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Should the United States fund the service program AmeriCorps? President Obama would increase its budget. Rep. Paul Ryan would eliminate federal funding for the program.

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Posted at 08:31 AM ET, 03/18/2011

The Morning Plum

* Former lobbyists writing legislation favored by special interests: Read of the morning: R. Jeffrey Smith and Dan Eggen have some great reporting on a new trend: The increase this year in the number of former lobbyists who have taken jobs as House GOP staffers and are literally writing legislation sought by former employers, such as oil and energy interests.

House Republicans defend the practice, claiming it’s a good way to ensure staffers have deep policy knowledge, and Dems also have hired lobbyists. But critics point to a glaring conflict of interest, particularly since these staffers can simply cycle back into their private sector jobs. Either way, this story deserves some real pickup.

* History marches on: Big news in the new Washington Post/ABC News poll: For the first time in nearly a decade of polling, more than half of Americans say it should be legal for gays and lesbians to marry, the results of an inexorable long-term shift in public opinion.

Key finding: Clear majorities of independents (58 percent) and moderates (63 percent) agree. In other words, support for same sex marriage now seems to be the mainstream American position.

The political backdrop, of course, is that the Obama administration recently announced it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court, while Republicans have vowed to keep defending it.

* Americans don’t see a difference between the parties’fiscal worldviews: Paul Krugman on why the willingness of many Dems to prioritize deficit reduction over jobs has muddled the difference between the two parties and left Dems stumbling around on the GOP’s rhetorical turf — and the losers are the unemployed.

* Paul Ryan fortifies the shock troops for “entitlement reform”: Meanwhile, House GOP budget kingpin Paul Ryan is urging Republicans to prepare themselves for a major effort tostorm the beaches of Social Security and Medicare reform.

Key takeaway: This will present another opportunity for Dems to draw a sharp contrast between the parties, but who knows if they’ll avail themselves of it.

* Dems botching budget fight: Rather than emphasize the human costs of proposed GOP cuts, they have allowed themselves get drawn into a numbers debate over how much is necessary to cut, a rhetorical frame that favors Republicans.

* Takedown of the day: Right-leaning writer Michael Gerson on how James O’Keefe’s sting videos were “selective and deceptive” and “manufactured an elaborate, alluring lie.”

* Dems falling behind as 2012 Senate races heat up: Democrats are hoping against hope that their desired recruits for the Virginia, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and Northa Dakota senate races to agree to take the plunge, because Republicans are far ahead in the recruiting game and control of the senate hangs in the balance.

* Heartland warming to Obama? An interesting take from Ronald Brownstein on why middle American voters may be revising their opinion of the President.

* Labor history lesson of the day:The AFL-CIO is planning a series of events across the country in honor of Martin Lurther King, and is encouraging union organizers to remind people that King was in Memphis on that fateful day in April in order to help sanitation workers organize.

* Who is writing the talking points for Wisconsin Republicans? Greg Dworkin reminds us: “When you see theterm `union boss,’ you know the script was written in D.C.”

* Obama wants to keep any Libya intervention international: Jake Tapper reports that Obama wants to ensure that any military action be seen as a “showdown between the Libyan regime and the international community,” including “consipcuous Arab involvement.” The goal: To avoid feeding “Gadhafi’s megalomanical worldview by making this confrontation him versus Obama.”

But wait, won’t Obama’s cautious approach to an extremely dicey international crisis make America look weak?

* And 2012 GOP contenders split on whether to cut defense spending: An important development: Haley Barbour’s willingness to entertain defense spending has opened up a divide between 2012 GOP hopefuls over whether budget cuts should extend to the Pentagon.

Needless to say, the more ostentations panderers — Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich — say absolutely not.

What else is happening?

By  |  08:31 AM ET, 03/18/2011

 
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