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Morning Action: A Grand Bargain is Washington Code for Compromising Principles

CIRCULAR FIRING SQUAD.  Moderate Republicans aren’t putting their best foot forward to unite the GOP around conservative principles:

Rep. Tom Cole has firmly staked out a position as a foil to conservative hard-liners in the GOP conference, using the media’s megaphone to push back against Republicans who want to hold a firmer line in spending battles with President Barack Obama.

In recent weeks, he’s compared the GOP’s right flank to the drunk uncle of a dysfunctional family, suggested Republican critics of the Violence Against Women Act were racist, and singed the tactics of Speaker John A. Boehner’s detractors as “amateur night at the Bijou.”

Still, Cole’s recent moves have earned him some enmity on the right, with one GOP lawmaker privately calling him a “joke,” and his closeness to GOP leadership has prompted questions about whether Cole is speaking as a conduit on behalf of Ohio’s Boehner.

“As House GOP leaders push for unity on all fronts, moderates within the party appear exempt. Rarely are they called to the carpet for creating fissures within the party or initiating a circular firing squad,” said Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action for America, a conservative outside group.

OBAMA WOOS.  The President wants to form a “caucus of common sense” to reach a grand bargain on deficit reduction:

President Barack Obama’s outreach to Republicans this week has revived flagging hopes for a grand budget bargain even though there has been no breakthrough on the key question of taxes.

Obama has called more than a half-dozen Republicans, dined with 12 and had lunch Thursday with House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and ranking member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. And there’s more to come, including a visit to each GOP caucus in the Capitol next week.

Plus, the Republicans who Obama hopes will help form a “caucus of common sense” are ignoring blowback among some conservative activists and groups.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has led the charge to thaw the relations between the White House and the GOP — compiling the list of a dozen Republicans who dined with the president Wednesday night at the Jefferson Hotel at the president’s request.

Graham again held out hope Thursday for a grand bargain including a tax overhaul deal that would lower rates and help pay down the debt. And he dismissed criticism he’s gotten for reaching out to the president.

Heritage Action CEO Michael A. Needham was skeptical:

Republican senators who are feeling optimistic about the possibility of a deficit reduction deal after dining with President Obama last night should explain their enthusiasm. The only reason for optimism is if the President promised that tax increases are completely off the table.  A fine dining experience with the President of the United States may be enjoyable, but until he jettisons his flawed, economically damaging approach to deficit reduction, there is little reason for excitement.  

GRIDLOCK.  Some reporters believe advocacy groups create gridlock in Washington, but they also acknowledge scorecards also help constituents who identify with their principles where lawmakers truly stand on the issues:

The advocacy groups argue that their scorecards help the public determine how their own members of Congress are voting. But the votes also add to the growing gridlock on Capitol Hill, with some members reluctant to compromise, particularly on hot button issues like taxes and gun control, for fear of getting a negative score from an important advocacy group.

A less than stellar rating can be used against an incumbent by a political opponent, and a good score can generate positive publicity with voters who share the rating group’s point of view, not to mention generate significant campaign donations.

“These vote scoring groups can be very influential,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “Some of the bigger (ones on right and left) even claim their members’ offices will call and ask whether a particular upcoming vote will be included in the group’s scorecard. The legislators don’t want to take a chance on being downgraded and losing backing to a rival in the party primary – which is the real election in most districts today.”

SEQUESTER.  Despite the sequester, the folks in Washington can still say the Easter Bunny is coming to town:

Days after announcing it will suspend public tours of the White House because of the sequester, the Obama administration says it has no plans to cancel this year’s Easter Egg Roll.

The annual event on the South Lawn, scheduled for April 1 this year, is always a hot ticket. Each year, the White House holds a lottery–this year’s has already been completed–that draws thousands of requests from Americans around the country for precious few tickets.

White House spokesman Jay Carney says the Obama administration plans to continue the tradition this year, despite budget problems.

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