Tuesday, November 16, 2010

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010

 Today In Washington

The Senate. It’s not in session. Both parties re-elected their current leadership slates this morning. The special panel that held the impeachment trial of federal Judge Thomas Porteous will vote to send its findings to the full Senate. The Banking Committee will endorse the Fed nomination of Peter Diamond.

The House. Convenes at 12:30 p.m. and at 2 will begin debating as many as 20 non-controversial measures. Marlin Stutzman of northeast Indiana and Tom Reed of upstate New York will be the first two Republican freshmen sworn in, because theirs were special elections to replace lawmakers who resigned. Reed is feeling better after being hospitalized for respiratory problems soon after arriving for orientation over the weekend. Deliberations are continuing in the Charlie Rangel ethics trial.

The White House. Obama will meet this afternoon with Congressional Hispanic Caucus leaders to discuss prospects for  an immigration bill in the lame duck, the last opportunity for such legislation for the foreseeable future. He’ll also award the first Medal of Honor to a living soldier since Vietnam: Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, for heroism in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan in October 2007.

Raising the Earmark Ante. The “ban on earmarks” pushed by many Senate Republicans is only a promise to foreswear such pet projects in the next two years. At a caucus this afternoon, they’ll vote for a non-binding internal rules change that says they’re not supposed to seek such money for their states. For McConnell, it’s one of the biggest back-flips of his career. Yesterday he bowed to his new political reality and endorsed the idea of a ban after decades of promoting his power (and his prerogative) to deliver for Kentucky.

But the real showdown vote on the issue will come as soon as tomorrow. That’s when the Senate could be forced to vote on a legally binding earmark moratorium. Tom Coburn says he will try to add that amendment to a bill that would revamp federal food safety rules. The few remaining GOP appropriators who are safe in their seats (Thad Cochran, Dick Shelby, Lamar Alexander) would likely band together with most Democrats to beat back such an amendment. Although some junior Democrats, among them Claire McCaskill and Mark Udall, may vote for a ban, top appropriators Dan Inouye and Tom Harkin will fight it tooth and nail. That puts them a bit cross-wise with Obama. “I look forward to working with Democrats and Republicans to not only end earmark spending,” the president declared yesterday, “but to find other ways to bring down our deficits for our children.”

The issue is as important to tea party conservatives as it is inconsequential to the federal balance sheet. Taxpayers for Common Sense, which does the most reliable work tracking earmarks, says that at the very most there are $9 billion in projects written into the dozen appropriations bills for the current year. Those fiscal 2011 bills total $1.1 trillion, meaning that earmarks amount to less than 1 percent of the discretionary spending pie.

If the House GOP gets its way and the earmark curb takes effect immediately, that would assure the lame-duck Congress does nothing more on spending than clear a stopgap continuing resolution lasting into the new year. Democrats won’t countenance an omnibus without any projects. And the tea-party activists who are now swarming across Capitol Hill don’t want anything more than a CR anyway.

Leadership Roulette. The low-grade drama continues for House Democrats. The 42-member Congressional Black Caucus is trying to flex its muscle, signaling today that it won’t endorse Pelosi for minority leader until it’s convinced CBC member Jim Clyburn will have real power and perks next year if he stops running for re-election as whip and instead accepts a new “assistant leader” position — which Pelosi insists will keep him No. 3 in the caucus hierarchy behind her and Hoyer.

The Black Caucus is also signaling that it wants Rangel reinstalled as the top Democrat on Ways and Means, no matter what the outcome of his trial. After Rangel walked out yesterday, a House ethics subcommittee declared that no facts are in dispute, thereby dispensing with witnesses and public arguments and starting its deliberations on the 13 counts that the Harlem Democrat violated the chamber’s rules.

Hoping to jumpstart his campaign to win back the chairmanship of House Appropriations, Jerry Lewis of California is proposing to rescind $12 billion in discretionary money not yet spent in the stimulus law. But he remains the underdog in his race against Harold Rogers of Kentucky, who’s seen as a tiny bit less wedded to the bipartisan spending culture of the past.

Fred Upton’s campaign to become chairman of House Energy and Commerce is also fading. Conservatives, including many freshmen, think he’s had too moderate of a voting record, and Republicans have been unimpressed with the materials he’s put together for his campaign. The smart bet is now that the more junior John Shimkus of Illinois will get that gavel. Nobody is talking about Joe Barton of Texas holding on as the top Republican on the panel.

— David Hawkings, editor

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Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

CQ Today: Lawmakers Warned to Make No Deals

Republicans are being pressed by tea party activists, and Democrats by their liberal base, to avoid any sort of bipartisan collaboration in the lame duck. » View full article

CQ Today: Conservatives Score Win in War on Earmarks

McConnell's about-face in the Senate raises the bar for the GOP. Will it now make its opposition to pet projects binding? » View full article

Roll Call: Rangel Ethics Case Goes Dark

Government reform advocates say the decision to cut short the trial will conceal too much more of the already secretive congressional ethics process. » View full article

Roll Call: Leadership Deal Fails to Allay Democratic Unrest

Pelosi's effort to keep spots in the leadership for both Hoyer and Clyburn have not smoothed the waters in the House Democratic Caucus the way she'd hoped. » View full article

Roll Call: Messages Sent by '10 Voters Weren't 'Either-Or'

Stuart Rothenberg says Democrats are posing some false choices in the post-election questions they're pondering. » View full article

CQ Weekly's Political Economy: Deep Kimchi

John Cranford concludes that what went wrong for the United States on trade with South Korea is nothing compared with the trade dynamic in Congress. » View full article

Congress.org: Border Women Strike for Visibility

Women from a poor community along the Rio Grande want the president to help them secure government funding, so they're holding a hunger strike outside the White House. » View full article
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Contact The Editor

David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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