*** All signs are the government is not shutting down—at least not Oct. 1: Now that the news fog of Ted Cruz's talkathon is starting to clear, all signs are the government is not going to be shutting down—at least not Tuesday when the government runs out of funding. The path to averting a shutdown is still not clear but what is clear is that there are now more paths to NOT shut down. House Speaker John Boehner meets with his conference Thursday to discuss ways forward but if all the reports out there are any indication, it appears all sides are working to avert a showdown over the budget, and instead reserving the fight for the debt ceiling. On the budget side, there are too many solutions that seem to be acceptable that are being thrown around—from a one or two month continuing resolution to even a ONE-WEEK CR. The Senate is speeding things up not slowing down. Majority Leader Harry Reid could slow things down (using Cruz and others as an excuse/reason) and jam Boehner but he's chosen not to, that alone is a sign that there is an attempt to find a solution. The bottom line is there are too many ways that everyone's trying to get this done before Tuesday. Now, this doesn't mean resolving the LARGER budget issues are possible but this short-term crisis appears closer to being averted.——
*** Shifting from shutdown to debt ceiling: The fight looks like it's shifting away from shutdown to the debt ceiling. The Senate is poised to finish up a continuing resolution this weekend. Then the House would have to act. There are no bipartisan negotiations going on, which complicates things, but House Republicans already appear to be looking toward the debt ceiling. The conference discussed debt-ceiling legislation last Friday and "assuming reaction is good again today," according to a GOP aide, the legislation will be posted online Thursday and start moving it "as soon as this weekend." Republicans believe the debt ceiling is a better fight—and a Bloomberg poll out may help their cause. People aren't saying they support a clean increase, they want a debt-ceiling increase with spending cuts by a 61 percent-28 percent margin. And with President Obama appearing a bit more weakened—his approval in a new CBS/NYT poll is just 43 percent/49 percent—it may be harder for him to galvanize folks to his side on this fight. While the White House says they will NOT negotiate over the debt ceiling again, they did help set a precedent that Republicans want to keep which is tie every debt-ceiling increase with some budget cuts. And GENERAL spending cuts are always GENERICALLY popular with the public. The specific cuts? That's a different story but the GENERAL idea of cuts always polls well which is why this issue is so hard right now for the White House and Democrats to navigate.
*** The health-care sprint to the beginning: Shifting to health care, President Obama speaks at 10:55 am ET about it at Prince George's Community College outside Washington. He will tie access to affordable health care to the economy and that it is a necessity for the middle class. This is the latest in the administration's full-court press ahead of Tuesday's exchanges opening. Vice President Biden and the first lady have events on health care as well before Tuesday and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is also on the road, in Texas on Thursday.
*** Teeing up health care—Tuesday is the beginning not the end: That's the way the White House sees Tuesday's opening of exchanges. "There won't be exit polls," said one White House official Wednesday during one of two health-care briefings with the White House we were in Wednesday. It's more like the beginning of what they see as a six-month period to see what works—and what doesn't and how to fix it. Here's what we learned from Wednesday's briefings: The White House expects enrollment to be slow in October and November with an uptick in December, because coverage doesn't start until Jan. 1. They expect somewhere between 4 and 9 million (the CBO projects 7 million) to sign up in this first year out of 40-million plus who don't have insurance. And they fully expect "glitches." But, they say, what they have found is that despite the law's unpopularity in polls, most people have tuned out traditional sources of information on this—be it the media or politicians from either side. What most people say they trust, according to the White House, is their neighbors and their co-workers, and that when people start to hear stories about friends and neighbors who sign up and were able to get affordable health care when they couldn't before, some of the opposition will mitigate. The philosophy: "You decide for yourself what works for you and your family."
*** Opposition will try to pick implementation apart: The White House says it fully expects the fight that's coming. Every glitch, every exchange that doesn't work properly, every person that says they were on the toll-free hotline longer than they think they should be, and every person who says they're paying more (mostly on the upper-income end), that opponents will seize on those. But the White House thinks it can counter those with stories of people who are benefiting and getting coverage when they couldn't before. They bill these exchanges as groundbreaking—that they will, for the first time, offer people competitive prices (think Expedia or Travelocity) on screen after filling out just eight minutes of information with no insurance underwriting that inflates prices. But all that is going to be a tough sell when half of the political establishment is waging all-out war. Opponents will try to grab every "glitch" that happens and say, "See, look how disastrous this rollout is." They can get 1,999,990 perfectly satisfied customers, but if 10,000 are upset, that 10,000 may get more coverage. That's less than 1 percent, but in the way the public-relations game works, that one half of 1 percent will get a lot of attention. By the way, implementation and all the work going on behind the scenes, highlights just how important the 2012 election was to the law. The Obama White House is using many of the tactics they learned in 2012 to reach younger voters to reach these folks on health care.
*** The debate in Virginia: One of your First Read authors moderated a debate Wednesday night in Virginia between the two men vying to be the commonwealth's next governor—Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R). A few things were clear: they were not afraid to engage, and they were afraid to get specific. There were a couple of clear distinctions between the candidates on the issues—guns, the health-care care law, and education— one whether they'd be for opening schools before Labor Day (McAuliffe's against because of tourism, Cuccinelli's for it). All three are advertisable issues. The question is where is Virginia. On guns, it was striking—for anyone that's covered Virginia politics over the past 20 years—that McAuliffe was so comfortable talking about restrictions on guns, from an assault-weapons ban to background checks to ammunition limitations and challenging the NRA. Between this and the NBC4/NBC News Marist poll showing 54 percent of Virginians are in favor of same-sex marriage (despite the state having a constitutional ban against it), it's more evidence of how Virginia is a little different from the rest of old Confederacy. And it will be a test of just how far it's come … Cuccinelli stood up for his beliefs—the question will be how much has Virginia changed?
—By NBC's Chuck Todd, Domenico Montanaro and Jessica Taylor.