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Time to walk the plank on Senate debt vote

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FILE: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington.AP

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Buzz Cut:
• Time to walk the plank on Senate debt vote
• ObamaCare enrollees not paying up
• Rand Paul rallies support against NSA
• Baier Tracks: Hell hath no fury like a Clinton scorned
• Run for it!

TIME TO WALK THE PLANK ON SENATE DEBT VOTE
At least five Republicans will have to walk the plank today as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brings forward a vote to lift the federal credit limit well beyond the current $17.3 trillion debt load. The vote could have been a 51-vote majority to push through a House-passed measure that unconditionally extends government borrowing authority through the middle of March 2015. But Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and other conservatives who have consistently opposed no-strings-attached debt hikes will insist on a 60-vote supermajority to move the debt bill forward. Which five Republicans will take the plunge in the vote scheduled for midday? Potential GOP crossovers include: retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a bipartisan centrist, and GOP moderates, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was cagy with Reporters on House Republicans letting the no-cuts debt lifter to move ahead on mostly Democratic votes. While Cruz & Co. will hold their colleagues’ feet to the fire today, it’s a winter chill that may move things along. A massive snow and ice storm is bearing down on the capitol and the Suburbans are already lined up outside the Capitol to whisk lawmakers away to the airport. It may be easier for McConnell to whip votes with a blizzard on the way.

Cruz not enthused - “Historically, the debt ceiling has proven the most effective leverage for reining in spending; 28 times, Congress has attached meaningful conditions to debt ceiling increases. We should do so again to address the real problem.”—Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in a statement explaining his move to block a simple-majority vote.

Tactical withdrawal - “When you don’t have 218 votes, you have nothing. We’ve seen that before, we see it again.” That was how Speaker John Boehner explained his decision to withdraw from the debt-limit battlefield. The debt-ceiling bill passed on a 221-201 vote after conservative Republicans in the House failed to reach an agreement among themselves over what to demand in exchange for granting the president more borrowing authority. Boehner and other GOP leaders were among those joined Democrats and voted yes. The speaker announced before the vote that that was the strategy. “We’ll let the Democrats put the votes up. We’ll put a minimum number of (GOP) votes up to get it passed,” Boehner said. “We'll let his party give him the debt ceiling increase that he wants.” More.

OBAMACARE ENROLLEES NOT PAYING UP
Daily Caller: “Democrats claim three million people have enrolled in private health insurance through Obamacare. But how many have actually paid for their plans? Several state exchanges have begun reporting the number of customers that did pay their first premiums, and some results are as low as 51 percent.”

[Watch Fox: Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., discusses ObamaCare in the 10 a.m. ET hour]

Obama keeping his pen warm - Fox News: President Obama signaled Tuesday he'd be open to more changes in the implementation of his signature health care law, as he defended a newly announced delay in the requirement on companies to provide insurance. Obama said the latest delay was meant to help employers operating in “good faith” so that no one is “unnecessarily burdened” or punished. “This was [an] example of, administratively, us making sure that we're smoothing out this transition,” Obama said. Without going into detail, the president suggested the administration would continue to be flexible on the law.

[Poll Watch: Fox News will release new polls on President Obama’s use of executive action and the state of the economy during “Special Report with Bret Baier” at 6 p.m. ET]

CGI gets ObamaCare Web site blame… and new contracts - NYT: “After denigrating the work of CGI and replacing it as the largest contractor on the federal health care website, the Obama administration is negotiating with the company to extend its work on the project for a few months. And the new prime contractor, Accenture, is trying to recruit and hire CGI employees to work under its supervision.”

RAND PAUL RALLIES SUPPORT AGAINST NSA SPYING
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., will file a class-action lawsuit against the National Security Agency over domestic spying today. In a Web video encouraging Americans to join the suit, Paul says “Our founders never intended for Americans to trust their government, our entire Constitution was predicated on the notion that government was a necessary evil to be restrained and minimized as much as possible.” Paul will be joined by lead attorney Ken Cuccinelli, the former Virginia attorney general to announce the lawsuit this afternoon. –Watch Fox: Chief Intelligence Correspondent Catherine Herridge has the latest on the suit.

WITH YOUR SECOND CUP OF COFFEE...
Zut alors! Virginian Charles Hurt was not impressed by the twin presidential visit to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. “It is easy to imagine Jefferson’s soul, which lurks around every doorway, in every boxwood bush at Monticello, weeping at President Obama’s words. But more likely, he chuckled – if mournfully. This always is how tyranny hatches, and nobody warned us of it more starkly than Jefferson. Touring alongside Mr. Obama was French President François Hollande, who looks more like a dirty little man in a short trench coat than a president. Oh my, how far we have fallen since Gen. George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette…”

Got a TIP from the RIGHT or LEFT? Email FoxNewsFirst@FOXNEWS.COM

POLL CHECK
Real Clear Politics Averages

Obama Job Approval: Approve –  43.1 percent//Disapprove – 52.3 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 29.1 percent//Wrong Track – 63.3 percent
Generic Congressional Ballot:  Democrats – 40.7 percent// Republicans 41.7 percent

UNIONS SUFFER SETBACK IN COSTLY SAN DIEGO RACE
After putting over $2 million behind Democratic San Diego Councilman David Alvarez, unions suffered a stinging loss in the city’s mayoral race. With all precincts reporting, Republican Kevin Faulconer beat Alvarez, 54.5 percent to 45.5 percent to replace disgraced former Democratic Mayor Bob Filner, who was forced out of office over sexual misconduct. The result is a boon to Southern California Republican House candidates hoping the midterm climate will help the GOP reclaim some of their lost ground in the formerly Republican-friendly region. Fox News reports.

Filner got shady cash from Mexican tycoon - Foreign Policy: “In a first of its kind case, federal prosecutors say a Mexican businessman funneled more than $500,000 into U.S. political races through Super PACs and various shell companies… Local newspaper UT San Diego traced the contributions and identified the candidates as former [Democratic] San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, [Republican] District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, [Democratic] mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher and a U.S. congressman believed to be Juan Vargas (D-CA).”

KASICH TO ADDRESS CONSERVATIVE JEWS
Washington Examiner: “In a move certain to stoke further speculation that he is seriously weighing a bid for the presidency, Ohio Gov. John Kasich will speak at a Republican Jewish Coalition leadership meeting in March, the group announced in an email to members Monday. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Ambassador John Bolton, two other potential Republican presidential contenders, are also slated to speak during the three-day meeting in Las Vegas.”

[Breitbart exclusive: Sarah Palin Confirmed to Speak at CPAC]

BAIER TRACKS: HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE A CLINTON SCORNED
“When it rains, it pours, at least that seems to be the case for not-so-flattering, behind-the-scenes moments for the Clintons. Now, a new memoir by Congressman Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. details how former President Bill Clinton reacted to his wife's South Carolina primary loss to Barack Obama in 2008. Clyburn recounts receiving an explosive 2 a.m. phone call from the former president.   US News has the eye-opening excerpt. Bottom line: One has to wonder how many more interesting, still unrevealed stories of Clinton power moves are yet to come – even before there is officially a candidate Hillary Clinton.” – Bret Baier

Bubba pitches for Ross - Former President Bill Clinton is lending a hand today to Arkansas Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Mike Ross. In an email to Ross supporters, Politico reports, Clinton writes: “When I was running for governor of Arkansas in 1982, a talented and energetic young man named Mike Ross was a big help to me and my campaign. Mike drove me all over the state and I became close friends with him. I even had a hunch that someday he might run for governor himself…”  Clinton adds: “Take it from someone who knows a thing or two about being governor of Arkansas: Mike Ross will be a great one.” This is the Big He’s first foray into a gubernatorial contest since stumping for longtime fundraiser Terry McAuliffe’s successful campaign in Virginia last year. The race to replace term-limited Gov. Mike Beebe, D-Ark., is shaping up as a narrow contest between Ross, a former House member, and Republican frontrunner Asa Hutchison, a former congressman and head of the DEA.

CRIST FUNDRAISING STILL SHRIVELING
Sunshine State News: “Gov. Rick Scott [R-Fla.] brought in a campaign haul four times larger than former Gov. Charlie Crist [now a Democrat] did in the month of January, according to campaign finance reports. Scott’s ‘Let’s Get to Work’ political committee raked in $3.4 million for the month of January. When coupled with $743,000 in contributions to his campaign account, the governor brought in $4.1 million in the first month of 2014.  Charlie Crist… brought in $637,000 through his ‘Charlie Crist for Florida’ political committee and $375,000 from his own campaign, totaling $1,012,000 -- only a quarter of what Scott raised. So far, Gov. Scott severely outpaces Crist in the fundraising game – he’s raised $32,263,000 so far while Crist, who announced he’d be running for governor in November, has raised a total of $5,048,000.”

RAUNER LEADS GOP PACK IN ILLINOIS GUBERNATORIAL PRIMARY
Republican businessman Bruce Rauner is the clear frontrunner in Illinois’ GOP primary leading his challengers by 20 points in a Chicago Tribune/WGN poll.

PENNSYLVANIA DEM GOV FRONTRUNNER BACKS LEGAL POT
“During a lengthy discussion with Philadelphia Weekly on Monday, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz [D-Pa.] revealed that not only is she in favor of medical marijuana at the state level, but she’d be open to decriminalizing simple possession of the plant, as well, if she were governor.”

PICK SIX: TINSEL IN THE BLUEGRASS
The GOP needs to pick up six seats to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats. Which six seats currently held by the blue team could go red? Based on Fox News First reader emails and tweets the consensus is: Arkansas, Montana, Louisiana, South Dakota, North Carolina and Alaska. But reader Scott Donaldson of Keller, Texas reminds us that Democrats would be hugely helped by potential GOP losses in either of the two races – Georgia and Kentucky – where nasty Republican primary fights give Democrats a chance to offset expected losses elsewhere. “I think the general consensus is pretty much right on,” but notes that “with all the Hollywood money pouring into Kentucky, I think [Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell] could lose.”

Share your top six picks. Email them – just your top six, please – to FOXNEWSFIRST@FOXNEWS.COM or tweet @cstirewalt.

MADISON PAC BACKS ‘INVIOLABLE’ BROUN FOR GEORGIA SENATE
The Madison Project, a conservative group led by former Rep. Jim Ryun’s, R-Kans.,  announced its support Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga. “It is not an exaggeration to say that Congressman Paul Broun (R-GA) has sustained the most conservative voting record over the longest period of time of any sitting Republican in Congress,” states the Madison Project press release announcing the endorsement. “Even the fiercest conservative fighters tend to succumb to the establishment meat grinder after a few years.  Paul Broun has been inviolable.” Broun faces colleagues Reps. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., and Jack Kingston R-Ga., former secretary of state Karen Handel, and businessman David Perdue in a May 20 primary.

GRAHAM SPENDS BIG TO TOUT CONSERVATIVE CRED
With four months left until South Carolina’s GOP Senate primary, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is spending big to burnish his conservative credentials. The Palmetto State senator just launched a six-figure radio and television ad campaign. The ad praises Graham for opposing ObamaCare “from day one,” leading the “fight on Benghazi,” and for being “a conservative leader who gets things done.” Five Republicans are in the running to replace the two-term incumbent.

GILLESPIE CLOSES IN ON WARNER
A new poll conducted by the Republican Firm Harper Polling for the conservative American Action Forum finds Republican Ed Gillespie narrowing Sen. Mark Warner’s, D-Va., lead. According to the survey, Warner now leads the former Republican National Committee chairman 44 percent to 38 percent. Earlier polling showed Warner leading Gillespie by over 20 points. Politico reports.

MOURNING THEIR HOUSE CHANCES
“President Barack Obama will host a fundraiser for House Democrats at the home of former NBA star Alonzo Mourning. That's according to an invitation to the event obtained by The Associated Press. The event in Miami on March 20 will benefit the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers will also attend.”

THAT’S NOR-WAY TO WIN CONFIRMATION
President Obama
’s nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Norway, George Tsunis, is a big-time political patron of the president’s but not much of an expert on the Scandinavian nation.  T. Michael Davis of the Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce is pleading for the Senate to reject Tsunis, who operates a 10-motel chain in the Northeastern U.S. On Davis’ list of complaints: “Well, he acknowledged he has never even been to Norway… He repeatedly referred to its prime minister as a ‘president,’ apparently unaware Norway is a parliamentary democracy. He attacked Norway’s governing center-right coalition by disparaging the nation’s third-largest political party – a key player that holds no less than seven minister posts – mistakenly characterizing it as a group of ‘fringe elements’ that ‘spew their hatred.’… Norwegians of all political stripes were deeply insulted, causing one member of Parliament to demand an apology from President Obama. …The headline of a Norwegian daily smoldered: ‘Future US envoy displays total ignorance of Norway,’ characterizing Tsunis as ‘faltering’ and ‘incoherent’ and committing ‘a jaw-dropping diplomatic blunder before he even begins.’” Of course, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Noah Bryson Mamet, also an Obama political contributor, admitted he’d never been to Argentina, the country he’s been nominated to serve as U.S. ambassador.

[New at Fox News Opinion - John Stossel considers Privileged People: “For the first time in history, six of the richest counties in the U.S. surround D.C. When a small group of people gets to dispense $3.6 trillion and set rules that can help or kill your idea, you want to suck up to them.”]

Better than tote bags and coffee mugs - Slate offers a cool map to show what President Obama’s top donors have given to be rewarded with diplomatic postings. It takes more than $1 million to get a prime spot like Britain or Thailand that brings the connections and prestige to get even richer, but you can slide into the sunny Dominican Republic for a cool half-million dollars.

RUN FOR IT!
This can’t be good. Florida and Louisiana readers please take note: University of Tennessee Study Finds Crocodiles Climb Trees “[Researchers] observed crocodile species on three continents – Australia, Africa and North America... Some species were observed climbing as far as [13 feet] high in a tree and [16 feet] down a branch.” And they can trick us too! “Research… found another surprising crocodile characteristic – the use of lures such as sticks to hunt prey.” What’s next? Driving cars? Firearms?

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“You talk about the bailout of insurers: There’s an overwhelming majority of Americans who will say ‘no’ … and I would have liked to see the Democrats defend the bailout and risk the debt ceiling. But, there weren’t enough Republicans in the House who would do that, and thus, [House Speaker John Boehner] had no cards, and thus, he had to fold. It was the right thing to do, given his circumstances.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

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.