Thursday, November 18, 2010

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010

 Today In Washington

The House. Convened at 10 and is expected to send legislation to Obama that will make it easier for federal employees to work from home. It also will debate legislation extending eligibility for longer-term unemployment benefits until the end of February, at a cost of $13 billion. Because of GOP opposition to the absence of any budgetary offset, Democrats won’t be able to round up the two-thirds majority required for passage under suspension of the rules. (An estimated 2 million could lose their jobless benefits at month’s end without the bill.) The last vote of the week is expected by 2:30.

The ethics committee will meet at noon to begin deliberating its proposed punishment of Charlie Rangel, who was convicted by an ethics subcommittee on Tuesday of a dozen House rules violations. A reprimand of the New York Democrat by the full House is the likeliest outcome.

The Senate. Convened at 9:30 and is in its second day on legislation to boost the FDA’s powers to prevent food-borne illness. (There will be a break between 12:30 and 3 so the Democrats can have their weekly caucus lunch.) Yesterday’s 74-25 cloture vote allowing debate to begin is a clear sign the food safety measure will pass today or tomorrow. The House passed its version last year, and advocates say the two bills can be reconciled relatively easily.

The White House. Obama is still meeting with congressional Democratic leaders this morning, even though top Republicans said they could not be there because of scheduling conflicts. (Now the bipartisan summit is supposed to be Nov. 30, although yesterday Reid and Boehner had their first private tête-à-tête as incoming equals.) The president is back on the road at 11 tonight, flying to Lisbon for NATO and EU summits.

So Many Numbers. The Obama fiscal commission is meeting behind closed doors to continue its deliberations before unveiling its report in two weeks. In addition to the Bowles-Simpson plan unveiled a week ago, the commission is considering various other proposals — including one from the most influential Republican on the panel, incoming House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, that would replace Medicare with an annual voucher that future retirees could use to purchase medical insurance.

Ryan’s partner in that idea, former Clinton budget chief Alice Rivlin, was standing next  to retired Senate Budget Chairman Pete Domenici in laying out the Bipartisan Policy Center’s grand plan yesterday. It would cut a cumulative $5.9 trillion from deficits in the next decade, or about 50 percent more  than Bowles-Simpson. Roughly half of the BPC’s deficit reduction would come from revenue increases, including a new 6.5 percent national sales tax dedicated to deficit reduction. Bowles-Simpson would make $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in higher taxes.

Even more tax-centric plans are coming from two liberal coalitions. New York’s public policy group Demos (in partnership with The Century Foundation and the Economic Policy Institute) as well as the Citizens’ Commission on Jobs, Deficits and the American Economy both will put out plans at the same time as the Obama commission. The conservative Americans for Tax Reform, on the other hand, issued a proposal this week that would balance the budget in five years without raising taxes and without cutting Social Security or Medicare.

None of these plans has a chance of attracting serious numbers of congressional supporters — a fact of political life underscored with today’s release of the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Yes, 2 in 3 voters surveyed said that the need to cut spending was a big factor in their votes for Congress this month. But 7 in 10 people polled describe themselves as opposed to cutting  any of the three biggest items in the budget: Medicare, Social Security and the military. And 3 out of 5 said they’d be uncomfortable changing the tax code to reduce the deficit.

Once a Whip, Always a Whip, Part I. Roy Blunt, who was regarded as a highly effective House GOP whip during his 2003-08 tenure in the job, is dusting off his vote-corralling skills as he prepares to move to the Senate. This morning he got nine of his dozen his freshman-elect Republican colleagues to endorse delaying the Senate debate on the Russian arms control treaty until next year — when, of course, they would have a vote. The three who did NOT sign: Mark Kirk of Illinois, Dan Coats of Indiana and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

The administration insists it’s going to be able to get the 67 votes it needs — which means winning over nine Republicans — to ratify the treaty by the end of this year. Next year, that number rises to 14.

Once a Whip, Always a Whip, Part II. Hoyer and Pelosi have one of the House’s legendary rivalries, dating to their days as college interns for the same Maryland senator in the 1960s. He got beat the first two times he ran for Democratic whip, the second time by Pelosi in 2001. But he got the job in 2002, and then moved up to majority leader these past four years. Now he’s bumped back down the ladder — entirely because Pelosi surprised so many by deciding to stick around.

But is he sounding bitter, at least in public? Not at all. Instead, he’s already out working to rally his fractured and bruised caucus. To that end, Hoyer declared in an interview with Roll Call yesterday that “I don’t think it was a mistake” that Pelosi decided to stay in the leadership.

Names to Know. It’s essentially impossible for Beltway insiders to recognize House members-elect without the aid of some sort of old-fashioned “face book,” especially in settings off Capitol Hill. At a cocktail reception for this year’s enormous freshman class last night, not a single journalist (this one included) could reliably pick out a single one of the honored guests.

But some of the Republican newcomers already are gaining a higher profile than the rest. Seven of them have already won their second elections of this month, because they were chosen by their colleagues yesterday to represent the 85-member class (which may yet grow to 90) in the leadership ranks.  Two tea party favorites, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Kristi Noem of South Dakota, were chosen as delegates to sit with the eight elected senior leaders at their deliberations. Todd Rokita, who’s been Indiana’s secretary of state since 2003, former state Sen. Joe Heck of Nevada and former federal prosecutor Pat Meehan of the Philadelphia suburbs were selected to serve on the Steering Committee, which assigns GOP members to their committees. Austin Scott of Georgia was chosen as class president and Diane Black of Tennessee as freshman representative on the Policy Committee.

Trailblazer. John Lewis, who showed up for his own freshman orientation as Atlanta’s congressman 24 years ago this month, will be one of this year’s 15 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The last surviving speaker from the 1963 civil rights march on Washington, and the leader of the “Bloody Sunday” march in 1965 from Selma to Montgomery, he remains Congress’ most influential voice on race relations.

Among the others who will get the medal from Obama in February are the first President Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, author Maya Angelou, investor Warren Buffett, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, painter Jasper Johns, baseball great Stan Musial, basketball great Bill Russell and former AFL-CIO president John Sweeney.

— David Hawkings, editor


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David Hawkings

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