By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
57 TERRIBLE CONSEQUENCES OF THE SEQUESTER: If the heads of 20 federal agencies are to be believed, disastrous consequences await if President Obama and Congress fail to reach a budget deal, triggering the automatic, across-the-board cuts known as "sequestration," notes ABC's Chris Good. Those cuts are slated to begin March 1, and earlier this month, the Senate Appropriations Committee asked agency heads to explain what would happen in such a scenario. They warned of terrible things: Greater risk of wildfires, fewer OSHA inspections and a risk of more workplace deaths, 125,000 people risking homelessness with cuts to shelters and housing vouchers, neglect for mentally ill and homeless Americans, Native Americans getting turned away from hospitals, cuts to schools on reservations and prison lockdowns. There's also a higher risk of terrorism with surveillance limited and the FBI potentially unable to disrupt plots, closed housing projects, and 600,000 women and children thrown off WIC. In short: Unless a budget deal is cut, the country will be in deep trouble, according to the Obama administration's highest-ranking agency officials. Here's what the agency heads warned will occur under a full year of budget sequestration: http://abcn.ws/YpBSCr
ON THE AGENDA: President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden attend the Democratic Governors Association Meeting in Washington, DC today. ABC's Mary Bruce notes that later the president meets with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. Meanwhile, First Lady Michelle Obama is in New York today to talk about the third anniversary of Let's Move! This afternoon she tapes an appearance on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," which airs tonight.
THIS WEEK ON 'THIS WEEK': Two powerhouse roundtables join George Stephanopoulos to tackle the latest challenges at home and abroad, Sunday on "This Week." House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., and Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Rep. Eliot Engel, D-NY, join ABC's George Will and Christiane Amanpour to debate the cyber threat from China and the latest challenges in Syria and Iran. Plus, the political roundtable debates looming budget cuts and all the week's politics, with George Will; Democratic strategist and ABC News contributor Donna Brazile; TIME contributor Steven Brill, author of this week's cover story "Bitter Pill" on rising health care costs; former Lead Auto Adviser and Counselor to the Treasury Secretary Steven Rattner; and Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel. Tune in Sunday: http://abcnews.go.com/thisweek
ABC's RICK KLEIN: This crisis is a quiet one. Some scattered phone calls notwithstanding, real attempts to replace the automatic budget cuts with a negotiated compromise are basically non-existent, with just a week to go. Both sides seem confident with the hands they'll hold after the cuts go into effect. The White House has never seemed more confident in a budget stand-off, actually; President Obama is either singed or strengthened by failed talks of the past, and this time isn't really trying to reach a deal with Republicans. Polls suggest the president is right to feel insulated, since the public is more apt to blame the GOP. But there's only one president at a time, and if the impact is anywhere near what the administration claims it will be - longer airport lines, compromised national defense, a hit to the economy, even more forest fires and workplace deaths - there will be plenty of blame to go around.
ABC's JORDAN FABIAN: Is the possibility of immigration reform failing to pass this year being understated? Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which will likely be tasked with passing an immigration reform bill before it reaches the House floor, on Thursday confirmed he's a hard "no" on a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. That could be a major problem. President Obama has indicated he will not support a bill that does not contain a pathway to citizenship, which is included in the White House and Senate plans. But Goodlatte is joined by many other Republicans who believe a path to citizenship would trample on the rule of law. Plus, there is still lingering distrust between Republicans and Obama when it comes to immigration. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Thursday (who opposes comprehensive immigration reform) voiced these concerns this week. "I don't believe President Obama wants an immigration bill to pass, instead I think he wants a political issue. His objective is to push so much on the table that he forces Republicans [to] walk away from the table because then he wants to use that issue in 2014 and 2016 as a divisive wedge issue," Cruz said, according to the Dallas Morning News. That's not to say that comprehensive immigration reform will fail this year. Politically, the circumstances have never been better for it. But Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo may have summed it up best in saying that it will face a tough road to passage: "This confirms for me my belief that this entire debate is moving forward on the quite false assumption that the actual Republican Party somehow no longer exists. It does."
JON KARL'S QUESTION FOR CARNEY: IS THE U.S. ABOUT TO BECOME A 'SECOND-RATE POWER'? With sweeping budget cuts looming, ABC News' Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl pressed White House Press Secretary Jay Carney yesterday about how these cuts would really impact America's military might. http://abcn.ws/YFaLFm
JONATHAN KARL: Jay, the current secretary of defense said that if the sequester cuts go into effect, we would turn into a second-rate power. Does the president agree that if these cuts go into effect, America will become a second-rate power?
JAY CARNEY: The president agrees with his secretary of defense - his current as well as his future. He agrees with the speaker of the House, he agrees with the numerous Republicans who have said on the record that the onerous cuts in the sequester to defense - the across-the-board, indiscriminate cuts to defense will harm our national security interests, will reduce our readiness, will result in a reduction in flight hours, will result - have resulted already in changes in our rotation for aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf. These are real-world consequences. They also will result, as we learned yesterday, in hundreds of thousands of furlough notices to the men and women who are part of the national security team who work every day to protect the United States and our citizens. So, you know, the consequences here are real.
KARL: But Jay, on the military spending specifically, even if the cuts go into effect, the U.S. will spend more than China, Russia, all of Europe combined, far more. If we're a second-rate power, who's the first-rate power?
CARNEY: Look, I don't think the issue here is the language you use to describe it, because every characterization you make of it, if you're being honest about it, is negative. The impact will be negative. It will harm our national security, and that is a problem.
WHAT WE'RE READING
-" FOR WALMART MOMS, BUDGET BATTLES DON'T HIT HOME," by the Cook Political Report's Amy Walter. "Terms like 'chained CPI,' 'Bowles-Simpson,' and 'CR' are getting thrown around Washington with impunity. But, this isn't the language that moms speak around their kitchen tables. American moms are more worried about filling up their gas tank than the deficit. They are more concerned about the cost of college than the size of the Pentagon budget. Ideological battles over the budget won't pay for braces. They don't expect Washington to fix all their problems. But, they also don't believe that Washington gets their problems. These were the conclusions gleaned from two focus groups of so-called "Walmart moms" conducted for Walmart by Republican pollster Nicole McCleskey and Democratic pollster Margie Omero. This bipartisan group of twenty moms from the suburbs Kansas City, Missouri and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are at once both happy with the quality of their lives, yet still frustrated to still be struggling economically. The most recent Gallup Confidence score captures this ambivalence as well. According to Gallup, 'Americans continue to remain as upbeat about the economy as they have been at any point in the last five years… Still, the public continues to view the economy more negatively than positively as a whole and continues to rank it as the most important problem facing the country.' In other words, Americans no longer feel like they are drowning, but they still feel as if they are treading water."
-" RUBIO REWRITES GOP MEDIA PLAYBOOK," a Reuters Op-Ed by GOP strategist Joe Brettell. "Rubio clearly understands the new media landscape. This was evident when he was caught up in the media storm sparked by his reaching for a water bottle during the Republican response to the State of the Union address. Most politicians today would have gone in a bunker, trying to let the story die. Rubio's decision, however, was to have fun with it - posting a picture of the bottle he drank online, and repeating the gesture in many interviews. … Rubio's romancing of the press even extended beyond U.S. borders this week. During his visit to Israel, he sat for interviews with local TV - a risk, since any gaffe would have been quickly pointed out. … Republicans have looked to Rubio to provide leadership. He has done this on two fronts: solving the GOP's growing disconnect with Latinos and other minority voters; and providing an effective template for how to tell the story to voters without sacrificing his principles. A Grand Old Party hoping to stay relevant would do well to follow his lead." http://reut.rs/15z6B7e
WILL THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION FIGHT FOR GAY MARRIAGE? There is one mystery left to solve before the Supreme Court gathers to hear a challenge to Proposition 8 in late March. That is, ABC's Ariane DeVogue writes, will the Department of Justice weigh in on the case in favor of opponents of Prop 8, the California ballot measure that defined marriage as between one man and one woman? And what will it say? Hollingsworth v. Perry concerns the California ballot initiative, enacted in 2008. In a brief filed with the court on Thursday, opponents of Prop 8 made broad arguments claiming that it is unconstitutional. "Proposition 8 is an arbitrary, irrational and discriminatory measure that denies gay men and lesbians their fundamental right to marry in violation of the due process and equal protection clauses," the opponents said. While the administration will certainly weigh in on the other gay marriage case in front of the court - a challenge to the federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) - it has never filed a brief in the Prop 8 case because it was not directly involved. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. is not required to file a so-called "friend of the court" brief in the Prop 8 case, but sources said the administration is considering the possibility at the highest levels. If it chooses to weigh in, it has to do so by the last week of February. http://abcn.ws/158M7Bh
MISSISSIPPI HOUSE SPEAKER WOOS GUN MAKERS. Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives Philip Gunn has made another move in reaction to potential federal gun control laws, this time wooing gun manufacturers to relocate to his state, reports ABC's Shushannah Walshe. "Gun manufacturers are under attack in anti-Second Amendment states," Gunn said in a release announcing that he sent 14 letters to CEOs of firearm manufacturers across the country Thursday, inviting them to move their operations to Mississippi. He said it is a state "where their industry and jobs will be appreciated." "We need more businesses to establish home base in Mississippi," said Gunn, a Republican. "We can provide these companies with an educated workforce, a superior quality of life, an evolving education system for their children, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing we support their industry." The letters went to manufacturers from Colorado to Connecticut, from North Carolina to New York. They included Smith & Wesson in Massachusetts, Sig Sauer in New Hampshire, Colt Manufacturing Company in Connecticut, Remington Arms Company in North Carolina and ten others. http://abcn.ws/W6HNlC
JOE BIDEN: 'MORAL PRICE TO BE PAID FOR INACTION' ON GUNS. Speaking just more than 10 miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Vice President Joe Biden warned Congress that there is a "moral price" that will be paid if action is not taken to prevent gun violence, reports ABC's Arlette Saenz. "I say to my colleagues who will watch this and listen to this, I say to you: 'If you're concerned about your political survival, you should be concerned about the survival of our children. And, guess what? I believe the price to be paid politically will go to those who refuse to act, who refuse to step forward because America's changed on this issue. You should all know the American people are with us,'" Biden told a conference on gun violence at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Conn. "There's a moral price to be paid for inaction." The vice president praised the families who lost loved ones in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., for the courage they have shown in the past two months and cited their tenacity as an example for all officials working on stemming gun violence. http://abcn.ws/12SYItY
KID PRESIDENT KICKS OFF OFFICIAL EASTER EGG ROLL. The Real President enlisted the help of Kid President yesterday as he kicked off the 2013 lottery for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, notes ABC's Freda Kahen-Kashi and Mary Bruce. Making his Kid President debut, President Obama sent a special message to his mini-me. "Kid President, looks like you got my message," Obama said. "Yes Mr. President, I got your message," Kid President responded over a tin can phone. The 9-year old Kid President is a "self appointed voice for an entire generation," telling it like it is and calling all kids to "keep on giving the world a reason to dance." His platform? "I'm not in a party - I am a party." Robby Novak has become an internet sensation. His video "Pep-talk from Kid President to You" has over 10 million hits on YouTube. As for his RSVP to the Easter Egg Roll, he told the president, "This is historic … Kids dancing. Eggs rolling. I'm in!" http://abcn.ws/138zEPk
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX:
-BLACK LEADERS TO PROTEST GUN CONTROL MEASURES. Star Parker, founder and president of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE), and a group of prominent figures from the black community (including Dr. Ken Hutcherson, former Dallas Cowboys linebacker and pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Washington and Harry C. Alford, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce) will hold a news conference at 9:45 A.M. today at the National Press Club to speak out on the issue of gun control. According to a release, "Parker and other noted thought leaders, authors and speakers will make the case that the gun control laws currently being proposed are misguided because there is no evidence that these policies will prevent gun violence and other tragedies from happening again."
-CONGRESSMEN TALK UP SOUTH CAROLINA HOUSE CANDIDATE. South Carolina GOP Reps. Mick Mulvaney and Jeff Duncan will hold a conference call at 11 a.m. ET to discuss their endorsement of South Carolina 1st Congressional District candidate Larry Grooms. Grooms is running in a crowded field of candidates that includes former Gov. Mark Sanford for the seat vacated by former congressman (now senator) Tim Scott. Call information: (866) 866-1333 http://tinyurl.com/a9pqcre
@igorvolsky: Happy National Margarita Day!