiations began, the Obama administration announced that it had agreed to cut another $6 billion from its proposed budget to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year. White House Economic Adviser Gene Sperling told reporters that it's "clear that we can meet them halfway...[W]e have made it clear we are committed to doing that and we are willing to cut further if we can find common ground on the budget with reducing spending in the right way while protecting our investments in education, innovation and research." Sperling was referring to the combined $50 billion, half of the $100 billion cut in the measure passed by the House, that is reached when adding the $4 billion cuts in the current two-week CR, the $40 billion cuts in the Democrats' proposed CR and the latest $6 billion cut. [HuffPost's Sam Stein]

@nielslesniewski: Complete Biden statement fits in a single tweet: "We had a good meeting, and the conversation will continue."

Chris Hayes took a few moments to formulate the idea that we move the nation's capital to El Centro, Calif. [The Nation]

COUNTDOWN TO NO KICKOFF - The NFL's owners and players are mired in a dreadfully complex labor war that has dreadfully simple underpinnings: The owners want more money and are willing to sacrifice next season in order to get it. The players are happy with the status quo. The owners want another billion and they want the players to play two more regular season games. The owners are begging poverty, saying they need more money for stadiums, after two decades during which they soaked taxpayers for $5 billion in stadium subsidies. Tonight's the deadline for a new collective bargaining agreement.

@ScottMilfred @GovWalker just suggested stuff like union certification and dues in paychecks are "on the table" in talks w/ Dems #wiunion #wipolitics

DAILY DELANEY DOWNER - The U.S. Treasury Department announced Wednesday that more than 600,000 homeowners across the country have been granted "permanent" mortgage modifications under the Obama administration's signature anti-foreclosure effort, the Home Affordable Modification Program. The latest monthly release shows, however, that more than 800,000 homeowners have been bounced out of HAMP as of January. There's no penalty for banks that violate the program's guidelines. "The fundamental flaw from the beginning was presuming the people who caused the mortgage crisis were somehow going to act in the public interest," said Prentiss Cox, a law professor at the University of Minnesota. "What was needed was, 'We just bailed you out with a trillion dollars and in return we're going to hit you in the head with a two-by-four if you don't [act in the public interest].'" [HuffPost]

As Geithner has said, the point of HAMP was to spread foreclosures out to protect banks while they were vulnerable. So it worked.

DOUBLE DOWNER - More than 44 million Americans were on the food stamp rolls as of December, according to an initial estimate from the Department of Agriculture, which administers the program. That's a 13.1 percent increase from December 2009 and the highest participation ever. [USDA]

Barney Frank, at today's Financial Services Committee hearing, proposed the radical step of ending subsidies for Brazilian cotton growers. [What he was talking about]

The House today voted to end the 1099 tax provision in the Health Care Reform bill. The final vote was 314 for and 112 against with Republicans voting unanimously for it while 76 Democrats peeled off and voted in favor.

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OBAMA CALLS FOR GADDAFI TO STEP DOWN - During his joint press conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon today, President Obama made his most unambiguous statement yet about the embattled Libyan strongman. "You have seen with great clarity that he has lost legitimacy with his people," Obama said. "So let me just be very unambiguous about this. Colonel Qaddafi needs to step down from power and leave. That is good for his country. It is good for his people. It's the right thing to do." [National Journal]

NEWT GINGRICH SOMETHING SOMETHING SOMETHING PRESIDENT SOMETHING SOMETHING - The guy who led the charge against President Clinton for his iffy comprehension of the word "is" is having a hard time nailing down "exploratory." To be fair, the latter word has WAY more syllables. The former House speaker sorta kinda but not really announced a presidential exploratory committee at an event in Georgia this afternoon. While not actually announcing an exploratory committee per se, Gingrich did unveil an exploratory website. "Callista and I promised, as you know, for well over a year that we would make a decision in late February or early March and we have kept our promise," Gingrich told radio host Martha Zoller earlier in the day. "We will have a Web site up later on today, people can go to it. It's newtexplore2012.com and it's an effort to reach out to folks and say if we really want to get back to being a country of American exceptionalism..." And if Gingrich doesn't end up running, maybe he'll just email all those folks and suggest they just buy his books instead. [ABC News]

Of course: The stock photo used in the background NewtExplore2012.com was previously used by Ted Kennedy.

HALEY BARBOUR'S K STREET PAST UNDERCUTS WHITE HOUSE CRITICISM - Yesterday the Mississippi governor unleashed a scathing critique of the White House at a Chamber of Commerce event, insisting that the Obama administration's green initiatives are harming American business. While rumored-candidate Barbour toils in relative-enough obscurity to have such statements go unscrutinized, Amanda Terkel notes that Barbour's history on K Street will open him up to wider criticism if he runs for president: "Between 1999 and 2003, Barbour was listed as a lobbyist on behalf of several companies and trade organizations involved in the energy industry, earning his lobbying firm, Barbour, Griffith and Rogers Inc., $2.96 million. These companies included Edison Electric Institute, the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, the Oxygenated Fuels Association and Southern Company Services, Inc." [HuffPost]

Barbour's former client, EEI, on climate change: "Global climate change presents one of the biggest energy and environmental policy challenges this country has ever faced. EEI member companies are committed to addressing the challenge of climate change and support an 80-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050." Job killers!

AT-LARGE WISCONSIN DEMOCRATS NEGOTIATING WITH REPUBLICANS - State Senator Dave Hansen told a local publication that his caucus has been in talks with their Republican counterparts about a possible budget agreement that would leave SOME collective-bargaining protections intact. Under discussion are a provision that allows for collective negotiation over workplace safety issues and possibly doubling the time interval between union recertification votes from one to two years. "I'm disappointed they wouldn't give us that one (the safety issue) out of hand. It makes as much sense as anything. But we continue to discuss it and hopefully soon we'll come to an agreement," Hansen said in an interview with the Green Bay Press-Gazette. So long as Hansen and his colleagues are keeping their calls to Republicans under 30 seconds, the GOP shouldn't be able to trace them Mission Impossible-style. [Reuters]

Unions would have to recertify every two years? How 'bout corporations have to re-incorporate every two years?

Wisconsin Senate Republicans have passed a measure holding their Democratic colleagues in contempt, a redundant vote if there ever was one. The GOP lawmakers are claiming that the out-of-state Dems are violating procedure by not requesting a leave of absence despite being gone for more than a day. "We simply cannot have democracy be held hostage because the minority wants to prove a point," Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said. The measure instructs the sergeant-at-arms to return the at-large Democrats with or without the use of force. [Journal-Sentinel]

DAVID WU DISCUSSES MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES - After a string of reports detailing Rep. David Wu's erratic behavior led the Oregon lawmaker to disclose that he is receiving treatment for mental health issues, Wu says he appears to have the backing of his colleagues. "It's a heartwarming thing," Wu said to TPM's Benjy Sarlin. "The people who come up to say supportive things are almost equally divided between Democrats and Republicans." Wu also said that he will also meet with the Democratic leadership. "What I've said to each of the leaders is that on a non-urgent basis I'd like to check in with them out of respect for the offices that they hold at a time that's convenient to them," Wu said. "I'd like to sit down with them privately and give them every reassurance." [TPM]

Story Partners, run by Gloria Dittus and Famous DC's Amos Snead, is blowing up, adding four staffers today. [FBDC]

The bank lobby is splintering on the CFPB ahead of the confirmation deadline for its director. Zach Carter: "Notably absent from the list of signatories [on an anti-Consumer Financial Protection Bureau letter] were several of the most powerful bank lobby groups: the American Bankers Association, the Mortgage Bankers Association, the Independent Community Bankers Association, the Consumer Bankers Association, the Credit Union National Association, the National Association of Federal Credit Unions and the Financial Services Forum. Instead, many of the groups that signed onto the letter represented "non-bank" financial institutions -- that is, companies that do not accept federally insured deposits, such as payday lenders, check-cashing agencies, specialty mortgage shops and other firms that frequently target those without formal bank accounts. Such companies, which often compete directly with community banks and credit unions, are not yet subject to federal banking regulations, but last year's Dodd-Frank financial reform law put them under the jurisdiction of the CFPB, unless the agency does not have a permanent director confirmed in the Senate by July." [HuffPost]

IS THE JINDALS' CHARITY A QUID PRO QUO CONDUIT? - Maybe (we really just wanted to write "quid pro quo conduit"). The Times published an article this morning detailing how a number of regulation-weary industries have contributed heavily to Bobby Jindal's wife's charity, the Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana's Children. Companies like AT&T and Marathon Oil -- all of whom have business interests that are subject to state government oversight -- have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the foundation, far more than the $5,000 or $10,000 they are limited to when contributing to Jindal individually or a PAC allied with him. The news itself is pretty startling. Then there's this choice quote from Kyle Plotkin, Jindal's Press secretary: "It is a completely nonpolitical, nonpartisan organization...Anything other than this reality has plainly been dreamed up by partisan hacks living in a fantasy land." Nice. Just so long as those contributions aren't being delivered in bricks of $100 bills concealed in a freezer, Jindal is still in the clear by Louisiana standards. [NYT]

This might come as something of a shock, but lawmakers are not always Johnny-on-the-Spot when it comes to their financial disclosures. Alex Knott: "At least 680 campaigns have failed to file more than 900 required filings total since 2000, according to a Roll Call study of campaign finance records. As a result, the FEC has fined these campaigns more than $2 million during the past decade...No party can claim superiority when it comes to filing FEC reports. Democratic candidates have missed 447 filings since 2000, resulting in more than $958,000 in fines, while Republican candidates failed to file 449 reports and were penalized just more than $1 million. Third-party candidates missed another 37 filings, resulting in more than $53,000 in penalties." Funny how folks always accidentally understate assets. What're the chances? [Roll Call]

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR - The definitive video collection of animals playing musical instruments.

A bill in the Texas House would criminalize the hiring of an undocumented worker, a bill that one Republican wants to amend to not apply to "the help". Rep. Debbie Riddle's bill would, we kid you not, exclude "an undocumented maid, caretaker, lawnworker or any type of houseworker" from the bill's jurisdiction. "When it comes to household employees or yard workers it is extremely common for Texans to hire people who are likely undocumented workers," Rep. Aaron Pena told CNN. "It is so common it is overlooked." [Yahoo News]

Heh. "The filing deadline to run for governor in Mississippi came and went without fanfare earlier this week, as four Democrats and five Republicans filed the requisite paperwork by the Tuesday deadline. Blink, and you might have missed Republican activist James Broadwater's name on the list. You may remember him as a candidate for Congress in 2004 and 2008. You may also remember him from somewhere else. An astute reader points out that Broadwater once appeared on an episode of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's 'Da Ali G Show'" [National Journal]

JEREMY'S WEATHER REPORT -Beautiful beautiful beautiful!: Well, some things are looking up, mostly Tomorrow, where we will see sunny skies and the 50s. Don't worry about tonight, just a bit of cold. Thanks, JB

COMFORT FOOD

- What happens if cats developed opposable thumbs? Well, as this video demonstrates, we're all pretty screwed. [http://bit.ly/gFKcWQ]

- Mind-controlled cars are being developed in Germany. Uh-oh. [http://bit.ly/h6uVKX]

- Better late than never: College Humor has put together the inevitable Jeff Bridges bonanza: "The Tron Lebowski." [http://bit.ly/ezwo59]

- Cheerleader goes crazy after winning a national competition. That or cheerleader is preparing for national snake handling competition. [http://bit.ly/gDoF0y]

- A new study finds updating one's Facebook profile gives one a temporary self-esteem boost. We're guessing all the resulting Facebook stalking subsequently neutralizes that boost. [http://bit.ly/h43r5A]

- Keffiyeh scarfs have reached maximum bastardization in the West when a dude wears one while spewing an expletive-laden rap about Charlie Sheen. [http://bit.ly/ghVRd9]

- Speaking of Mr. Tiger Blood, here's the Charlie Sheen soundboard you've been waiting for [http://bit.ly/giK57f]

- Bowling and getting to first base naturally fit together so a bowling video game was developed that is controlled by making out. [http://bit.ly/g4kSSx]

TWITTERAMA

@McDonalds: Despite all the rumors there r no plans 2 bring #mclobster or mcsushi 2 the US menu. We r working on a new menu item called McWinning.

@AndrewBreitbart: Why does Bill Murray get Andie MacDowell in his Groundhog Day & I get @EricBoehlert in mine?

@MikeElk: Giant Inflatable Palm Trees Outside of Wisc Capitol mock Fox News http://yfrog.com/h5wfpfj

ON TAP

TONIGHT

6:00 pm - 8:00pm: Only a man who really likes to drink would host a "Countdown to St. Patrick's Day" fundraiser. That or a man who really likes to raise thousands of dollars in political donations. Join Gerry Connolly for a campaign function, Irish style [Kelly's Irish Times, 14 F Street NW].

TOMORROW

8:00 pm: The hilarious Eugene Mirman, who HuffPost Hill used to see perform at the now shuttered Rififi in New York, brings his routine to the Black Cat. One memorable routine involved Mirman simply playing a tape of him calling a "Christian telephone company" [Black Cat, 1811 14th St NW].

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