Friday, December 17, 2010

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: It's Laundry-List Time

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, Dec. 17, 2010

 Today In Washington

(Daily Briefing editor David Hawkings is off today.)

THE HOUSE: Convened at 9. Action is almost certain on a defense policy bill stripped of many controversial provisions, such as a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And with the Senate having given up on its omnibus spending bill, the House could vote on a short-term measure to keep the government running until February. The timing is up in the air, but it’s expected that the Senate would vote first on such a bill.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 to continue debate on the New Start arms agreement with Russia. Democratic leaders are waiting for Republicans to offer amendments. The GOP says it merely wants a full debate on the accord; Democrats say Republicans are trying to sink it by running out the clock.
Reid has the power to switch from the treaty to regular legislation, and he might do that to take up a stopgap spending bill. The Senate could also work on the defense bill today if the House finishes with it.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The president will sign the tax cut bill shortly before 4. Prior to that, he’ll spend the afternoon talking to labor leaders including the AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka, the American Federation of Teachers’ Randi Weingarten, AFSCME’s Gerald McEntee, SEIU’s Mary Kay Henry and the United Auto Workers’ Bob King.

MOVING ALONG: Senate Democrats can still push some legislative buttons while Republicans essentially slow-walk the New Start treaty. Reid filed for cloture yesterday on a stand-alone repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” as well as the so-called Dream Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of adult children of illegal immigrants.

Votes on those two motions are set for Saturday. “The path is clear to finishing our work relatively soon,” Reid said this morning. But he offered a caveat: “We will work every day until our work is done.”

A repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was hitched to the annual defense policy bill, but that measure was pared this week to its core. It would authorize $725 billion in Pentagon spending for the coming year. One controversial item did stick around: a provision that would allow the U.S. government to pay reparations to the families of Guam residents subjected to atrocities during the Japanese occupation in World War II.

Also in the Senate mix is a bill to boost health services for Sept. 11 first-responders. A few Republicans have hinted that they might support the measure once the tax and spending bills are wrapped up — and a few would be enough for passage.

OMNIBUS DOWN: Beyond all the noise about Republicans rebuffing the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill, Congress still has to think about funding the government in the short term. The money runs out by Monday, and the Democratic leadership is scrambling to put a stopgap funding measure in place. It’ll probably be something that runs into early next year — when the GOP will have more power to tinker with fiscal decisions.

Potential speed bumps for a short-term spending bill, or CR, include the pressure to adorn it with non-appropriations legislation, such as a food safety bill that is a priority of many Democrats. Most CRs continue to fund programs at current levels, but Congress will write in exceptions, including some pitched by the White House. Obama could ask, for example, for more money for Defense Department programs. And if any of those exceptions include Democratic spending priorities, Republicans could balk.

EYES ON ELIJAH: Elijah Cummings of Maryland beat out Carolyn Maloney of New York yesterday for the ranking member job on the House Oversight Committee. That means he’ll be the chief Democratic foil to Darrell Issa, the panel’s incoming chairman. Issa is expected to launch all manner of investigations into the conduct of the Obama administration. “We’ll go toe to toe on everything and hopefully be 10 steps ahead,” said Cummings.

In another tough race, House Democrats selected Adam Smith of Washington to be ranking member on the Armed Services panel. He beat out Loretta Sanchez of California and Silvestre Reyes of Texas. Reyes still could throw his hat into the ring for the ranking member spot on the Intelligence Committee, which also has its share of candidates.

FAMILIAR NAMES: Pelosi is losing one of her longtime aides, communications director Brendan Daly, to the private sector. But moving up to take his place will be Nadeam Elshami, who has been Daly’s deputy. Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s current press secretary, will keep that post while also taking on the job of deputy communications director.

— Joe Warminsky and CQ staff

Become a Facebook fan of David Hawkings at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

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Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

Reid Gives Up on Omnibus Spending Bill (Roll Call)

The majority leader sought to shift the blame to nine Republicans. He would not name them. » View full article

Senate Sets Up Action on Dream Act, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Repeal (CQ Today)

Procedural votes on the two Democratic priorities are expected Saturday. » View full article

House Clears Compromise Tax Package (CQ Today)

The vote hands Obama a legislative victory of sorts, although it could cost him support from liberal House Democrats in the future. » View full article

Cummings Secures Top Democratic Spot on Oversight Panel (Roll Call)

The Maryland Democrat says he will make sure that Republicans do not go on "fishing expeditions" to try to embarrass Democrats. » View full article

Idaho's Minnick Says He's Done for Good (Roll Call)

The man who wrote one of the "10 most powerful tweets" of 2010 says Democrats can still win in his state, even though he lost to an underdog Republican this year. » View full article
-----

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Workin' for the Weekend

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010

 Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and has set aside three hours for speeches this afternoon before the climactic votes that will clear the tax bill.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and is expected to spend the whole day debating the New Start arms control treaty and voting on GOP amendments.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Before noon Obama is expected to describe his administration’s annual assessment on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The summary released this morning concludes that the past year’s surge is having enough success to allow troops to begin withdrawing on schedule in July, although the war will need to keep going until 2014. “Momentum achieved by the Taliban in recent years has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in some key areas, although these gains remain fragile and reversible,” it says.

SPENDING IMPASSE: House Democratic leaders, frustrated with the deepening senatorial standoff over spending, are signaling they will pass a several-day stopgap spending bill today and then send their members home for the weekend to see if the Senate can get off the dime.

The current stopgap law, or CR, expires Saturday at midnight, although as a practical matter Congress has until the start of the workday Monday to make its next move avoiding any government shutdown. The House’s idea is to keep the bureaucracy running in place until perhaps Tuesday, in hopes that by then there’s a bipartisan, bicameral  agreement on an appropriations path lasting into 2011. And, in the end, that path may prove to be what McConnell proposed this morning: a CR holding agency spending patterns just as they are (meaning at fiscal 2010 levels) until Feb. 18, the start of the Presidents Day congressional recess.

Earmarks, for sure, are the main reason that talk of a policy-altering, project-packed omnibus appropriations package will soon collapse — unless Reid is sure he has the votes to push such a package through relatively quickly. He doesn’t have the votes yet, which is why he hasn’t used his “dual track” powers to set up simultaneous debate on both the arms control treaty and the Senate’s $1.1 trillion spending legislation. That bill is laced with 6,600 pet projects worth $8.1 billion — with plenty of them sought by some of the package’s most vituperative Republican critics. (And that doesn’t include some of the more remarkable parochial rewards, which are threatening to hold up other bills, too, such as the customary year-end measure extending a long list of trade provisions.)

Even if the 60 votes are secured, senators may well have to wait around for 12 hours or so before casting them while the clerk reads the entire package at the insistence of Jim DeMint and other GOP critics. (They’d probably give up on that dilatory tactic if they’re sure of prevailing on John McCain’s get-rid-of-all-the earmarks amendment). Still, it seems guaranteed that  substantive debate will be this weekend, if it happens at all — with no time for the House to clear whatever the Senate does before the government’s doors open Monday morning.

Whatever the case, it appears there will be another week in an already-long 111th Congress.

THE SKINNY BILL: The Senate omnibus got a boost yesterday when it was endorsed by Defense Secretary Gates, even though the measure goes against Obama’s wishes and would fund a second, backup engine for F-35 jets.

That was the second big boost in a day for the manufacturers of the alternate Joint Strike Fighter engine. That’s because there’s no mention of it at all (and in legislation, silence means assent) in the latest version of the defense budget bill, which has been stripped of its most controversial elements in hopes of cruising through Congress by next week. All four of the top military policy lawmakers — Carl Levin and John McCain of Senate Armed Services and Ike Skelton and Buck McKeon of House Armed Services — are on board with the package, even though McKeon was dealt out as the others finalized several weeks of negotiations.

WHAT AMERICA WANTS: When the House sends Obama the tax cut and jobless benefits package this afternoon, it will be doing what the public wants. The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, out today, offers these numbers: 59 percent approve of the legislation and only 36 percent disapprove — a solid, 23-point margin. In addition, 61 percent view the measure as a fair compromise between Obama and Republican leaders, while 23 percent say the president gave away too much and 10 percent say that of the GOP.

The vote to clear the bill, which was endorsed overwhelmingly in the Senate yesterday, will come after liberal Democrats make their one, now clearly futile attempt to shape the package a little more to their liking. The vote will be on altering the deal to make the estate tax a little bit tougher on the rich for the next two years: a 45 percent rate (instead of the bill’s 35 percent) on inheritances above $3.5 million for individuals and $7 million for couples (instead of the bill’s $5 million and $10 million.) Doing what the Democrats want would make only a relatively minimal difference, subjecting another 6,600 estates to some taxation and raising $26 billion — thereby reducing by 3 percent the overall cost of the package, which is mainly about extending all the Bush tax cuts.

TIME WILL TELL: There are clearly 60 votes in the Senate to cut off a filibuster and clear the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law that the House passed yesterday. Now all supporters of gay civil rights need is one day before the end of next week to devote to outlasting their opponents’ delaying tactics. And Reid is willing to set aside the time, and keep the Senate in session, as long as the spending impasse continues.

It’s safe to assume at least 56 votes from the Democratic Caucus, with West Virginia’s Joe Manchin the only sure defector and Virginia’s Jim Webb the only other one who’s left himself somewhat on the fence. And four Republicans are already locked in: Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Massachusetts’ Scott Brown, and Maine’s Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Advocates of allowing “out” gays and lesbians in uniform also think they can put at least two more GOP senators (Indiana’s Dick Lugar and Ohio’s George Voinovich) in their column.

BACKWARD FLY THE BEES: Republicans are starting to refine their procedures for budget-cutting next year.

Today they are expected to reveal a package of House rules changes, which they’ll be able top push through on a party-line vote on opening day next month, that will include a new budgetary mechanism to be known as the “cut-go” rule, mandating that any legislation creating a new spending program also include the elimination of an existing program of equal or greater value. It’s a conservative twist on the “pay-as-you-go rule” now in effect, because it would not allow spending increases to be offset with new taxes or fees. (And tax cuts would not have to be offset with spending reductions.)

In addition, new Chairman Harold Rogers is putting a conservative twist on the annual allocation of spending ceilings for his House Appropriations subcommittee cardinals. Those totals, known as the 302(b) numbers, will be replaced by “reverse 302(b)” figures, which will tell each subcommittee how much it has to cut.

CORRECTION: Yesterday’s listing of  CEO summit participants wrongly combined the descriptions of two of the  attendees, Jeff Immelt of GE and Dave Cote of Honeywell.

— David Hawkings, editor

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

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Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

111th Congress Timeline (Roll Call)

A look at the highlights and lowlights of the past two years on Capitol Hill, as a Congress bookended by historic change featured passionate debates and notable departures. » View full article

Liberals Gained Steam While Losing the Fight (Roll Call)

The left may feel that the Obama tax deal is a kick in the teeth, but the debate has offered a rallying point the month after devastating election losses. » View full article

The Tax Cuts: Counting on Magic Numbers (CQ Weekly)

The number to remember is $3.9 trillion. That's how much the tax cuts would add to the accumulated federal budget deficit over the next decade if they are still in the law in 2020. » View full article

GOP Aims Down, Not Up In Reversal of Budget Goals (CQ Today)

With Republicans in charge, Appropriations Committee members can expect a cultural revolution. » View full article

Sessions Wants a Fix but Says It's No Earmark (Roll Call)

The Republican senator has been quietly blocking a routine tax measure because he wants to add what is basically an earmark: a new tariff that would benefit a single small business in Alabama. » View full article

How One Farmer Swayed Congress (Congress.org)

It took John Boyd half a lifetime of activism, but he finally convinced officials to settle the USDA discrimination claims of black farmers. He gives five reasons for his success. » View full article
-----

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dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Holidays? What Holidays?

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010

 Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and is within about an hour or so of passing and sending to the House the $858 billion tax-cut-and-stimulus package, as the Democrats are now labeling it. Starting at noon, senators will first vote to rebuff efforts to alter the bill by Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint and Bernie Sanders.

Senators will vote at 2:15 to begin debating the nuclear arms treaty with Russia.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and will vote this afternoon to pass legislation repealing the law limiting military service by gays and lesbians. Chances are increasingly good that the tax bill will be on the floor by this evening.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is meeting until 2 with 20 corporate executives for a “CEO summit” at Blair House. Among them are Greg Brown of Motorola, John Chambers of Cisco Systems, Kenneth Chenault of American Express, Scott Davis of UPS, Jeff Immelt of Honeywell, Ellen Kullman of DuPont; John Lechleiter of Eli Lilly; Andrew Liveris of Dow Chemical; James McNerney of Boeing, Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, Paul Otellini of Intel, Brian Roberts of Comcast, Jim Rogers of Duke Energy and Eric Schmidt of Google.

HOW MUCH LONGER: The time has arrived when all the lobbyists, staffers, and lawmakers stop talking so much about what can get done and start talking exclusively about when they will be done. The middle of next week is today’s smart bet; Reid said this morning that the Senate will be in through Sunday "and probably for a few days after that.”

That’s a more optimistic vision than he had yesterday, when he started talking about roll call votes after Christmas and maybe even between New Year’s Day and the start of the next Congress on Jan. 5. And his forecast will surely change many more times, probably even by this evening. In the interim, by the end of the day the House will essentially run out of things to do — other than wait for the Senate.

The get-out-of town agenda has been whittled to five big items: the tax bill, some kind of appropriations package, the New Start treaty, a bare-bones defense authorization bill and the now-separate “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal. Beyond that, there are dozens of small-bore bills queued up to be cleared and maybe hundreds of noncontroversial nominees waiting to be confirmed.

Much of the endgame depends on how well Reid and McConnell get along in the next few days — and how much the GOP leader is willing to pressure his colleagues to back away from their parliamentary nuclear options. (Jim DeMint, for example, has been threatening to force the clerk to read all 1,924 pages of the omnibus appropriations bill, which could take about 12 hours, as well as the full text of the treaty.)

McConnell said this morning that his side’s position is that “everything else can wait” until next year except the tax bill and a short-term stopgap spending bill. But there are some ways in which Senate Republicans won’t be able to slow-walk the process. Reid has the option of using Senate rules to "dual track" the spending bill with the treaty, devoting about half of each day on each. Treaties can’t be kept off the floor with a filibuster, so only a simple majority will be required this afternoon to get the debate started. And if there really are 67 votes to ratify New Start, there are surely 60 to foreshorten the debate. (The GOP says nine days sounds like the right amount of time, because that’s how long the debate lasted on a Cold War arms accord 22 years ago.) In addition, the House’s new “don’t ask” repeal will go to the Senate in a form that shields it from an initial filibuster (on the motion to proceed to debate).

LONGSHOTS: House Democrats have essentially been reduced to bellyaching about the tax bill, because they know that they have almost no chance of altering it. Their best shot was supposed to be an amendment returning the estate tax to its level of last year (45 percent, with a $3.5 million exclusion, as opposed to the Obama-GOP figures of 35 percent and $5 million). But even the Republicans who will vote against the overall deal (and there are maybe two dozen of them) still like the lower estate tax, so the GOP will vote as a bloc (maximum of 179) against that amendment. And so will at least another 45 conservative Democrats, assuring its defeat.

Another potential amendment, though, could yet gather momentum: It would make the Social Security payroll tax holiday a onetime payment, instead of a two-year reduction in the rate, on the argument that doing so would be a better stimulant for the economy — and would prevent the GOP from mounting an effort in two years to make permanent that lower rate.

Even if the House does alter the bill, however, the Senate seems sure to reject those changes and return the measure as it was first passed. House Democrats then would be under enormous pressure to clear it so as not be accused of engineering a New Year’s day tax increase.

$8 BILLION GAMBLE: The Democratic Senate’s $1.1 trillion omnibus spending package is gaining momentum, because more and more Republicans are betting that voters will quickly forget if they decide to abandon their recent promises and support the bill’s $8 billion in earmarks — especially because the “fiscal responsibility” argument won't stop most of them from voting to pour more than 100 times as much (the cost of the tax bill) into the national red inkwell.

A few Democrats (Claire McCaskill and some others up for election in 2012) will oppose the bill because of the earmarks, so perhaps six or eight Republicans will need to vote yes. Appropriations Chairman Dan Inouye says he has the 60 votes he needs to close of filibusters and pass his bill. House Democrats, meanwhile, will be content to endorse the bill as their last act in power, knowing the alternative stopgap measure would do less for their priorities (and provide $18 billion less).

So far there’s little worry that Obama will make good on his veto threat and bring down the entire package simply because it includes $450 million to keep developing the backup engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, which the president says is unnecessary. The bill also has money for the oldest pork-barrel items in the congressional arsenal: 172 Corps of Engineers construction projects Obama wants to eliminate.

TOP DEMOCRATIC VIPER? House Democrats are deciding today who to assign as their chief combatant against the impending subpoena onslaught from incoming Oversight Chairman Darrel Issa. Maryland’s Elijah Cummings is likely to be chosen instead of New York’s Carolyn Maloney, because he’ll have most of the leadership’s backing as well as the support of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The current chairman, New York’s Ed Towns, dropped out of the race yesterday (and endorsed Maloney) when it became clear the leadership didn’t have confidence in him to be a vigorous enough counterweight to Issa. (The Californian went out of his way to avoid antagonizing Towns in the past year, and Towns seemed to have softened up too much for the leadership’s liking.) As for Dennis Kucinich, who was going to be the other candidate for the post? He dropped out, too, and threw his support to Cummings. Kucinich decided he needed to focus instead on preserving his seat in Ohio’s upcoming redistricting. (The state is losing two seats and the GOP has the power to merge his Cleveland district with that of neighboring Democrat Marcia Fudge.)

BACKSTAGE HOUSE POWER: Bill Livingood, proving he learned plenty of bipartisan discretion and political savvy during his Secret Service career, has been asked by Boehner to stay on as House sergeant at arms; he was originally chosen for the job by Gingrich 16 years ago and was retained by both Hastert and Pelosi.

At the NRCC, Mike Shields will be as political director, Jenny Sheffield Drucker will be finance director and Paul Lindsay will head up the press shop.

— 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

Congress Can't Seem to Let Go (Roll Call)

It's a familiar scenario: Republicans vow a filibuster while Democrats try to overcome infighting. Could it go on for another week or more? » View full article

Reid: Christmas Is No Obstacle to Democrats' Agenda (CQ Today)

The majority leader knows that the holiday season has hardly been an impediment to legislating in recent years. » View full article

Tax Fight May Boost K Street's Profits (Roll Call)

There will be a lobbying frenzy next year over what deductions should be pruned or preserved. » View full article

Tax Holiday Sets Off Social Security Concerns (CQ Today)

A provision designed to boost the economy could open the door to major changes in how the program is financed. » View full article

Activists Put Faith in Immigration Bill (Congress.org)

Interfaith leaders used moral arguments to sway conservative senators on the Dream Act. » View full article

John Cranford's Political Economy: Not So Simple as 1-2-3 (CQ Weekly)

A decade after Congress pledged grandly that no child would be left behind, the education system still isn't performing as well as anyone would like. » View full article
-----

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Estate Tax in Play?

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010

 Today In Washington

(Daily Briefing editor David Hawkings is off today.)

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 to use up debate time on the tax bill. A vote on the measure could come this evening.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at 2 to consider several noncontroversial bills while it waits for the Senate to get moving on the year-end agenda.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The president holds his monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan with his national security team. Noticeably absent will be Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s point-man for the war, who died late Monday at George Washington Hospital. He was 69.

TIME FOR A GAME PLAN: While the Senate runs down the clock on the Obama tax deal, House Democratic leaders are sorting out how they’ll handle the bill once it comes over. Ways and Means Chairman Sandy Levin will meet with his fellow Democrats on the panel today to consider their options.

Hoyer said yesterday that he sees room for changing the deal’s estate-tax provisions, but he was mum on specifics. Whatever the case, a serious vote-count would be in order. House Democrats generally prefer a 45 percent tax levied on estates worth at least $3.5 million; in 2009 the chamber voted 225-200 in favor of setting it at that level. The question is how many of those 225 “yes” votes would still be in play. The tax lapsed this year and is slated to return in 2011 to a 55 percent top rate on estates worth more than $1 million.

SAVE IT FOR NEXT YEAR: Even after senators voted yesterday to move ahead with the tax measure, a few continued to press their concerns. California Democrat Dianne Feinstein pushed Reid to allow a vote on an amendment to reduce government subsidies for ethanol — an industry that environmentalists say uses too much fertilizer and harms sensitive farmland.

Feinstein isn’t likely to prevail, so the debate is really about setting the stage for next year. Ethanol is one of those issues that cuts across party and regional lines: For instance, Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa — one of many GOP vets who played to the party’s fiscally conservative base during this year’s elections — is a staunch supporter of ethanol subsidies, which help corn-growers in his state.

NO LABELS, NO AGENDA? The new advocacy group No Labels kicked off a campaign yesterday in New York to give a louder voice to the center of American politics. But the group’s message focused almost entirely on calls for civility and against political extremism, leaving some to wonder if it stood for anything at all.

Officially, the group doesn’t have an agenda, but its founders, speakers and volunteers mentioned a few issues which it could take up: a deficit-reduction plan with both spending cuts and tax hikes, campaign finance reform and small-bore things such as getting members of both parties to eat lunch together more. Definitely not on the agenda: Divisive social issues such as gay rights and abortion. The environment also went unmentioned at the daylong event.

THE CIVILITY CAUCUS: Disaffected voters aren’t the only ones seeking to revitalize the political center. The House's bipartisan Center Aisle Caucus wants to claim the middle ground as the high ground as member Mark Kirk moves up to the Senate. Kirk said he will try to develop more bipartisan gatherings off Capitol Hill. The group had a few retreats in the late ’90s, but the events petered out in the middle of the Bush years. It currently has about 40 House members (a little over 9 percent of that chamber), but likely co-chairman Russ Carnahan said they’re going to try to recruit more in the upcoming session.

HERE COME THE HOUSE GUYS: Along with Kirk, the GOP’s Senate freshman class includes five other House veterans, including Roy Blunt, who was minority whip during several congresses. Jon Kyl, the Senate GOP’s whip, said he hopes to use the class’s bicameral knowledge as much as possible. Blunt, meanwhile, says that he hasn’t been asked to take any formal role as liaison, but he sees plenty of room for the chambers to work together.

The last person to have an official role as Senate liaison to the House, from either party? Hill insiders say it was Trent Lott, who was given the job after he stepped down as majority leader and Bill Frist took over.

THE FIFTH MAN: Senate Democrats’ soon-to-be No. 5 man is carving out a big role for himself as chairman of the party’s Steering and Outreach Committee. Mark Begich — already the unofficial emissary to the old guard for junior members — cites his penchant for structural changes for landing him the new gig, and the Alaskan vows to bring a “different perspective” to the table.
 
“When I was asked by a couple of Members would I be interested, you know, I said, ‘If it helps out, but I’m not changing my stripes,’” he said. “Being in that fifth position does not mean that suddenly I’m a different person. If that’s the case, then I’m not interested.” That could prove important for the first-term senator, who risks alienating moderates in his red state by taking the leadership role.

— Joe Warminsky and CQ staff

Become a Facebook fan of David Hawkings at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

-----

Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

What's on No Labels' Agenda? (Congress.org)

The kickoff meeting of the new centrist group did not include a specific agenda, but we found a few issues it might pursue. » View full article

House Democrats Eye Changes to Tax Deal (CQ Today)

House Democrats still hope to toughen estate tax language, even though making changes could threaten the compromise reached by the White House and Senate Republicans. » View full article

Ethanol Subsidies Add Fuel to the Tax Debate (Roll Call)

Opponents of federal ethanol subsidies mounted a last-minute campaign to reduce the industry's funds in the tax package. No matter what happens this week, the issue is far from settled. » View full article

Centrist House Group Looks for Middle Ground in Senate (CQ Today)

With the Senate headed toward a narrower partisan margin next year, one House group sees an opportunity to extend its reach to the other chamber. » View full article

New Senators May Make House Calls (Roll Call)

Republicans have high hopes that the party's incoming crop of freshman senators may help the party build stronger ties between the chambers. » View full article

Begich Preps for Spotlight With Seat in Leadership (Roll Call)

The Alaskan has barely been in the Senate two years, but he's been active on big issues. So it may seem strange to hear him say that he wasn't angling for his new gig as the fifth-ranking Democrat. » View full article
-----

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Monday, December 13, 2010

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: A Lull for Procedure

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, Dec. 13, 2010

 Today In Washington

(Daily Briefing editor David Hawkings is off today.)

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 p.m., with a procedural vote scheduled for 3 p.m. on a bill that largely reflects the tax deal that Obama cut with Republicans. The vote will be held open for a few hours as senators stream back into town from the weekend, but no surprises are expected. The legislation will advance, and a vote on passage will occur as early as Tuesday night. The measure then heads to the House, where Pelosi faces some tough decisions about how to handle it.

THE WHITE HOUSE: While Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s point man for Afghanistan and Pakistan, recovers from heart surgery, the president, vice president and Defense Secretary Gates will meet in the Oval Office to discuss a review of the war effort. That document will be made public later this week.

Earlier the president, surrounded by Cabinet members and lawmakers, signed a child-nutrition bill at a D.C. elementary school. His schedule also includes a meeting with U.N. ambassadors and a ceremony honoring the Los Angeles Lakers for their NBA championship.

THE HOUSE: Convened only for a pro forma session.

UP IN THE AIR: The outcome may not be in doubt when the Senate votes late this afternoon to move another step toward passing the president’s tax compromise bill. The votes are there. But the course of tax legislation never does run smooth, and the path in the House may yet contain a few rocks that will slow things down — even if there are no signs of boulders that would threaten to block enactment.
 
And while Pelosi has remained silent on what she wants to do — or will allow her caucus to do — to the tax measure, Majority-Leader-Until-January Hoyer is talking like the House may well tweak the bill in a way that would help mollify disgruntled Democrats. That would require at least another trip through the Senate and maybe another pass through the House. All of which means that Las Vegas can lay long odds against Senate Majority Leader Reid’s hope for adjournment by Friday.

TIME ENOUGH FOR START? Despite the late hour, the White House is continuing to count heads in the Senate on its efforts to win ratification of the New Start treaty in the lame duck. As of Friday, the tally stood at 59 firm yes votes, and there are probably enough strong “maybes” to bring the tally to 67, the two-thirds necessary for treaty ratification.

White House senior adviser David Axelrod said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday that he is optimistic. “I’m hopeful that we’re going to get a vote on that. And I think the support is there for it,” he said.

The question is whether lawmakers will want to approve a major arms treaty between the United States and Russia in the short time that’s left before Congress adjourns. Republicans are saying they want a full floor debate given the importance of the issue. But Democrats say they are willing to wait, with a spokeswoman for Reid saying “we’ll be here as long as it takes,” to get the treaty ratified. White House Spokesman Gibbs said Obama will not leave for his family vacation to Hawaii until the Senate completes this work.

BACK TO HEALTH CARE: Supporters of the health care overhaul law are bracing themselves for a ruling today by U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson in Richmond, who’s looking at the law’s constitutionality. The suit is only one of several challenging Congress’ handiwork on the law, but it is considered one of the more significant and is almost certain to be appealed, regardless of which way Hudson, a George W. Bush appointtee, rules. Most everyone expects the question will end up in the Supreme Court.

Hudson’s decision will be followed on Thursday by oral arguments in a separate case in the Florida courtroom of U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola, Florida. Both suits take aim at the law’s individual mandate, the requirement that all Americans have health insurance. The mandate is considered the linchpin of the law because without it, other provisions wouldn’t have much force. If it is ultimately struck down, Congress might have to go back to the drawing board on substantial parts of the law. And already, some lawmakers are thinking about that possibility.

STEELE AWAY? RNC Chairman Michael Steele has scheduled a teleconference with GOP insiders tonight, and he is expected to announce that he won’t be running for another term. His off-the-cuff public persona and his financial management of the party organization have put him on shaky ground with many Republicans. Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman is among the names in the mix as a possible candidate if Steele bows out.

Another of the GOP’s top political posts definitely will not be changing hands. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas says he learned a few lessons as chairman of the NRSC — the Senate GOP’s campaign arm —  during the 2010 cycle. This year’s divisive primaries involving tea party candidates, he says, drove home the point that an endorsement by the national committee isn’t always an advantage for a candidate. Next time around, he plans to get his GOP colleagues more involved in the candidate-recruitment process.

— Joe Warminsky and CQ Staff

Become a fan of David Hawkings at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

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