Friday, November 19, 2010

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, Nov. 19, 2010

 Today In Washington

The Senate. Convened at 10:30. A deal is apparently imminent to allow voice-vote passage today of legislation allowing payments that would complete settlements of claims brought by American Indians for mismanagement of trust funds and by African-American farmers for discrimination.

Kent Conrad announced he would remain chairman of the Budget Committee, allowing Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow to take the gavel at Agriculture Committee, which Conrad also was considering.
The House. Not in session. The freshmen have been drawing lots to decide the pecking order for picking office suites and will swarm the Cannon and Longworth buildings this afternoon to scope out the available real estate. (Rayburn is full-up.)

The White House. In Lisbon for a NATO summit, Obama also has one-on-one meeting scheduled with both President Aníbal Cavaco Silva and Prime Minister José Socrates of Portugal and with President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia.

Dec. 17 is the New Dec. 3. The post-Thanksgiving portion of the lame duck is destined to last at least to the Friday that is a week before Christmas Eve. That’s NOT to say those three weeks beginning Nov. 29 will be filled with legislative accomplishment. Standoffs and temporary extensions are going to be the order of the day. So why won’t Congress just execute its delay-or-punt moves and then go home for the holidays? Because the outgoing House Democratic majority can’t bring itself to say an early goodbye to its time in power. And the Senate, of course, can’t bring itself to do anything quickly.

The bill to bolster federal regulation of the food supply is the latest example. Reid threatened to keep senators in town over the weekend to get it done. That drew a bipartisan chorus of “I don’t think so” from other senators and, as so often happens with such threats, he didn’t make good on it. So now the Senate will return to that bill in 10 days, when it will become hostage for a time to debates over restraining earmarks and repealing a particularly unpopular part of the health overhaul — requiring companies to tell the IRS about any vendor who gets more than $600 a year. Only after those votes might the food-safety bill get passed the night of Nov. 29. (The House is signaling it will clear the Senate measure.)

Given the lengthy machinations Reid has to go through to advance even a bill with significant GOP support, it’s impossible to see how he’ll get votes on taxes, the spending package, jobless benefits,  defense authorization, his immigration bill and the New START arms control treaty done within those three weeks.

The tax debate alone will probably take at least a week, and that’s assuming Obama and the Democrats can settle on an approach. That didn’t happen when the president, Pelosi and Reid talked it over yesterday, because their party is so split over whether to acquiesce in a temporary extension of all the Bush tax cuts — which Republicans have set as their floor for support — or insist on their campaign pledge that the breaks should not be continued on income above $250,000. Look for Reid to schedule test votes on both options before the real negotiating gets under way.

Tea Party Conversations. The movement’s favorite current senator, Jim DeMint, and its favorite current congresswoman, Michele Bachmann, are both drawing a bit of unexpected attention today.

Fellow conservative Republicans are amazed, and lobbyists are buzzing, at word that Bachmann is sticking up for pork-barrel spending — so long as it’s for public works projects. “I don’t believe that building roads and bridges and interchanges should be considered an earmark,” she told CQ’s Kathryn A. Wolfe, asserting that there is a big difference between a “tea pot museum” and a bridge. Her comments underscore how lawmakers of both parties are having a tough time, politically and semantically, deciding what an earmark is — but that Republicans seem to think that highways back home shouldn’t count.

DeMint, who recruited several of the tea party favorites who won Senate seats — but  several more who defeated establishment recruits in primaries and then lost in November — finally got a dressing-down from John Cornyn, who officially runs the Senate GOP campaign operation. Roll Call’s John Stanton reports that at a closed door session yesterday, Cornyn made it clear he doesn’t want colleagues working behind his back in the runup to 2012, when the GOP is in striking range of taking back the Senate.

The Roybal Precedent? As Charlie Rangel gets ready to face his punishment on the House floor in two weeks, he can take small comfort in this: In the history of the modern congressional ethics process, only once has the House voted to impose a lesser sanction than the ethics committee recommended. In 1978, the panel proposed censure (the same punishment they called for yesterday for Rangel) for California Democrat Ed Roybal, who had lied to the committee about a $1,000 gift from Korean lobbyist Tongsun Park. But the House voted for a less-onerous reprimand after a vigorous lobbying campaign by Roybal and Hispanic leaders across the country, who noted that two white lawmakers implicated in the Korean vote-buying scandal were only given reprimands. (On two other occasions, the committee called for a reprimand but the House issued a censure instead.) Roybal retired in 1992 and was succeeded by his daughter Lucille Roybal-Allard.

Message Exit. He’s been in the middle distance of countless news photographs in the past two decades, at the side of George Mitchell, then Ted Kennedy and Harry Reid whenever they confronted the Capitol press corps. But by the end of the year Jim Manley will be gone as Reid’s senior communications adviser, headed downtown for a job he says he hasn’t landed yet.

Manley’s move is the latest in the post-election shakeup in the top ranks of the Senate Democrats, designed mainly to improve their messaging. Reid’s put that job in the ever-expanding portfolio of Chuck Schumer, who’s already got the Nevadan talking more about the plight of the middle class whenever he comes to the mics.

               — David Hawkings, editor


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David Hawkings

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