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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Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

CQ Today: Senators Brace for Lame-Duck Battles as Late-December Session Looms

The long Democratic "must-do" roster is running headlong into internal discord, Republican opposition and the Senate's culture of delay. » View full article

CQ Today: Unemployment Benefits Imperiled

Yesterday's rejection by the House of a three-month extension showed how the midterm election has changed the political dynamic on the issue. » View full article

CQ Today: Infrastructure Aid May Survive GOP Earmark Ban

While backing their party's pledge to swear off earmarks, many Republicans see wiggle room for funneling money to transportation projects back home. » View full article

CQ Weekly: Re-Energized Republicans Renew Energy Debates

The Obama energy agenda is finished. Newly elected Republicans may back some programs to create jobs without increasing deficits, but grand experiments are out. » View full article

Roll Call: Sources: Cornyn Jabs at DeMint's Interference in Primaries

The head of the senate GOP campign operation told his tea party colleague to butt out of 2012 recruiting. » View full article

Roll Call: Lottery Puts Prime Office Space Within Grasp of Freshmen

The fact that one in five House seats is turning over creates plenty of choice options for freshmen as they pick their office suites. » View full article

Congress.org: When D.C. Goes Hollywood

Bill Clinton is not the first politician to take a brief turn in a Hollywood movie. We took a look at some other cameos from Washington's glitterati. » View full article
-----

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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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Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

CQ Weekly: Ryan Heads Into the Budget Breach

He's long been seen by insiders as a savvy fiscal policy player. As the new House Budget chairman, and with the deficit near the top among Washington's worries, the Wisconsin Republican is stepping into a national stage. » View full article

Roll Call: Boehner, Reid Make First Overture

They've been in Congress together for two decades, but the new House Speaker and the Senate majority leader have no relationship to speak of. » View full article

Congress.org: Honeymoon's Over for Tea Party

In their rush to make sure the soon-to-be lawmakers don't "sell out," the tea parties have struggled to strike a balance between supporter and watchdog. » View full article

CQ Today: Lawmakers Seek Endgame on Legislation to Strengthen FDA Authorities

The Senate hasn't passed its bill yet, but negotiations with the House are already starting on what could be a top achievement of the lame duck. » View full article

Roll Call: Hoyer Defends Pelosi's Decision to Run

He says he trusts his longtime rival's judgment when she says she can still be effective now that she's leading a disgruntled minority. » View full article

Roll Call: Even if Expelled, Rangel Could Return Next Year

Quirks in the rules are an incentive for the House to mete out its punishment before the end of the year. » View full article

CQ Today: 'Peekaboo Body Scanners' Give Pause to a Security-Conscious GOP

Republicans like to boast that theirs is the party that takes domestic security more seriously – until, that is, they get the full pat down at the airport. » View full article
-----

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dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010

 Today In Washington

The Senate. Convened at 9:30 and is voting on whether to invoke cloture and start debating legislation that would boost federal regulation of food safety — by giving the FDA power to mandate recalls, to set new standards for manufacturers and to oversee shipments of fruits and vegetables.

Senators voted 58-41 against invoking cloture on motion that would have allowed debate on a bill aiming to narrow the gender gap in wages. The tally was two votes short of the amount needed to advance the bill, effectively dooming it for the year.

Any chance for an energy bill this year also died last night when Reid canceled a third cloture vote, originally set for today, on a bill to promote natural gas and electric cars.

The House. Convened at 10 and is expected to sustain Obama’s veto of a bill that he says could unintentionally make it more difficult for homeowners to challenge foreclosures. The vote is expected after 4. The measure, which cleared after voice votes in both the House and Senate, would increase notarization requirements on mortgage paperwork.

The White House. Obama sent Hillary Clinton to the Capitol this morning to try to revive prospects for the Russian arms control treaty. Senate ratification became a decided longshot yesterday after GOP Whip Jon Kyl announced his opposition, stunning a  White House that thought it could negotiate for his support — and with it the backing of enough other Republicans to reach the required 67 votes. After meeting with the top senators on Foreign Relations, John Kerry and Richard Lugar, she boldly predicted ratification by the end of the year — but did not signal her strategy for getting that done. After her Capitol trip, the secretary of State is then headed to the White House Situation Room to discuss Afghanistan and Pakistan with the president and the rest of his national security team.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like...  Hill Democrats’ ambitions for their lame duck are shrinking by the day. But the session is destined to last deep into December, anyway, now that the agenda-setting summit between Obama and congressional leaders — which was scheduled for tomorrow — has been put off until Nov. 30. What was supposed to be policy-rich discussion in the West Wing, followed by a symbolically rich breaking of bipartisan bread in the White House residence, is now the most recent example of how even the simplest things in Washington get stained with partisan bile. The White House is miffed that McConnell and Boehner would disrespect the president by citing unspecified “scheduling conflicts” in insisting on the postponement. The Republicans were miffed that Obama had announced the meeting right after the election without checking on the GOP leaders’ availability.

Either way, the delay gives the GOP leaders more time to prepare their opening bids. And it means any meaningful negotiations on the lame duck’s biggest agenda items, the tax cut extensions and discretionary spending, will have to wait. The current stopgap spending bill expires just three days after the rescheduled summit, on Dec. 3. Look for the next CR to last until the following Friday, Dec. 10. And no one at the Capitol believes that will be the final legislative day of the year, either.

Democrats in a Delay. House Democrats are bogged down this morning over the procedures for their leadership elections. Some are pushing to delay the balloting altogether for at least two weeks. Others are insisting that there be plenty of time for speeches before the secret balloting begins. It looks like an announcemt of the results at 1 will have to be delayed.

More than three dozen Democrats are poised to vote against making Pelosi their minority leader. Only lawmakers who will be in the caucus next year (plus a handful more in still-close races) will get to vote behind the closed Cannon Caucus Room doors, which should hold down the number of ballots for North Carolina’s Heath Shuler, who mounted a quixotic candidacy on behalf of disaffected centrists. Many of the centrists who were defeated two weeks ago politely but firmly told Pelosi last night — at a caucus meeting that lasted almost four hours — that she was too polarizing and too liberal a leader.

Birthday Present. The anointing of Boehner as the next Speaker (and all the jocularity about his  turning 61 today) will get under way soon after House Republicans convene their organizational meeting at 1 in the Way and Means Committee hearing room. He’s running unopposed, and there are no contested races for the top tier leadership jobs. Last night, Florida’s Connie Mack gave up his challenge to Georgia’s  Tom Price for the chairmanship of the Republican Policy Committee, which is No. 6 in the hierarchy.

The caucus is likely to postpone a debate about term limits for committee chairmen. Joe Barton and Jerry Lewis want the currently ambiguous party rules changed to give themselves at least a fighting chance at winning the gavels of Energy and Commerce and Appropriations, respectively. But because neither of them is likely to get a gavel — waivers or rules changes or not — House Republicans are likely to punt on this debate for another two years. Then, if the GOP holds the House in 2012, four incoming chairmen would be forced to  give up their gavels under the current rules: Lamar Smith at Judiciary, John Mica at Transportation, Paul Ryan at Budget and Spencer Bachus at Banking.

The freshman class has some decisions to make, now that it has pressed the elders for even more clout in the leadership ranks. A week after creating two new seats at the power tables for newcomers, Boehner and Cantor last night announced they would create a second freshman spot in the inner leadership circle and a third freshman slot on the committee-assignment-making Steering Committee.

Bean and Ballot Counting. Financial consultant and tea party insurgent Joe Walsh will be coming to Congress next year to represent the northern Chicago suburbs. Melissa Bean conceded to him last night that she had narrowly lost her bid for a fourth term. That puts the net gain of GOP seats in the House at 61.

Senate write-in ballot counting was completed in Alaska last night, and Lisa  Murkowski was ahead of official GOP nominee Joe Miller by at least 2,000 (and more than 10,000 if she gets her way on all the ballots Miller is contesting). Although some legal challenges remain, it seems ever more clear she will be coming back to Congress.

And she sounds eager to get back — and to  be a potential thorn in the side of the party leaders who worked so hard and threatened so much in an effort to get her to drop her write-in in bid. Yesterday, she issued a tartly worded statement that she opposed the voluntary earmark ban that McConnell reluctantly pushed through the caucus.

— David Hawkings, editor

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Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

CQ Today: Reid Lowers Lame-Duck Expectations

The Senate majority leader is tamping down expectations for a productive November and December, even though the White House and rank-and-file Democrats have ambitious wish lists. » View full article

CQ Today: White House Tries to Salvage Arms Treaty

The White House brushed aside Republican Sen. Jon Kyl's announcement that there is not enough time left for a vote on the New START. » View full article

Roll Call: Pelosi's Leadership Faces the Test

She entered today's Democratic leadership elections at one of the weakest points of her career, » View full article

Roll Call: Unhappy Caucus Forces Reid to Rework Strategy

Reid won another two-year term as majority leader, but he still faces restlessness in the ranks. And nearly two dozen of his colleagues are preparing to face voters in 2012. » View full article

Roll Call: Panel Now Must Decide Rangel's Fate

The House ethics committee must decide what punishment, if any, fits the Harlem Democrat's transgressions. But the panel's internal rules offer little insight on what might happen. » View full article

CQ Homeland Security: TSA to Reconsider Four-Hour Manifest Rule

The agency is looking to revise regulations that allow international carriers to provide shipping manifests just four hours before landing — by which point their aircraft could be well on their way to the United States. » View full article

Roll Call: Democrats Lost the Faith of Religious Voters

After Obama uttered the words "awesome God" in his 2004 convention speech, Democrats embarked on a multiyear journey to draw in voters of faith. The midterm results weren't encouraging for the party. » View full article

Congress.org: Married, Christian Cancers Won

Forget about the GOP wave for a minute. The 2010 midterms were best for married, Christian Cancers in their late 50s with at least two kids. » View full article
-----

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David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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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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Monday, November 15, 2010

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, Nov. 15, 2010

 Today In Washington

The Senate. Convenes at 2 p.m. to begin its lame-duck session. Two hours later, Biden will swear-in two winners of special elections on Nov. 2, Democrats Chris Coons of Delaware and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. 

The House. Also convenes at 2 p.m. and will debate and vote on as many as 10 relatively non-controversial bills. Among them may be a proposed ban on “crush” videos — in which people step on or torture small creatures — that is written in a way intended withstand free-speech legal challenges. The Supreme Court struck down Congress’ last crush-video ban along those lines.

Rangel’s Surprise Opening Round. Members of the House ethics committee decided this morning not to delay the Charlie Rangel trial. They temporarily recessed the proceedings just 40 minutes in, after Rangel declared he was going to walk away from the trial rather than be forced to act as his own lawyer. When he did not get his wish for a delay, he did not return to the hearing room. The Harlem congressman said he needed more time to find new, more-affordable attorneys to defend him against 13 counts that his fundraising and personal finances went far afoul of House rules. He had paid $2 million to his initial legal team over the past two years before they parted ways this summer, mainly because of a sharp disagreement about his legal strategy. Until this morning Rangel had been expected to act as his own attorney. (He was a junior-level federal prosecutor five decades ago.)

The eight lawmakers deciding the case will probably propose a reprimand by the full House — the third-most severe form of congressional sanction after expulsion and censure. Such a punishment is essentially a public slap on the wrist and would have no tangible effect on Rangel, who just won his 21st term.

Though the trial — and the similar hearing after Thanksgiving for Democrat Maxine Waters of California — are supposed to be completed while the Democrats are still in charge, the proceedings will help the new Republican majority cultivate the perception that it will do a better job policing members’ behavior. But there’s a downside for the GOP, too: All the talk about ethics will make it more difficult for Boehner & Co. to get rid of the quasi-autonomous Office of Congressional Ethics, which the Democrats created two years ago as a way to combat the “chickens guarding the henhouse” perception that members could  not be trusted to discipline their own.

They’re Here. Their first formal dinners in Washington last night were partisan affairs (Republicans in Statuary Hall; Democrats at the Library of Congress), but today 93 newly elected members of the House (and a half dozen or so more  people in too-close-to-call races) swarmed into the Capitol Visitor Center for their bipartisan freshman orientation. And, just like in college, sitting for an ID photo was the very first order of business.

Looking at all those portraits only hints at just how demographically different this takeover class of Republicans is from the takeover class of Democrats that arrived for orientation just four years ago. The share of minorities is exactly the same: 11 percent. But women are 13 percent of this class and were 18 percent of the class of 2006. Two-thirds of this class has an advanced degree, down from four-fifths four years ago. Eight percent have a medical or dental degree, quadruple the percentage in 2006. And a quarter of them are military veterans, more than twice as many as when the Democrats took over.

Presidential Gauntlet. Obama has previewed what he’s going to tell congressional leaders — especially Republicans — when they come to the White House on Thursday. “Campaigning is very different from governing. All of us learn that. And they’re still flush with victory, having run a strategy that was all about saying no. But I am very confident that the American people were not issuing a mandate for gridlock” in the midterm election, he told reporters on Air Force One just before it arrived in Washington last night. “My expectation,” Obama said, is that both sides will want a legislatively fruitful lame duck. “They are not going to want to just obstruct,” he said. “They’re going to want to engage constructively.”

The Democrats running the lame duck are likely to kick the spending can down the road a few months, by getting behind a stopgap spending bill that will keep the government running until shortly after the new Congress convenes. That’s because any move to write a comprehensive spending plan would surely run into fierce resistance from Republicans.

The rhetorical tap-dancing over the tax cut extensions continues; and any final deal is probably weeks off. (It will probably be the final, get-out-of-town vote in December. )On his trip home, Obama kept open the door to extending the lower Bush rates temporarily for both the wealthy and the middle class.  “If they feel very strongly about it,” he said of the GOP, “then I want to get a sense of how they intend to spend — how they intend to pay for it.”

Chuck Schumer wants to extend the tax cuts to people making up to $1 million (the current dividing line between “middle class” and “wealthy” is $250,0000 for a couple). Another Senate Democrat, Mark Warner, wants to end the tax cuts for the top earners and cut some taxes on small businesses instead as a potential economic stimulus.

Fourth and Long. Heath Shuler resurfaced yesterday and said he would go ahead with his plan to challenge Pelosi for minority leader, even though “I don’t have the numbers to be able to win.” The North Carolinian and former pro quarterback says he’s making himself a sacrificial lamb of sorts for the cause of Democratic moderates, who say recruiting their ilk is the only way reclaim the House majority.

The anticlimactic Pelosi vs. Shuler contest is now the only leadership race of the week, because Clyburn agreed over the weekend to a accept a newly created sinecure — “assistant leader” — that will be considered No. 3 in the House Democratic hierarchy. The move avoids a showdown with Hoyer, who now won’t be challenged for whip.

The top ranks of both parties’ Senate leadership is staying exactly the same. But the chamber has had an exodus of institutionalists and legislative veterans, allowing more junior members to assert themselves more than at any time in recent memory. Limitations on the power of the filibuster may yet get a serious hearing.

— David Hawkings, editor

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