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Reid cracks the whip

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington.(AP)

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Buzz Cut:
• Reid cracks the whip
• It’s just not ObamaCare without Obama
• Behind your back: President huddles with tech CEOs
• Below Bush at the end of year five
• Pungent drama

REID CRACKS THE WHIP - It’s crunch time for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as he and drum major Dick Durbin try to whip up a 60-vote parade for an increasingly unpopular budget deal. The House-passed plan is due for a vote this morning in the Senate and it promises to be close. The main question, as new worries emerge in the middle about stiffing veterans, is whether Reid can keep liberal Democrats in line. The left wing of Reid’s conference is sore about capitulations on demanded welfare extensions and other government spending initiatives. While the plan crafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and his Senate counterpart Patty Murray increases user fees for many Americans on things like air travel, it contains no tax hikes, per se. What will liberals want to go along with Reid’s plan? The weeks to come will tell the tale.

BAIER TRACKS: VETS KEY TO BUDGET BATTLE…“The $6.2 billion dollars in ‘savings’ over the next 10 years in the Ryan-Murray budget agreement could be in jeopardy. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., made a compelling case on “Special Report” last night when she took the Center Seat on the panel. The Washington Post lays out the critics’ case.  It is a balancing act, but the battle lines are forming.” – Bret Baier.

Fiscal flap - Hawkish Senate Republicans are none-too-pleased about the budget deal after veterans groups voiced their opposition over provisions that would cut retirement benefits for military retirees. Even moderates like Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. are digging in to fight the package, calling the cuts “unacceptable.” Meanwhile, conservatives like Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., are standing tough against the deal for failing to address runaway government spending or reduce the debt. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, says he’ll take it, though. The bill “isn’t everything I’d hoped it would be, and it isn’t what I would have written,” Hatch said in a statement. “But sometimes the answer has to be ‘yes.’” Fox News has more.

[Federal debt increase since the start of 2011: $3.2 trillion (now $17.2 trillion)// Federal outlays for past three years (Oct. 1, 2010 through Sept. 30, 2013): $10.58 trillion. Sources: CBO, Treasury]

Honor your word - Babette Maxwell, whose husband is an active duty naval officer and plans to soon retire after nearly 20 years spoke out against provisions in the Ryan-Murray deal that hit military retirement funds. In an appearance on “The Kelly File,” Maxwell told Megyn Kelly, “The fact remains that these are earned benefits, this is not a social welfare program, these are our earned benefits.  We have paid in time, commitment to the military in order to have these earned benefits.  These are promises that were made to us, some of us agreed to stay in the military longer, at Congressional bidding because the military needed us and we want them to honor their word.” Watch the full interview.

[A New WaPo/ABC News poll shows 50 percent of respondents favor the measure while 35 percent disapprove.]

SUPER-SIZED WASTE - Congressional budget hawk Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has released his annual waste book today.  Among the outrageous items: $630,000 to increase Facebook likes, $415,000 on red wine in China, and the National Endowment for Humanities spending $914,000 to find love online. But Coburn hits hardest at military waste: “The Department of Defense (DOD) developed a plan this year to constrain pay and benefits for our brave men and women in uniform, who risk their lives to protect us from terrorists, for example, while at the same time continuing to pay the salary and other government benefits for the Fort Hood shooter, responsible for the worst terrorist attack on American soil since 9-11.  DOD grounded the Air Force Thunderbirds and Navy Blue Angels, yet still spent $631.4 million to construct aircraft they never intend to fly.  The Army National Guard spent $10 million on Superman movie tie-ins while plans were being made to cut the strength of the Guard by 8,000 soldiers, the real supermen and women who fight for truth, justice and the American way.”

BEHIND YOUR BACK: OBAMA HUDDLES WITH TECH CEOS - President Obama will meet in secret today with some of his top political benefactors, the heads of America’s largest technology companies. At issue are two main topics: first, a court challenge that may end a key piece of the federal government’s expansive spying system. The tech bosses are looking to get the upper hand in how to share user data with federal investigators seeking criminals and Islamist terrorists. The data-harvesting honchos at Apple, Google, Facebook and elsewhere want some predictability on how and when they will turn over to G-Men their most valuable asset: information about you. Also at issue is the crash landing of ObamaCare’s online home. The White House is casting the session as a working session, but one supposes that the folks who made Obama’s meteoric rise possible with their technology and money might want to know how the high-tech president has become the author of the most notable technical failure in American history. Washington Examiner has more. --Watch Fox: Correspondent Peter Doocy has the latest on a federal judge’s ruling that the administration’s spy program is running afoul of the fourth amendment. 

[WSJ: “Mr. Obama seems to view the NSA as some independent operation running on autopilot, but the programs that keep the country safe are his responsibility.”]

IT’S JUST NOT OBAMACARE WITHOUT OBAMA - President Obama has not enrolled in his own entitlement program. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters, “The president will purchase insurance on the exchanges” and that he would provide an update when he had one. He’d better hurry since he and the first family need to be enrolled by Monday to make sure that they don’t experience a coverage gap. Obama is not required to enroll through an online exchange like members of Congress and staffers who do not work for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Obama is joining his program voluntarily in a show of solidarity with his constituents (and because of endless Republican carping). But it will be just that when he does: show. The president has a private physician and is followed everywhere by a medical team, items not covered by even the platinum plans of ObamaCare. Why the delay, then? Perhaps to avoid an embarrassing revelation about sky-high premiums. Keep your eyes peeled starting Friday afternoon for a turkey drop. Fox News has more.

[“If [ObamaCare is] so great why isn't the president and the rest of the federal government on it?”—Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., on “Hannity”]

Wider worries - House Oversight Committee Chairman Darell Issa, fresh off of his release of disconcerting data about the conduct of ObamaCare navigators[watch], tells Breitbart that the ObamaCare crash may mean not just the expected coverage gaps, but the loss of needed health care: “Fixing the challenges created for healthcare providers may not be possible. Tens of millions of people may not get quality healthcare over the next year or two, and that means lives could be lost.”

ObamaCare a ‘drag’ - It’s gay day for ObamaCare. The administration is targeting the gay community for ObamaCare today, announcing an enrollment push among the non-heterosexual world. At least they’re not pandering. Oh, wait. From WaPo: “Some of the pitches are decidedly less conventional. Wednesday Night Tea, a drag show in Shreveport, La., has started promoting the health-care law as part of its act.”

Blue crabs scuttle - From the Baltimore Sun: “Less than two days after Gov. Martin O'Malley declared that the state's online insurance marketplace finally worked for most consumers, a server crashed Monday, the call center became overwhelmed and the governor announced he was bringing in another contractor to improve the website.”

Bah, humbug - WSJ explains how insurers worry that the offer by some charities  and hospitals to cover some premiums for patients facing coverage gaps because of ObamaCare could end up disrupting coverage for millions more Americans.

OBAMA BELOW BUSH AT THE END OF YEAR FIVE - A new WaPo/ABC News poll shows President Obama’s advantage over Republicans over handling the economy, formerly 15-points, has vanished. The president’s 26 point advantage on who would better protect the middle-class has diminished to just six. Obama’s job approval in the poll, which covers adults rather than registered voters, stood at 43 percent for the second month in a row. Obama ends 2013 with approvals lower than George W. Bush had in the poll at the end of his fifth year.

Why it matters: From writers Dan Balz and Scott Clement: “Looking to 2014, voters are almost evenly divided in how they would cast their ballots in House races. Two months ago, Democrats held an eight-point advantage on the heels of the October government shutdown. Today it’s just two points — 47 percent to 45 percent. As a point of reference, shortly before Republicans made historic gains in the House in 2010, this “generic ballot” narrowly favored the Democrats.”

TOP TWEETS - @laurenashburn’s top tweet pick for this morning: @ABCPolitics: “A Drop in Opposition to Health Care Law Helps Stabilize a Struggling Obama http://t.co/QQQQ6ICn2i”

[Lauren Ashburn of “#MEDIABUZZ” tracks the Twitterverse every day in Top Twitter Talk.]

VANITY FAIR LAMENTS INSUFFICIENCY OF BUSH HATE - Vanity Fair’s Juli Weiner seems worried that young adults have stopped hating George W. Bush. Weiner catalogues how younger pop culture mavens have come to see Bush as a kindly sort, particularly through his hobby of painting. And using irony. And she has just had it. And, ugh! “Bush appreciated art; an appreciation of art implies humanity, according to the enlightened classes; by the transitive property, Bush has humanity. War-mongers: they’re just like us!” Weiner, who the Internet says graduated from college in 2010, doesn’t fault “hipsters” for failing to understand Bush’s misdeeds since they are young and would be more likely to read about Bush’s dog paintings and not his administration’s policies on dealing with suspected Islamist militants.

CHILL WARNING: EPA CLIMATE EXPERTS FRAUD - The massive fraud of former Environmental Protection Agency climate expert John Beale is raising questions from Congressional investigators over the agency’s handling of the case. Beale will face sentencing this week for bilking the agency out of a million dollars and other benefits for the better part of a decade while claiming he was working with the CIA. Sentencing memos obtained by NBC News are providing new insights into the extent of the fraud and the failings of the EPA. The memos reveal the agency “enabled” Beale by failing to corroborate any of his false claims.

WITH YOUR SECOND CUP OF COFFEE...How did 15 percent of America’s high schoolers end up on powerful stimulants for attention deficit disorder? How did the we achieve a diagnosis rate that the doctor who identified the disorder and fought to have it recognized called “a national disaster of dangerous proportions?” The NYT looks at the selling of the disorder by drug companies, first for kids and now adults, including through the help of one celebrity who is currently also pitching K Mart clothes, acne treatments and ObamaCare: “Now targeting adults, Shire and two patient advocacy groups have recruited celebrities like the Maroon 5 musician Adam Levine for their marketing campaign, “It’s Your A.D.H.D. – Own It.”

[Ahem - NYT: “The British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline will no longer pay doctors to promote its products and will stop tying compensation of sales representatives to the number of prescriptions doctors write…”]

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POLL CHECK - Real Clear Politics Averages
Obama Job Approval: Approve – 42.7 percent//Disapprove – 53.4 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 30.0 percent//Wrong Track – 63.5 percent 

SCHWEITZER READY TO RUMBLE - In an interview with the Weekly Standard’s Michael Warren, former Montana Gov.  Brian Schweitzer embraces the mantle of Democratic populism, lamenting the “corporatist” tendencies of President Obama and 2016 Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton. Democrats from the party’s William Jennings Bryan branch are looking for a hero now that Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has bowed to Clinton. Schweitzer invited speculation, talking up Iowa and New Hampshire visits. With Obama meeting today with some of his biggest corporate patrons, it’s a vibe that may resonate. Said Schweitzer: “The question that we have is, will it be the Hillary that leads the progressives, or is it the Hillary that says, ‘I’m already going to win the Democratic nomination, and so I can shift hard right on Day 1.’ We can’t afford any more hard right. We had eight years of George Bush. Now we’ve had five years of Obama, [who], I would argue, in many cases has been a corporatist.” 

The reality of the rift - New Republic Senior Editor Noam Scheiber considers how a broad definition of populism is at the heart of the debate between the more liberal and centrist factions of the Democratic Party. “…what I think most liberals today mean—by the term ‘populist’ is rather literal: a politician or interest group whose power derives primarily from their appeal to lots of ordinary …individuals rather than a handful of powerful patrons, or the interest groups that represent them…when powerful economic interests are involved, the burden of proof should fall on self-interested elites rather than popular opinion… That’s not a trivial difference. It’s the schism that’s increasingly defining the Democratic Party.” 

HOT KEY: ‘REPUBLICAN CIVIL WAR’ - Slate’s David Weigel points out that NYT’s Jennifer Steinhauer has written pieces using former Rep. Bob Dold, R-Ill., as a moderate who is bucking the conservative trend in his party and, wait for it, a reformed conservative who has abandoned “incendiary” rhetoric. That’s a busy 17 months for the former suburban Chicago congressman, from moderate to incendiary to regretful extremist.

[Ed note: If you have to churn out “GOP civil war” stories as often as the NYT does, you’re going run through all the Republican members of the House eventually. And former members. And candidates.]

DO-OVER POSSIBLE IN VIRGINIA AG RACE - Democrat-dominated Fairfax County delivered another trove of previously uncounted votes for Democrat Mark Herring as the recount in Virginia’s attorney general’s race got underway. Most of the rest of the commonwealth begins its recount today, with several counties likely to deliver votes for Republican Mark Obenshain. (Officials tell WaPo several thousand votes are in play because machines failed to register the votes correctly.) But one former statewide-elected Republican tells Fox News First that this could be far from over. Once the recount is done, the loser has a chance to contest the result and throw the decision to the legislature in Richmond. Republicans have the votes to deliver the office to Obenshain, but might be squeamish about reversing the popular vote, however controversial the count. But lawmakers have another choice: they can order a do-over, demanding that the election be thrown out and held again. “In this environment, it would be hard to see a Republican losing,” the former official said. With Republicans worried about having no executive-branch checks or oversight on Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe, they might be inclined.

HACKLES UP OVER WISCONSIN ‘JOHN DOE’ PROBES - Republicans in Wisconsin are speaking out about anonymous probes of conservatives ahead of next year’s elections. Republican state Sen. Glenn Grothman tells Watchdog.org, “It seems as though the people out front in the investigation have strong Democratic connections.” Grothman added, “It leads one to question whether this is a fishing expedition designed to embarrass Republicans rather than an investigation built on factual evidence.” Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is calling on an investigation of the investigators. From Watchdog.org: “The court-sanctioned dragnet has subpoenaed more than 100 conservative and free-market activists…[T]he manifold legal attack on nonprofit political organizations has included pre-dawn raids on homes and offices; confiscated equipment and files; and demands for phone, email and other records.”

YOU HAVE A SEAT ON THE PANEL:  MILITARY MISTREATMENT - The budget deal unfairly hurts military retirees. That was the consensus among viewer voters across all political parties during Monday’s “Special Report with Bret Baier” All-Star Panel that featured Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., in the Center Seat.  Bing Pulse found Democrats, Republicans, and independents agreeing with Ayotte when she said changes need to be made to the budget deal because, “We are taking it from the backs of our military retirees to pay for spending.” The Granite State Senator also found wide agreement among all parties and genders when she expressed her disappointment that the House hasn’t had a Select Committee on Benghazi. Watch here.

Discussion of accountability for the botched rollout of ObamaCare increased viewer voting intensity. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s claim that the Office of Management and Budget works hard to get regulations right drew disagreement from all ends of the political spectrum and genders. Participation amongst audience panelists spiked to 22,000 viewer votes per minute when Daily Beast’s Kirsten Powers stated , “It seems that every component of  this is not done correctly. And the administration needs to account for that and explain why and how it happened and so people are held accountable.” Bing Pulse tracked 258,000 viewer votes, take a deeper data dive and view the full results here. The biggest name on the panel is yours, be sure to take your seat.

GHOULISH TRACKERS - The anti-Republican group American Bridge apologized for sending a cameraman to a funeral to try to obtain unflattering footage of Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. WMUR reporter James Pindell called the group out for sending someone to follow Ayotte to a memorial service on Saturday. Pindell fired off at the group via Twitter saying, “Hey @AmericanBridge tracker: Put away your damn camera taping @KellyAyotte and others at Ray Burton memorial service. #nhpolitics #getclass.” The group apologized on Twitter citing a miscommunication. Daily Caller has the story.

NOT WASTING ANY TIME USING ‘LIE OF THE YEAR’ - A conservative group is using President Obama’s oft repeated “you can keep it” pledge to hammer Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. Ending Spending, the fiscal hawk group founded by billionaire Joe Ricketts, is spending more than $100,000 on Web ads and another $43,000 on television telling voters, “If you like your senator then you can keep her, if you don’t, you know what to do.”

[Who’s in, who’s out so far in Super Bowl spots. At $4 million for 30 seconds, they have to choose carefully. AdAge has a preview.]

BILLY BAKER WON TWITTER - Did you read the story of George and Johnny Huynh? If you didn’t, then you are doing Twitter entirely wrong. Boston Globe reporter Billy Baker tweeted out the story of the two brothers from Boston’s bleak Dorchester neighborhood, filling in the blank spots in the piece he wrote about the two young Vietnamese-Americans. The ending is spectacular. 

[What it takes to keep drunken ATV drivers alive in Wisconsin: Police pack thermal imaging cameras and drive hovercraft. Sigh.]

GREAT GENEROSITY, GREATER HUMILITY - A woman in Mesa, Ariz. last week covered $5,000 worth of layaway purchases at Wal-Mart. Thirty families about to lose their deposits and see items returned to shelves got their orders paid off. Workers told KSAZ: “When she was younger, she remembers her mom not being able to pay off their layaways for them for Christmas…” The woman did not want to be identified or recognized for her good deed.

PUNGENT DRAMA - Actress Sophie McShera told the Daily Mail that the cast of “Downton Abbey” smells bad because their costumes are never washed in order to preserve their authentic look. “We do stink, as they don’t wash our costumes,” McShera, who plays scullery maid Daisy Mason, said. “They have these weird patches, which are sewn into the armpits and which they wash separately.”

AND NOW A WORD FROM CHARLES…“This administration was purely political and the worst element of it was Obama campaigning and saying repeatedly against the Republicans in 2012… ‘These guys care only about the next election and not about the next generation’ at a time when his administration was manipulating the regulations of ObamaCare that actually hurt the roll out of ObamaCare. Condign punishment, I would say.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.” Watch here.  

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here. To catch Chris live online daily at 11:30 a.m. ET, click here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First” political news note and hosts “Power Play,” a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.