Friday, December 03, 2010

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, Dec. 3, 2010

 Today In Washington

The Senate. Convened at 9:30 for speechmaking and off-stage negotiating on tax cuts. Saturday votes are a sure thing; Democrats will continue impossible efforts to break Republican filibusters against a pair of tax bills.

The Armed Services Committee is hearing deep skepticism about repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” from the military’s top brass. They are contradicting a new Pentagon study supporting open service by gays in uniform, making the odds even longer that the law will be repealed in the lame duck. “Assimilating openly homosexual Marines into the tightly woven fabric of our combat units has strong potential for disruption,” Corps Commandant James Amos said in asking Congress to leave the policy intact.

The House. Convenes at 4 for a brief, pro forma session.

The White House. Obama is on a surprise three-hour visit to visit the troops in Afghanistan — his second trip there as president.

On arrival, he’s expected to comment on the unemployment rate’s growth to 9.8 percent in November, up two-tenths of a point from October. The jobless rate has now topped 9 percent for 19 straight months, the longest stretch on record. Unexpectedly weak business hiring was the principal culprit; private companies created only 50,000 jobs, down from 160,000 a month before. Retailers, factories, construction companies and financial firms all cut jobs. So did governments.

Weekend Work. Today is the first break-up-to-make-up period in this year’s tax debate.

Reid and McConnell broke off negotiations this morning on trying to at least create an orderly procedure — including the first foregone-conclusion procedural votes this afternoon — for the debate over extending the Bush-era income tax rates and an array of other tax provisions that expire four weeks from today. But Tom Coburn and at least one other GOP senator insisted on running the dilatory clock as long as possible on those cloture votes. In the end, the GOP will block efforts to advance either of the Democrats’ two opening positions: One would continue the tax cuts only on income below $250,000 per couple (what the House voted for yesterday) and revive the estate tax at a 45 percent rate on estates bigger than $3.5 million. The other would extend income tax rates on income up to $1 million.

Until last night, Reid was also willing to allow a third cloture vote, in which the Democrats would have blocked the GOP idea of extending all the cuts indefinitely, as well a fourth, on a five-year extension paired with a one-year extension of unemployment insurance.

The impasse, over something as pointless as the timing of pointless votes, reflects how so much senatorial posturing proves to be beside the point. That’s all the more true now that word has leaked out about White House back-channel talks with Hill Republicans — started before the Slurpee summit produced the tax “working group.” Those talks may well produce the deal Washington has long been expecting — an extension of all the Bush cuts for two years, coupled with that one-year jobless benefits extension — and sooner rather than later.

Bold Deficit Plan Gets 11 Votes. The final two undecided members of the Obama fiscal commission split their ballots this morning. John Spratt endorsed the panel’s proposal for reining in the deficit, while fellow House Democrat Xavier Becerra opposed it.

That yielded a final, bipartisan majority of seven Democratic appointees and four Republican appointees in favor of the plan. (Fourteen total were needed for official approval.) It was a much broader consensus than almost anyone had expected for a package that would cut deficits by $3.9 trillion in the next decade through a combination of bold moves that have always been rejected out of hand by one political party or the other: curbs to Social Security, tax increases and a slew of deep military as well as social safety net spending cuts.

The Democratic appointees in favor were Spratt; co-chairman Erskine Bowles; Sen. Kent Conrad; Sen. Dick Durbin; former SEIU president Andy Stern; former OMB and CBO director Alice Rivlin; and Ann Fudge, former CEO of Young & Rubicam Brands. The Republicans in the majority were co-chairman Alan Simpson, Sen.  Judd Gregg, Sen. Tom Coburn and Sen. Mike Crapo.

Write In This Court Date. An Alaska state court hearing is set for Wednesday in the still-disputed Senate race. Tea party GOP nominee Joe Miller contends thousands of the write-in ballots now counted for incumbent Lisa Murkowski should be tossed because they don’t meet the state law’s test for spelling accuracy. Even if Miller keeps his court challenges going into January, though, the Senate will allow Murkowski to get started on her second full term — in part because the seat would be in Republican hands no matter who ends up being certified as the winner. She will likely be seated “without prejudice,” meaning she  could still get pushed out later. That’s how, for example, Mary Landrieu came to the Senate in 1997 even though a vote-fraud probe kept going for more than a year.

To the Winner Goes the Rhetorical Spoils. Pelosi carried out one of her last public acts as Speaker last night with as much of a deadpan mumble as possible, racing through the 90-word censure resolution demanding that Rangel “pay restitution to the appropriate taxing authorities or the U.S. Treasury for any unpaid estimated taxes outlined in Exhibit 066 on income received from his property in the Dominican Republic and provide proof of payment.” And her Republican successor ? With a jovial jauntiness, he got on every newscast in the country with just two words — deriding yesterday’s Democratic tax bill as “chicken crap.”

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

-----

Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

Social Conservatives Leap to Action (Congress.org)

Opposition to repealing "don't ask, don't tell" has come primarily from groups such as the Family Research Council, Traditional Values Coalition and the Center for Military Readiness. » View full article

Beyond Income Tax Cuts, a Host of Issues Lurk (CQ Today)

The estate tax and an annual "extenders" package are among the items awaiting White House and congressional negotiators if they manage to strike a deal on income taxes. » View full article

House Democratic Leaders Figuring the Cost of Clyburn (CQ Today)

Setting up a new position and office for the No. 3 House Democrat will likely require Pelosi to divert a significant chunk of her own minority leader budget. And leadership budgets already will be tight next year. » View full article

GOP Spent Millions Less than Democrats and Still Won House (Roll Call)

Democrats pumped big money into districts across the nation where incumbents ultimately lost. » View full article
-----

Contact The Editor

David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

Other CQ Roll Call Products

» Sign up for free trials   » Roll Call   » CQ Homeland Security
» CQ Floor Video   » CQ BillTrack   » CQ Hot Docs
» CQ.com   » CQ Budget Tracker   » CQ House Action Reports
» CQ Weekly   » CQ Amendment Text   » CQ LawTrack
» CQ Today   » CQ HealthBeat   » See all CQ Roll Call
   products

Copyright 2010 CQ Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy


1255 22nd Street N.W.| Washington, D.C. 20037| 202-419-8500 | www.cqrollcall.com

Thursday, December 02, 2010

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010

 Today In Washington

The House. Convened at 10 to endorse an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the middle class, discipline Charlie Rangel and clear legislation revamping child nutrition programs.

The Democrats have arranged to pass, entirely along party lines, legislation extending indefinitely the 2001 and 2003 income, capital gains and dividend tax rate cuts — but only on income below $200,000 (for individuals) and $250,000 (for couples). The bill would also extend the maximum $1,000 child tax credit and limits on the so-called marriage penalty. It would prevent more than 25 million Americans from being subject to the AMT  in the next two years. And it would extend expensing rules for small businesses. The total 10-year cost of all that would be $1.5 trillion.

If the vote is to censure Rangel — as expected despite the congressman’s argument that a reprimand is the more appropriate punishment — the New York Democrat will be required to stand in the well as Pelosi rebukes him for 11 instances of breaking House rules regarding his finances. The televised formality will put new pressure on Republicans to back away from their plans to do away with the independent House ethics review panel.

The Senate. Convened at 9:30 and will take up legislation maintaining federal appropriations through Dec. 18. It will be cleared and Obama will sign it before the current continuing resolution expires tomorrow at midnight. But otherwise the legislative agenda has ground to a halt because Republicans won’t allow any other bill to advance until they get their way and the Bush tax cuts are extended for the rich and middle-class alike.

Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen, Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson and Gen. Carter Ham are testifying before the Armed Services Committee about the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” study.

The White House. Obama and Biden will meet at Blair House this afternoon with the nation’s 23 newly elected governors. Six are or have been members of Congress: Republicans Nathan Deal of Georgia, John Kasich of Ohio, Mary Fallin of Oklahoma and Sam Brownback of Kansas, Democrat Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii and independent Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. There will eventually be a 24th new governor, in Minnesota, but that race between a former senator, Democrat Mark Dayton, and GOP State Rep. Tom Emmer remains too close to call.

The President’s Council of Economic Advisers is expected to release a report highlighting, state by state, the consequences of not extending long-term unemployment benefits.

Budget Plan Whip Check. The Obama fiscal commission is still not going to muster 14 votes for the co-chairmen’s plan — the supermajority required to formally forward a debt-reduction package to the Hill and thus assure congressional votes on the proposal this year. But the plan by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson is going to get a solid majority, nonetheless — more “yes” votes than almost anyone expected and enough to make the document the starting point for any serious budget discipline discussions next year.

The president is going to include a number of the commission’s proposals in his next budget, due in February, and Republican panelist Paul Ryan, the new House Budget chairman, will write many of the panel’s ideas into the fiscal 2012 congressional budget resolution.

The package has already been endorsed by these seven panelists: Bowles and Simpson; Democrat Kent Conrad and Republican Judd Gregg, the leaders of the Senate Budget Committee; former OMB and CBO director Alice Rivlin; Honeywell CEO David Cote; and Ann Fudge, a former CEO of Young & Rubicam Brands.

Three other “yes” votes are likely to come  from GOP Sen. Tom Coburn, Democratic Rep. John Spratt and Andy Stern, the former SEIU president. And there’s a decent chance that the panel’s other Senate Republican, Mike Crapo, will become the 11th member of the majority.

The six solid “no” votes are from the opposite ends of the congressional ideological spectrum. The panel’s House Republicans — Ryan, Dave Camp and Jeb Hensarling — can’t abide the tax increases in the plan. Three Democrats — Senate Whip Dick Durbin, Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Rep.  Xavier Becerra — can’t abide the idea of social safety net cuts that would effect the poor and elderly would be harmed too much. And what about Max Baucus? The perennial Senate Democrat in the muddled middle is likely to wait and make up his mind overnight.

New START Whip Check. All 58 Democratic Caucus members in the lame-duck Senate are counted on to support the Russian arms control pact — although Joe Manchin, Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson are being a bit coy on the matter. And such a united bloc of the majority means nine Republicans would also have to vote for the treaty to secure the constitutionally required two-thirds majority for ratification.

So which GOP senators are likeliest to go along? Besides Dick Lugar, who’s the only publicly declared “yes” vote in the caucus so far, support from John McCain, George Voinovich and Susan Collins seems to be in the bag. And it would be difficult for Bob Corker or Johnny Isakson to change their minds now, even though both say they’re revisiting their Foreign Relations Committee votes endorsing the treaty. So that leaves Obama looking hard for three more Republican votes, which would need to come from some combination of these seven: Lindsay Graham, Mark Kirk, Pat Roberts, Lamar Alexander, Lisa Murkowski, Judd Gregg and Bob Bennett.

And don’t count out the possibility that Jon Kyl — the longtime GOP point man on the issue, who threw the outcome in doubt by calling for delay until next year — will get the assurances he wants about modernizing the U.S. nuclear complex even as weapons are being discarded. If that happens, he’ll vote for the deal, too, and bring all those on-the-fence Republicans with him to create a final score of 72-28.

He’s Only Partly in the Clear. John Ensign’s lawyers say the senator won’t be facing federal criminal charges for trying to cover up his affair with Cindy Hampton, the wife of his former chief of staff David Hampton. But the senator will be facing the voters next year — unless he concludes that his chances of winning a third term in Nevada (or even getting the Republican nomination) are too long to calculate. And Ensign got a good look at those odds at a state party gathering last month, which broke into applause and laughter when it was announced he wouldn’t be showing up as planned. Waiting in the wings, meanwhile, is Republican Rep. Dean Heller, who turned down the chance to take on Reid this year because he liked his Senate chances even better against Ensign in 2012.

Break Times. The House’s schedule for 2011 will be unveiled next week, and Republicans are making clear it will have a different rhythm from the calendars of the recent past. A shorter August break is coming, but in place of any yawning six-week summer chasm will be shorter “work periods” throughout the year designed to allow members — especially the dozens of GOP freshmen who will have to work hard to win a second term — plenty of time to see and be seen by their constituents.

The schedule has proved to be one of the more contentious items on the to-do list of Greg Walden and his GOP transition team. Another is a collection of internal cost-cutting measures — such as limiting the printing of so many copies of bills and pooling cell phone minutes — that are likely to be unveiled next week.

There’s one way the transition team has decided to spend some money, but it’s not likely to draw much criticism. With Boehner’s blessing, plumbers soon will get to work converting an ornate office now used by the parliamentarians into a women’s bathroom just off the House floor. The new facilities are designed to make life easier for the 72 women in the House next year. They'd otherwise have to trudge across Statuary Hall to use the restroom, but a spacious lavatory for congressmen — complete with TVs — has been in place next to the Speaker’s Lobby for a century. A women's room was constructed in 1993 adjacent to the Senate chamber, where 17 women will serve next year.

Farewell Addresses. A lame duck tradition is that departing lawmakers interrupt their office clean-outs and take a few minutes on the Senate and House floors to say goodbye, offer advice to those left behind and accept some platitudes from their colleagues. Most farewell speeches are anodyne, and many of the most memorable are also the most maudlin. But the words of John Spratt and Ike Skelton, both defeated last month after a combined 62 years in the House, are worth paying attention to. Right up until the end, they are maintaining their reputations as two of the classiest and most serious lawmakers of modern times.

Skelton, for example, ended his remarks on the House floor last night with this excerpt from “Ulysses” by Alfred Lord Tennyson: “Much have I seen and known; cities of men / and manners, climates, councils, governments ... and drunk delight of battle with my peers ... Some work of noble note, may yet be done ... Come, my friends / ’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.”

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

-----

Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

Senate Standstill a Preview of 2011 Power Plays (CQ Today)

What happens in the Senate during the next couple of weeks — on taxes, spending and a nuclear arms treaty with Russia — could provide a preview of what to expect from next year's bicameral partisan divide. » View full article

Marijuana Gets a Lobby (Congress.org)

As Arizona becomes the 15th state to legalize medical marijuana, a new trade group has formed to pressure Congress on behalf of cannabis dispensaries and growers. » View full article

Watchdogs Urge GOP Not to Downsize Ethics Office (CQ Today)

The Office of Congressional Ethics, an outside panel set up by Pelosi to review the conduct of members, has won the support of an unlikely coalition of liberal and conservative watchdog groups. Can it survive under GOP rule? » View full article

House GOP Transition Team Eyes Cost Cuts (Roll Call)

Everything is on the table, including office paper and cell phone minutes. » View full article

Nevada GOP Wary of Ensign Re-Election Bid (Roll Call)

After dropping the ball against Reid this year, the state's Republicans have some decisions to make about 2012. » View full article

Exit Interview with Rep. John Spratt (Roll Call)

The old-line Southern Democrat — known for his gentlemanly approach to writing budgets and laws — reflects on his nearly three decades in Congress. » View full article
-----

Contact The Editor

David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

Other CQ Roll Call Products

» Sign up for free trials   » Roll Call   » CQ Homeland Security
» CQ Floor Video   » CQ BillTrack   » CQ Hot Docs
» CQ.com   » CQ Budget Tracker   » CQ House Action Reports
» CQ Weekly   » CQ Amendment Text   » CQ LawTrack
» CQ Today   » CQ HealthBeat   » See all CQ Roll Call
   products

Copyright 2010 CQ Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy


1255 22nd Street N.W.| Washington, D.C. 20037| 202-419-8500 | www.cqrollcall.com

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010

 Today In Washington

The House. Convened at 10 and will pass a measure keeping the government operating, generally at last fiscal year’s spending levels, through Saturday, Dec. 18. The move assures the lame duck will keep going at least until a week before Christmas.

The day’s other top-shelf bill would revamp federal child nutrition programs, boosting subsidies to schools that offer healthier menus and giving the Agriculture Department some new power to regulate what’s offered in campus vending machines as well as cafeterias. To partly offset the cost, the bill would end, five months ahead of schedule in 2013, the better food-stamp benefits created in last year’s economic stimulus law. Many Democrats don't like that offset, but the administration is pushing the House to clear the bill. The Senate passed it this summer without even a roll call vote.

Democratic leaders are debating whether to take up the Rangel censure today or tomorrow.

The Senate. Convened at 9:30 with Reid announcing plans to try to cut off filibusters on three bills by the end of the week. Most controversial is the latest version of the so-called DREAM Act, which would put thousands of young illegal immigrants on a path to legal status. Another would give medical benefits to people sickened after helping clean up the Pentagon and ground zero after Sept. 11. The third would give collective bargaining rights to police and firefighters in right-to-work states.

The White House. Obama is preparing to make a speech to mark World AIDS Day this afternoon after hosting D.C. Mayor-elect Vince Gray for lunch in the West Wing. Among the hot topics in federal-city relations: congressional voting rights and the new Homeland Security Department headquarters planned for the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital campus in Southeast.

Gibbs, on the morning shows to talk up the virtues of yesterday’s congressional summit, declared the president optimistic about a deal on taxes and predicted the Senate would ratify the Russian nuclear weapons treaty this month.

New Hope for a Spending Package. The 15-day stopgap bill, or CR, buys Democrats the maximum time they can take to decide how to wrap up the appropriations process before they lose unfettered control. And yesterday’s Senate test vote on earmarks suggests the party still has some hope of teaming up with enough Republicans to enact a comprehensive bill — and not just a simple CR through next September. That’s what the GOP leadership wants, because that would put them in an easier position to roll back discretionary domestic spending totals, maybe even to 2008 levels, after they take over the House and gain strength in the Senate next year.

The hope for an omnibus spending package surged when only 39 senators backed a three-year prohibition against pet projects while a solid 56 voted against the idea, signaling they would be the senators most eager to see their earmarks survive this fall. And eight of them were Republicans: Jim Inhofe and Dick Lugar along with appropriators Bob Bennett, Thad Cochran, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Dick Shelby and George  Voinovich. (And another pair of venerable earmarking appropriators, Democrat Barbara Mikulski and Republican Kit Bond, were among those missing.)

The bipartisan alliances that can form on spending are one of the many reasons McConnell and Reid have something in common these days — trying to corral the most independent-minded in their caucuses, especially the dozen senators who won’t be around next year.

Leading by Example. One of those senatorial retirees, Republican Judd Gregg, was the first member of the Obama fiscal commission to announce he will vote for the panel’s sweeping deficit reduction package, which was unveiled this morning. “Lawmakers in Washington are elected to make the decisions necessary to keep our country safe from harm and on solid economic footing,” said Gregg, who’s one of the most prominent members of his party being recruited to go downtown and become a lobbyist or advocate. “Inaction on our debt crisis is not an option at this point,” he said.

A final vote on the plan has been put off until Friday in order to give chairmen Erskine Boles and Alan Simpson more time for their longshot bid to woo 14 of the 18 members, the minimum needed to formally submit recommendations to Congress.

The commission called for deep spending cuts, an increase in the retirement age and an overhaul of the tax code in order to take nearly $3.9 trillion cumulatively out of federal deficits through 2020, reduce the deficit to 2.3 percent of the GDP by 2015 and cut the nation’s debt to 60 percent of GDP by 2023.
 
Let’s Appoint a Committee! The decision to create the special negotiating group on taxes sounds like a sign both the administration and Hill Republicans really want a deal this month. And that’s how both sides are spinning it today, when the first meeting got under way among Tim Geithner, Jack Lew, Max Baucus, Jon Kyl, Dave Camp and Chris Van Hollen. But there’s still every reason to believe all the bargaining behind those closed doors, and all the partisan posturing in public, will lead nowhere but to the long-understood default setting — an extension, until after the 2012 election, of the Bush-era tax cuts for everyone.

Yes, House Democrats are likely to flex their shrinking muscles with a vote this week to allow taxes to increase on income above $200,000. But that’s just a symbolic prelude. Both congressional Democratic  negotiators are inclined to cut deals that appeal to the party’s centrists, while neither Kyl nor Camp has the slightest interest in abandoning the rich in the tax cut debate. (Orrin Hatch, the incoming top Republican on Senate Finance, might have been.)

But the tax talkers are not limited to talking only about taxes, and the fact that Obama has put two of his top people in the room means he’s committed to winning something in return for giving in to the GOP on the lower rates — the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” for example, or the arms control treaty or maybe even Reid’s immigration bill. All 42 Senate Republicans signaled as much today, in a letter vowing to block any lame-duck legislation until they get their way on taxes (but hinting they’d be open to deal elsewhere if they do get their way).

A Lost Lame-Duck Issue. Democrats have all but officially abandoned an item they originally labeled a “must do” in the lame duck: An extension of the jobless benefits that lapsed last night. With each month’s extension costing upwards of $4 billion, Republicans refused to go along unless there were some offsetting spending cuts, and their opposition in the Senate proved fatal. In the next there weeks, aid to 1.4 million of the unemployed will be cut off, the Labor Department estimates.

Gavels and Seats. House Republicans are sounding less and less interested in one of the defining issues of their last revolution back in 1994. Adherence to term limits — especially for committee chairmen — was once a defining principle of the caucus. But it didn’t seem to be yesterday, when the GOP Steering Committee heard from all the lawmakers in contested races to win gavels. That could give a boost to otherwise term-limited Joe Barton, who’s still a longshot to chair Energy and Commerce because of his troubled relationship with Boehner, and Jerry Lewis, who’s a contender for Appropriations mainly because neither of his rivals (Hal Rogers and Jack Kingston) is viewed as any more of a fiscal hawk.

House Democratic leaders, for their part, have something even more fundamental to worry about : How to make as many of their troops happy as possible after a midterm trouncing that effectively took away many of the seats they used to get to fill on the committees.

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

-----

Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

Wild Cards Make Lame-Duck Votes Tricky (CQ Today)

Reid will have to work hard to keep Senate Democrats such as Ben Nelson and Joe Manchin voting with the majority. Gays in the military, immigration, taxes and spending are among the controversial issues on tap. » View full article

Partisan K Streeters Scramble After Party Shift (Roll Call)

Democratic lobbying shops that threw business to Republican outfits may now find themselves more reliant on the kindness of their GOP-oriented partners. Firms that are largely Republican, meanwhile, say they already are experiencing an uptick in business. » View full article

Democrats Averse to Settling on Taxes (CQ Today)

House Democrats are still considering a showdown vote this week on allowing upper-bracket tax rates to increase Jan. 1, when the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for all income brackets are due to expire. » View full article

Tea Parties Can't Stop Food Bill (Congress.org)

The fervor that tea party groups showed for protests and elections so far has not transferred to legislative battles over lower-profile policy issues, including the Senate's food-safety bill. » View full article

New Worry for Democrats: Fewer Panel Seats (Roll Call)

The pain isn't over yet for House Democrats: Republicans plan to trim the overall size of most committees next year, a move that probably will mean tougher choices for the chamber's new minority party. » View full article
-----

Contact The Editor

David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

Other CQ Roll Call Products

» Sign up for free trials   » Roll Call   » CQ Homeland Security
» CQ Floor Video   » CQ BillTrack   » CQ Hot Docs
» CQ.com   » CQ Budget Tracker   » CQ House Action Reports
» CQ Weekly   » CQ Amendment Text   » CQ LawTrack
» CQ Today   » CQ HealthBeat   » See all CQ Roll Call
   products

Copyright 2010 CQ Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy


1255 22nd Street N.W.| Washington, D.C. 20037| 202-419-8500 | www.cqrollcall.com

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010

 Today In Washington

The White House. Obama is meeting behind the closed doors of the Roosevelt Room with the top eight congressional leaders: Pelosi and Hoyer from the House Democrats, Boehner and Cantor from the House GOP, Reid and Durbin from the Senate Democrats, and McConnell and Kyl from the Senate Republicans. Also in the room: Biden, Geithner and new OMB chief Jack Lew.

The Senate. Convened at 9 and has passed the most significant overhaul of federal food safety regulations in seven decades. The legislation, which would expand the FDA’s power over the food supply, passed 73-25. Before the week is out, the House will send the measure to Obama for his promised signature.

This morning, senators effectively killed any further talk about a binding three-year ban on congressional earmarks. GOP deficit hawks had wanted such language to catch a ride on the FDA bill, in the belief that Republican promises to back away from the pork buffet will prove short-lived. But since pet projects have nothing to do with food safety, and amendments to a bill are supposed to be germane after cloture is invoked, two-thirds of the Senate would have had to agree to even allow an up-or-down vote on the proposed earmark curb. Instead, the tally was a decisive 39-56 against allowing a vote.

The House. Convened at 10 and will clear legislation approving the settlement of two longstanding class-action suits. Once Obama signs the bill, several thousand American Indians will share $3.4 billion in compensation for mismanagement of their royalty trust accounts at the Interior Department. And a group of African-American farmers will be paid $1.2 billion for alleged discrimination by Agriculture Department officials.

Tomorrow is the deadline for the departing 90 or so lawmakers to move out of their offices so that the biennial wave of redecorating and relocating can be completed before the start of the next Congress 36 days from now.

More Coffee Talk Than Slurpee Summit. Even before the bipartisan congressional caravan rolled into the West Wing driveway this morning for the first post-election meeting with Obama, expectations had dropped through the floor. The wondering at this hour is how all the players will spin the discussion. Will Obama and GOP leaders describe one another as serious about making the concessions necessary to reach any big deals, either now or next year? Or will they shake their heads and wonder aloud how the other side could remain so stubborn?

The president plans to face reporters at the White House at about 12:30, while the Republican leaders have arranged to take to the microphones back at the Capitol at exactly the same time — not a good omen for those hoping for happy, collaborative talk. (The four senators will also brief their comrades at the weekly party caucus lunches, with an emphasis on what might get accomplished in the rest of the lame duck.)

The Biggest Impasse. The future of the Bush tax cuts (and associated tax issues such as another Alternative Minimum Tax “patch”) remains the most politically potent issue — and it will take something much stronger than a Slurpee (or even the merlot that Boehner suggested as an alternative) to get all the players singing the same tune. Republicans are unlikely to yield ground before the lame duck’s last possible moment on their push for a full extension of the Bush cuts, despite Obama’s stated willingness to compromise and the Democrats’ new push to take away the cuts only on income above $1 million.

Before the meeting, Cantor asserted that his party's bargaining posiiton was to "make sure no one gets a tax hike while we're trying to create jobs in the private sector." And McConnell said taking the Bush tax cuts away from millionaires has "no economic justification whatsoever."

Still, both parties have made clear they are willing to say goodbye to many billions of dollars in potential revenue during the next few years — a point that’s sure to be noted, with some dismay, by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson when they hold a 3:30 news conference. After a series of one-on-one meetings with their fellow members of the president’s fiscal commission, they’re expected to announce that they have not reached the required 14-member (out of 18) supermajority for any fiscal austerity plan.

More Than One Issue for Pentagon Bill. Defense Department officials are briefing lawmakers this morning about the Pentagon’s report on the consequence of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Word is leaking that the “top line” of the 10-month study, as they say at the Pentagon, is that lopsided majority of men and women in uniform don’t care if gays serve openly, with 70 percent predicting that an end to the 17-year-old prohibition would have either a positive or a mixed result, or none at all.

How the report will shape the final version of the annual defense bill has drawn all the lame-duck buzz, but at least four other issues are viewed as equally contentious — National Guard troops on the Mexican border, funding for Iraqi security forces, an alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and abortion in military hospitals.

Low-Hanging Fruit. Obama’s proposal to freeze federal pay through September 2012 (as a small but significant first step toward austerity) was widely described as an “announcement” yesterday, because of the view that Congress will quickly go along without hardly and debate or dissent. But don’t bet on it — at least until next year. Two of the most powerful Democrats in the lame-duck House, Maryland’s Hoyer and Chis Van Hollen, represent tens of thousands of civil servants  in the D.C. suburbs and don’t like the budget-cutting move one bit. Hoyer wants to tie any freeze for civilians to a similar freeze for the troops — which would be a political kiss of death. Labor unions also will fight any freeze, believing it would harm the economy because similar pay restraint would then be widely applied in the private sector.

Obama wants to ditch a 1.4 percent across-the-board raise due in fiscal 2011 for 2.1 million federal civilian employees, including those at the Defense Department, while allowing bonuses and so-called step increases. Language to do that would be part of the year’s final spending package, which is now on course to clear within a week of Christmas.

Senate Democrats, especially, are persisting in the belief they can advance a comprehensive omnibus appropriations package replete with policy decisions — and, yes, earmarks. And they may get some help from the five Republican senators on Appropriations who are leaving at the end of the year. But the Republican leadership almost certainly has enough muscle to insist that the lame duck produce only a stopgap continuing resolution to keep the government running more or less in place into the new year. A CR to keep the lights on until Dec. 17 will be cleared in the next three days.

A Silver Sliver. The Conference Board reported this morning that its Consumer Confidence Index, which had improved in October, increased a little bit more this month. It’s now at 54.1, a gain in the past month of 4.2 points. Add that sliver of good news to the growing holiday-season view that the economy may be staging a more robust recovery than had been the conventional wisdom. (Maybe that’s why talk continues to fade about an additional extension of the long-term jobless benefits that expire tomorrow.)

Steve Solarz, RIP. The life of the former congressman, who died yesterday at 70, intersected with an unusually broad range of the era’s top political, and geopolitical, stories: Elected in the Watergate wave of 1974. Gained prominence as the House’s premier Democratic foreign policy hawk, first focused on the Middle East but shifting  to Asia just in time for the rise of the Pacific Rim. Revealed that Imelda Marcos owned 3,000 pairs of shoes. Author of the law authorizing the Persian Gulf War. Wrote 743 overdrafts at the House bank. Tossed out in 1992 after his district was dismantled because of a surging Latino population. All that — and a dogged, aggressive, media-savvy style that left fellow Brooklyn congressman Chuck Schumer looking like a relative milquetoast — made Solarz one of the Capitol’s most memorable figures of the past four decades.

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

               — David Hawkings, editor

-----

Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

CQ Today: No Breakthrough Expected on Taxes

Republicans heading to the White House today sounded in no mood to compromise with the president on the biggest issues on the table. » View full article

Roll Call: Still No Agenda for Lame Duck

There's rare bipartisan accord on this much: This Congress may as well end the way it started, by following a "change" election with a round of fiercely partisan fighting. » View full article

CQ Today: Defense Bill Features Many Sticking Points

The effort to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" law has dominated the debate, but it's far from being the only controversial provision standing in the way of a new defense authorization law. » View full article

CQ Today: Lame-Duck Cube Farm Could Be Growing Frustration

One in five House members are being moved out of their offices this week because they won't be back next year. Their homeless status could affect their desire to stick around for a long lame duck. » View full article

Roll Call: Members See Little Recourse for WikiLeaks

Sure, all those leaked cables are a national security risk and a diplomatic nightmare. But lawmakers also have another concern: What will they mean for the future of their overseas fact-finding missions? » View full article

CQ Weekly: John Cranford's Political Economy: It Could Be Worse

Deciding how to view the latest economic news is often a challenge, but it might be useful to consider that, as bad as things appear, they might actually be getting better. » View full article

Congress.org: Activists on 'Don't Ask,' DREAM Act Unite

Immigration and gay rights are colliding once again on the Senate agenda, but activists are treating their efforts as complementary, not competitive. » View full article
-----

Contact The Editor

David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

Other CQ Roll Call Products

» Sign up for free trials   » Roll Call   » CQ Homeland Security
» CQ Floor Video   » CQ BillTrack   » CQ Hot Docs
» CQ.com   » CQ Budget Tracker   » CQ House Action Reports
» CQ Weekly   » CQ Amendment Text   » CQ LawTrack
» CQ Today   » CQ HealthBeat   » See all CQ Roll Call
   products

Copyright 2010 CQ Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy


1255 22nd Street N.W.| Washington, D.C. 20037| 202-419-8500 | www.cqrollcall.com

Monday, November 29, 2010

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, Nov. 29, 2010

 Today In Washington

The Senate. Convenes at 2 for votes on imposing an earmark moratorium and on repealing the so-called 1099 provision of the health care law, both with and without spending cuts to offset the $19 billion in projected lost revenue from that repeal in the next 10 years. Those three votes will be as amendments to legislation that would boost federal regulation of the food supply. If none is adopted, as is expected, senators will pass the food safety bill tonight and the House will clear it tomorrow.

At 5:30 Biden will swear in Mark Kirk of Illinois, which means Republicans will have 42 seats for the rest of the lame duck. The ceremony allows two-year appointee Roland Burris to go home and join an enormous roster of Chicago mayoral aspirants in which he won't even be the only former senator in the field; Carol Moseley Braun is also eyeing a comeback. 

The House. Convenes at 2 and will clear a one-month extension of existing Medicare reimbursement rates for physicians. Obama will sign the bill in time to forestall a 23 percent cut set to take effect Wednesday, allowing lawmakers a chance to come up with a longer-term solution before the end of the lame duck.

So far, there's nothing out of the Democratic leadership to suggest they will try again to pass an extension of unemployment benefits beyond tomorrow, when the current extension expires.

The White House. The president is announcing a two-year pay freeze for all civilian federal employees, describing it as a necessary first step in the path to fiscal discipline. The move will save $2 billion this fiscal year.

Obama met with his senior advisers this morning and was destined to discuss the latest disclosure of classified information — and what his administration can do to prevent more of the same. (Clinton is to address the issue early this afternoon from the State Department.) Yesterday the online whistle-blower group Wikileaks released thousands of previously secret diplomatic cables, documents and e-mails disclosing candid assessments of world leaders and efforts to pressure U.S adversaries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Korea.

The administration’s  frustration brings with it rare bipartisan accord with the congressional GOP. On the morning shows, Pete Hoekstra, the outgoing top Republican on House Intelligence, said the leaks would undermine American credibility across the globe. And Peter King, the incoming chairman of House Homeland Security, said Wikileaks should be labeled a terrorist organization so it could be prosecuted for the disclosures. (Holder said this morning that the Justice Department was conducting a  criminal investigation about the leaks.)

Now or (Maybe) Never. The fates of an unusually large number of contentious policies hang on the final three weeks of the lame duck -- and that's assuming it ends by Friday, Dec. 17, and doesn't stretch into Christmas week, which more and more people at the Capitol are preparing for.

It used to look like debates over appropriations and the Bush-era tax cuts were going to be the session's marquee events. Not anymore. They've been replaced by gays in the military and Russian nuclear weapons -- two issues that, if not resolved in the coming month, will likely disappear from Washington's policy front burner for at least two years because of the rise in Republican power.

The "don't ask, don't tell" debate will be rejoined tomorrow, when the Pentagon issues its report casting doubt on the rationale for that policy. That will make it substantially more difficult for many Republicans to keep supporting the ban on openly gay men and women in uniform - which many GOP lawmakers have said they support because the Defense Department wants it that way. But unless about 10 Republican senators announce a change of heart, the policy won't be lifted legislatively this year -- which means not for the next two years, either. And there won't be a congressional repeal so long as McCain stays dead-set in favor of the 17-year-old restriction.

Obama is going to tell congressional leaders tomorrow, at their delayed post-election summit, that he's really serious about getting the New Start treaty ratified by the end of the year -- after which GOP gains in the Senate reduce the accord's prospects dramatically. The president's chance for success rests with just one of the senators who will be at the White House, GOP Whip Jon Kyl. He continues to call for a delay but has repeatedly -- he did so again on 'Meet the Press' yesterday -- declined to articulate his specific complaints about the deal. Instead, he blames the need ford delay on all the other items Reid wants the Senate to do in the lame duck.

Kyl has been  one of the GOP's preeminent advocates of a robust national security posture during his 16 years as an Arizona senator, so his ultimate decision to either thwart, or support, ratification of the accord would likely stand as a capstone of his career -- which seems ever more likely to end with his  retirement in 2012.  

The Also Rans. The current stopgap spending law lapses on Friday; it's likely to be extended for another week or two without any fanfare -- because that move will be overshadowed on the fiscal front by the disbanding of the Obama debt and deficit commission -- and then after that another continuing resolution will be written to keep the government running in place into the new year, when the Republicans will have more power (and more political ownership) over the spending cuts both sides want to make in the cause of blotting up a little red ink.

And the Democrats -- with their new populist-tinged message machine being fined tuned by Reid and his lieutenants -- seem ever more likely to line up behind a compromise on tax cuts in which the lower rates will be extended for at least a couple of years on all income below $1 million.

The Ethics Beat. Today was supposed to see the start of the second House ethics trial of the year. Instead, this morning Maxine Waters appeared outside the room where the proceedings were to be held and lambasted the House ethics panel for indefinitely postponing the proceedings  - citing a need to review potential new evidence in the case, in which the California Democrat and her top aide, Mikael Moore, allegedly sought to secure federal support for a bank in which Waters and her husband were investors.

The photo op comes as Charlie Rangel works behind the scenes on his long-shot bid to have the House issue him a reprimand, not the more serious censure, for his ethical violations. The debate on the matter has not yet been scheduled. The New York Democrat says censure should be reserved for lawmakers found to have engaged in corruption, which even the House ethics committee prosecutor says did not happen in Rangel's case.

Spinning the Hispanic Vote. The importance of the Hispanic vote in the midterm election remains the subject of intense debate. Democrats assert that Latino turnout was crucial to several of their victories, none more so than Reid's survival in Nevada. Republicans counter that the Hispanic vote for their candidates actually bounced up this year -- to 34 percent for all House candidates, according to the exit polls, compared with the 31 percent who voted for McCain two years before.

But whichever side prevails in that little spin war, this much is undeniable: The congressional Hispanic caucus will be more bipartisan than ever next year, when there will be seven Latino Republicans in the House and an eighth (Marco Rubio) in the Senate - a total that'd double the number of Hispanics in the current Congress. (And the number of Democratic Latinos is declining to 18, from 23.)

Just the One Left. The single undecided congressional race is in New York's 1st District, which covers the eastern end of Long Island. Incumbent Tim Bishop's lead is now 235 votes, but lawyers for him and GOP entrepreneur Randy Altshuler will be spending the week at the Suffolk County courthouse, arguing over the fate of approximately 2,000 ballots being challenged by one side or the other. Altshuler's campaign, for example, is questioning the absentee paperwork sent in from Florida by the four-term congressman's parents.

So the line score at the moment is the Republicans will have 242 seats to start the new Congress, a gain of 63, and the Democrats will have at least 192 -- and one more than that, assuming Bishop prevails.

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

               - David Hawkings, editor

-----

Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

CQ Today: Food Safety Bill Hits Homestretch

In a rare triumph for bipartisan dealmaking, Congress this week is on course to the most significant overhaul of food safety laws in seven decades. » View full article

CQ Today: Administration Uses Public Pressure, Private Talks on Treaty Efforts

How the Obama administration is pressing ahead to secure Senate ratification in the next month of the nuclear arms control treaty with Russia -- with or without the support of the GOP's most important voice on such matters, Jon Kyl. » View full article

Roll Call: Kyl Stays Tight-Lipped on Political Future

The Arizonan's stance on the New Start treaty looks more and more like it will be one of the final headline-grabbing moves of a congressional career that dates to 1986. » View full article

Roll Call: Influence Growing for Reid's Top Lieutenants

The majority leader is centralizing power among his top lieutenants, especially Chuck Schumer and Patty Murray, even though his rank-and-file senators have been clamoring for more influence. » View full article

CQ Weekly: Amid GOP Gains, Hill Hispanics Look to Get Along

The caucus of Latino lawmakers is more bipartisan than ever. Other than ethnicity, what else do they have in common? » View full article

Congress.org: The Story Behind the Story of Stuff

How environmental activists are using animation, stick figures, and the Internet to change America's consumer habits. » View full article
-----

Contact The Editor

David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

Other CQ Roll Call Products

» Sign up for free trials   » Roll Call   » CQ Homeland Security
» CQ Floor Video   » CQ BillTrack   » CQ Hot Docs
» CQ.com   » CQ Budget Tracker   » CQ House Action Reports
» CQ Weekly   » CQ Amendment Text   » CQ LawTrack
» CQ Today   » CQ HealthBeat   » See all CQ Roll Call
   products

Copyright 2010 CQ Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy


1255 22nd Street N.W.| Washington, D.C. 20037| 202-419-8500 | www.cqrollcall.com