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If this year's payroll tax cut is extended -- and possibly expanded -- for another year, it will prevent the economy from taking a significant hit at a time when demand is weak and unemployment remains unacceptably high.

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On a call with reporters, Sen. Jim Talent emphasized that he did not like attacking anyone, particularly someone in the Republican Party, but that he had decided to attack Newt Gingrich because the stakes in this election are so high: ‘I’m doing this even though I’m reluctant to do it. Everyone knows I don’t like to do this…but I just think the stakes are so high."

Sen. Jim Talent and Gov. John Sununu questioned whether Newt Gingrich could be trusted as commander-in-chief. Sununu stressed that Gingrich’s tendency to make “off-the-cuff” remarks is reflective of his “off-the-cuff thinking.”

Sen. Talent is asked why Newt is surging, and he says,

“I think it’s the fluidness of the primary process. Personally I think the Rep party embraces new sets of leaders slowly; gets used to them slowly, so there’s a lot of people who are very fluid.”

He continues:

“What is true is Governor Romney has had a strong core of support for months and months, and he’s used that to organize and prepare, and we can be ready to use that throughout the election.”

Sen. Talent says on the Romney oppo call about when Newt used to be the House Leader: “We were in a situation every morning where we having to get up every morning to check the clippings (this was in the days before the internet) to see what the speaker said that day to see what you were going to have to clean up in your own district.”

On Romney’s oppo call, Sen. Jim Talent says that if the nominee is Romney, then the election will be about “Obama’s failed policies.” But if Newt is the nominee, then “then the election is going to be about the Republican nominee,” which he says is exactly what the Democrats want.

In their first major swipe at Newt Gingrich, the Mitt Romney campaign is offering a “contrast” between the two candidates' on Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan, which Gingrich derided as “right wing social engineering.”

“That was just inaccurate,” ex-Sen. Jim Talent said. “The Speaker’s remarks just came from nowhere. Paul Ryan was completely blindsided, that’s why he said ‘With allies like this, who needs enemies on the left?’”

Here’s the funny thing: Gingrich and Romney actually have similar positions on Medicare, neither of which is Ryan’s plan. Both of them ended up proposing creating a premium support program in which seniors purchase private health insurance a la Ryan, but they both crucially said they’d keep traditional Medicare as an option alongside the system — something Ryan, very pointedly, would not do.

On the Romney camp oppo call, Sen. Jim Talent pulls a “more in sorrow than in anger” routine over Newt Gingrich, saying that while he’s often smart, “he also says outrageous things that come from nowhere, and he has a tendency to say them at times when they most undermine the conservative agenda.” The issue he particularly picks out is the Ryan Plan.

Talent also says of Newt, “he’s not a reliable and trusted conservative leader because he’s not a reliable leader.”

Mitt Romney is fully engaging Newt Gingrich today, and we’ve just had our look at one of the first attacks. The Romney campaign sent out a release Thursday entitled “WITH FRIENDS LIKE NEWT, WHO NEEDS THE LEFT?”, which calls out Gingrich for his comments early in the campaign criticizing the House Republican budget plan (which included a dismantling of Medicare in favor of a voucher system) “right wing social engineering.”

The European Central Bank has cut its main interest rate by a quarter-point to a record 1.0 low, Reuters reports, ahead of an important EU summit in Brussels Thursday. Reuters reports that ECB President Mario Draghi is expected to announce further action to support teetering banks.