Wednesday, December 22, 2010

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Last Day

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010

 Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 9 for what's looming as the final, and potentially not all that frenetic, day of the 111th Congress.

The day's only real suspense is whether Tom Coburn will to try to block the so-called Sept. 11 bill, which would provide $6.2 billion in aid to people sickened at Ground Zero. He has the parliamentary power to delay a final vote until next week; if he decides to do so, Reid will almost certainly abandon the bill.

By voice vote, senators passed and sent to the House a streamlined defense authorization bill shorn of virtually all controversial policy provisions. (The last bit of language dropped would have authorized $100 million for victims of atrocities by Japanese forces on Guam in World War II.)

The vote ratifying the New Start nuclear arms control treaty with Russia is on course for midafternoon. And even after the year's final roll call there will be potentially dozens of non-controversial bills cleared, and nominees confirmed, as Reid conducts "the mother of all wrap-ups." 

THE HOUSE: Convened at 11 and on a quick voice vote cleared the the $725 billion defense bill. But a roll call vote would likely be required if the Senate sends the Sept. 11 measure its way. And the House may take up a resolution condemning the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide.

But with each passing hour, Democratic leaders fret more and more about losing a quorum as the rank-and-file's desire to get home for Christmas trumps any willingness to wait around; 44 Democrats and 32 Republicans, many of them retiring or defeated this year, skipped last night's final vote.

THE WHITE HOUSE: "No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie, or look over their shoulder, in order to serve the country that they love," Obama declared at the Interior Department this morning before signing the repeal of a law that's prevented openly gay people from serving in the military for the past 17 years. Ending "don't ask, don't tell," he said, "will strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend."

The president then went back to the Oval Office for a closed meeting with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and to sign the 10-week CR. With the lame duck limping across the finish line, the trusted-traveler-in-chief was preparing to fly off on Air Force One this afternoon to join his wife and daughters on the family's annual Christmas vacation in Hawaii.

AN ECONOMIC UPTICK: The gross domestic product grew at a 2.6 percent annual rate in the third quarter (July, August and September), mainly thanks to greater spending by businesses replenishing their inventories, the Commerce Department reported today. That's a bit better than the 2.5 percent pace estimated a month ago. Economic growth in April, May and June was only 1.7 percent. Expectations are gaining that the fourth quarter will be the year's economically strongest.

THESE ARE THE RULES: Next year's House rules, which the Republicans are unveiling today, are newsworthy in large measure because of what they don't do: They do not close the independent and nonpartisan Office of Congressional Ethics, which Republicans had railed against for the past two years as having unnecessary and potentially unconstitutional powers to police lawmakers.

But Boehner has yielded to intense lobbying from independent watchdog groups - and from within his own ranks, where lawmakers had grown skittish about potential headlines declaring the new majority would be returning to the "only the foxes will guard the henhouse" ways that characterized the congressional ethics process for decades. (Pelosi pushed past Boehner and the GOP to create the office four years ago to make good on her party's "drain the swamp" 2006 campaign pledge.) The OCE did the initial work in the Maxine Waters case, which has seemingly come apart since it was turned over to the official House ethics panel, but it had only a tangential role in the case that led to Charlie Rangel's censure.

Some of the other House rules - which will be officially adopted in two weeks as the first party-line vote of the 112th Congress - will please advocates of transparency but disappoint conservatives pushing for major curbs to government spending. The new rules call for committees to publish hearing and markup attendance, require that each bill be available online for three days before it's debated and compel lawmakers to provide a constitutional justification for each bill introduced.

But the rules eliminate the "Gephardt rule," which allows for an automatic increase of the federal debt limit upon the adoption of the annual budget resolution.

The rules don't change the jurisdiction of any committees, but three of them get new names: Education and Labor will get back its GOP moniker, Education and the Workforce. Science and Technology will become Science, Space and Technology. And Standards of Official Conduct will be known (officially, not just colloquially) as Ethics.

A MINIMAL ENDGAME: The entire federal government will now be operating more or less on autopilot for fully five months of this fiscal year - a consequence of the comprehensive collapse of this year's appropriations process, which ended today when Obama signed the CR. It is the capstone of the first year in the four decades of the modern budget process without the enactment of any stand-alone bill setting policies and altering spending levels for at least a few departments or agencies.

The CR essentially gives Republicans a seven-month head start on their promise to use their new power next year to curb spending by as much as $100 billion. In the interim, it provides funding until March 4 at an annualized rate that's $1.2 billion higher than fiscal 2010 funding - mainly because it forestalls proposed cuts in Pell grants and gives a little extra help to the Veterans Benefits Administration and a handful of other agencies. The government had been funded at an annual rate that was $8.2 billion below 2010 levels.

Thad Cochran, the Senate's top GOP appropriator, took a subtle shot during yesterday's debate at the Republicans who derailed the full-year (and earmark-laden) spending package that was abandoned last week. "I hope that those who opposed how the omnibus bill was crafted," he said, will "find a way to consider the appropriations bills individually and in a timely manner."

The Senate majority has become more and more reluctant to bring individual bills before the Senate in the past decade, as the other party has sought to use debates on those bills, without any time limits, as venues for votes on a broad range of hot-button, non-germane amendments mainly designed for political campaigning purposes.

SINE DIE: Unless Congress is in session tomorrow, after all, this will be the final Daily Briefing of 2010. Publication will resume Monday, Jan. 3, two days before the new Congress convenes.

— 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

GOP Wants Constitution Read on House Floor (Roll Call)

House Republicans would impose strict new transparency requirements for committees and legislation, expand term limits for committee chairmen and allow for a reading of the Constitution on the floor on the second day of the 112th Congress, according to a draft of the incoming majority's rules package. » View full article

Armenian Genocide Resolution a Late Entry to Lame-Duck Mix (CQ Today)

As the 111th Congress nears its end, a fierce lobbying campaign is raging behind the scenes over whether to hold a House floor vote on a resolution condemning the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide. » View full article

Both Parties See Gains and Losses in New Census (Roll Call)

Democrats are spinning the reapportionment figures released by the Census Bureau on Tuesday as net positives, with both parties seeking an edge heading into the 2012 elections. » View full article

Travel Group Backs Trusted-Traveler Program (CQ Homeland Security)

The U.S. Travel Association is calling for the federal government to adopt an aviation security approach that would include better technology and use of "trusted traveler" pre-screening programs. » View full article

When the House Punishes its Own (Congress.org)

Reps. Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters are not the first members of the House to face a jury of their peers. Over the years, the House has punished dozens. » View full article
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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Census Results

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010

 Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and has voted, 82-14, to limit debate on the stopgap spending bill that keeps money flowing to the agencies through March 4, mainly at the levels set for the previous budget year.

Passage of the CR is expected this afternoon after the weekly caucus lunches, followed by a vote limiting debate on the New Start arms control treaty. Reid predicted this morning that the final vote on the treaty would come by tomorrow evening.

There will be votes to confirm two new federal judges, part of a deal that will allow all but the most contentious handful of Obama's pending trial and appeals court nominees to get to the bench by the end of the year.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and will clear at least three bills, the most prominent of them to boost the FDA’s powers to combat food-borne illness. The others would compel each federal agency to identify its own efficiency shortcomings and reauthorize federal science and technology programs.

The House will also make quick work of clearing the CR if it's passed by the Senate. The current short-term spending law lapses at midnight, but the administration says it has the power to open the government's doors tomorrow if there's a one-day delay.

Left in limbo for the moment is one of the few contentious bills that's stayed alive throughout the lame duck — providing medical benefits to people sickened by the toxic brew at Ground Zero after Sept. 11.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama met in the Oval Office this morning with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and is expected to keep working the phones to assure Senate approval of New Start arms treaty.

The president will sign the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal tomorrow, which will probably be the legislative highlight of the gay civil rights movement for the foreseeable future.

AND THE WINNERS ARE: Republicans got the official good news from the Census Bureau this morning: The population growth and shifts of the past decade have worked to their favor,  and the majority of House seats that will be reapportioned for the next decade will be moving to GOP stronghold states in the South and Sunbelt at the expense of several generally Democratic states in the Northeast and Midwest.

By far the biggest winner will be reliably Republican Texas, which will get four new congressional districts mainly because of its soaring Hispanic population  — for a new total of 36 House seats, meaning its 38 electoral votes will be an even bigger second prize in the next three presidential elections than California.

Florida will get to elect 27 House members during the next decade, up from 25. New seats would also be assigned to Georgia (for a new total of 14), Washington (for 10), Arizona (for nine), South Carolina (for seven) and Nevada and Utah (for four apiece).

The two-seat losers would be New York (which would be left with 27) and Ohio (reduced to 16). One seat each would be taken from Illinois and Pennsylvania (leaving both with 18), New Jersey (12), Massachusetts (9) Michigan (14), Missouri (eight), Louisiana (six) and Iowa (four).

For the first time in its history, Democratic-leaning California did not gain a House seat after a census.

The reapportionment numbers, of course, are only the first step in the politically byzantine process by which the states will redraw their congressional maps before the 2012 election. Before that, though, the new census results will be used to distribute more than $400 billion in annual federal aid.

The official 2010 count as of April 1, census day, was set at 308,745,538 — putting the national growth at 9.7 percent during the previous decade. That was the smallest since the 1940 census, which pegged population during the decade of the Great Depression. (It was 13.2 percent in the 1990s.)

HE'S NOT NEUTRAL: "The Internet is an invaluable resource that should be left  alone" by federal regulators,  McConnell declared this morning, unveiling the Republican talking points against the FCC's "net neutrality" rules even before the commission had convened to vote on them.

Chairman Julius Genachowski has support from the two other Democratic commissioners for his package. The two Republicans on the FCC will vote "no." Under the regulations, phone and cable companies will be prohibited from using control over their wires to play favorites with the content that flows over those broadband connections (by allowing the content they own to arrive on a consumer's screen faster than other content, for example) or from discriminating against rival content or services, such as Internet phone calls or online video.

But the plan would not apply such rules to wireless providers. And it would give broadband providers ability to manage network congestion and unwanted traffic such as spam, which consumer groups think could serve as a back door to content discrimination.

Genachowski's package is modeled on a plan offered as a compromise by Henry Waxman when he was chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. But Republicans in Congress spurned it, and they are likely to use their majority power in the House next year to push legislation that would block the FCC from carrying out the plan.

PRESS THE START BUTTON: Lamar Alexander's unexpected endorsement this morning signals essentially irreversible momentum for approval of the Russian arms control treaty — especially with a senatorial side deal now in the offing that's going to win over a handful of defense hawks. But it looks like late Thursday night for the final vote, and maybe Christmas Eve morning, if Jon Kyl and other angry Republican opponents of the accord get their way.

There are 57 sure Democratic votes for the pact, and a 58th if Ron Wyden is well enough to get back to the Capitol after prostate cancer surgery Monday at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. (The retiring Evan Bayh decided it was more important to continue his "farewell tour" of Indiana than to keep up his senatorial obligations for the first half of the week, but he's promised to be back for the final Start vote.)

Whether Wyden is on hand or not, the treaty still needs the support of nine Republicans for ratification (two-thirds of 100 senators present is 67 but two-thirds of 99 senators present is 66.) Alexander, who as GOP conference chairman is No. 3 in the leadership hierarchy, becomes the sixth Republican  "yes" vote — joining  Dick Lugar, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, George Voinovich and Scott Brown. But Judd Gregg, Bob Corker and Johnny Isakson are almost certain to vote for the deal as well.

Those votes alone would seem to seal the deal, but there's also a chance that an amendment to the "resolution of ratification" declaring U.S.  intentions to keep building a missile defense shield, which would not require reopening negotiaions with the Russians, will help win over as many as four other Republicans; John McCain, Bob Bennett, Thad Cochran and Lisa Murkowski.

IN THE RUNNING: Ron Paul insists he's not going to try for a third time, Mike Pence is leaning hard toward running for governor of Indiana instead, and Jim DeMint is realizing he may not be able to transform himself from the tea party's favorite senator into that movement's top White House choice.

That leaves John Thune as by far the most likely 2012 presidential aspirant now stalking the halls of Congress. But if he's running, he's not made his intentions clear to the Republican operatives in the all-important first primary state of New Hampshire. They say they've been getting decidedly mixed messages from the South Dakota senator.

He was in touch with Granite State political players regularly in the first half of 2009, but the calls dried up over the summer.


— 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

GOP Support Shaky for Sept. 11 Health Bill (CQ Today)

New York's senators are maneuvering within an extremely narrow window of opportunity as they try to pass legislation that would aid people exposed to toxic materials at the Sept. 11 attack site. » View full article

Fresh Off 'Don't Ask' Win, Gay-Rights Groups Look Ahead (Roll Call)

The repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy has boosted the spirits of gay-rights activists, but it is not expected to bolster the rest of their legislative agenda. » View full article

Mixed Messages on Thune's 2012 Ambitions (Roll Call)

John Thune is one of Capitol Hill's favorite rumored contenders, but he has been slow to prove he's serious about a White House bid in the state that will host the nation's first presidential primary. » View full article

Terrorism Laws Block Refugees, Groups Say (CQ Homeland Security)

A group of security analysts and religious officials are reiterating a point they've been making for more than a decade — that the anti-terrorism laws passed after Sept. 11, 2001, have come with the inadvertent consequence of delaying or prohibiting some refugees from escaping to America. » View full article

Congress Q&A: The Rules (Congress.org)

Why are the procedural rules for the House and Senate so different? We answer your questions about Congress and the federal government. » View full article
-----

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dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Monday, December 20, 2010

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Finish Line in Sight

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, Dec. 20, 2010

 Today In Washington

(David Hawkings is off today.)

THE HOUSE: Is not in session. The chamber will take action this week on legislation to extend funding for government departments and agencies into next year, and will also consider measures on food safety and on funding for the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology and certain Energy Department science programs. Other business is possible, though the chamber is hoping to adjourn for the year by midweek.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 a.m. and is considering the New Start treaty with Russia. At 1:30 p.m., the Senate will recess and reassemble at 2 p.m. for a closed session to address classified subject matter pertinent to the treaty. Thereafter, the Senate will reconvene in open session. Pending is an amendment to the treaty offered by James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., that would require a larger number of inspections and verifications regarding the Russian nuclear arsenal.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The president has a quiet schedule, having received his daily briefing and met with senior advisers this morning.

STILL SOME SHOUTING: The Senate is plodding toward a test vote tomorrow that would cut off debate on the ratification of the New Start missile treaty with Russia, and a showdown soon after on whether two-thirds of the senators will vote to approve it.

GOP Leader McConnell said he'll vote no, but it's still uncertain if there are as many as nine Republicans willing to throw their support to Obama on the issue. Four Republicans - Richard Lugar of Indiana, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and George Voinovich of Ohio - have said they will vote to ratify.

There will be a few more amendments offered to the treaty itself, but the likelihood is that they will be rejected, as were the first two that came to a vote. The Senate may accept amendments to the resolution of ratification, but those won't change the terms of the pact with Russia.

A closed session this afternoon in the Old Senate Chamber will give lawmakers a chance to debate the matter in secret, and that may give wavering senators an opportunity to decide if this is on balance a good deal.

MONEY FOR NOTHING: Another test vote is set up for tomorrow on a short-term spending bill that would keep the government running through March 4, mostly on the same terms as it ran last year.

The measure does contain a little extra money for veterans' programs and heating assistance for low-income Americans. Lawmakers will have to come back to this in the first months of the 112th Congress to produce spending measures for the balance of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

WEEKEND AT HARRY'S: Reid's decision to keep the Senate in all weekend to move forward on a raft of controversial issues may make trouble for one new Democrat - Joe Manchin of West Virginia, elected Nov. 2 to fill the seat of Robert Byrd who died in June. Manchin, who is expected to have a close race in two years to win a full Senate term, missed votes on Saturday on the so-called DREAM Act immigration bill and a measure to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy affecting gays in the military.

Longstanding family obligations got in the way, Manchin said in an effort to inoculate himself against sure GOP attacks on his missing these critical votes. National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh said in a statement that Manchin had it both ways. "Not only was he able to skip work and party, but he was also able to avoid voting on two very sensitive political issues," Walsh said.

A vote to cut off debate on the DREAM Act fell short, 55-41 (60 votes were needed), and the bill to repeal the "don't ask" policy passed 65-31. Manchin's vote wouldn't have mattered either way.

Three Republicans also missed those votes - Jim Bunning of Kentucky and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, both of whom are retiring, and Orrin Hatch of Utah.

- John Cranford and CQ staff

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Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

Test Vote on START Likely Tuesday (Roll Call)

Senate Majority Leader Reid moved Sunday evening to try to advance New Start, setting up a likely Tuesday vote to end debate on President Barack Obama's No. 1 foreign policy priority and the potential for a final vote on ratification before Christmas. » View full article

Dems Push To Fund Through March 4 (CQ Today)

Senate Democrats' new stopgap funding measure would increase government spending by $1.16 billion through March of next year. » View full article

2012 Senators Targeted for Weekend Votes (Roll Call)

In office for just more than a month, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin skipped two decisive votes in the Senate's lame-duck session Saturday — an immigration bill and the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy — that could affect his future election prospects. » View full article

Senate Passes Food Safety Bill (CQ Today)

The long-delayed comprehensive food safety bill passed by voice vote Sunday night, sending it back to the House to clear for the president's signature. » View full article

Calendar Shows Divided Congress (CQ Today)

Without collaboration, the House and Senate released separate and largely unaligned 2011 calendars showing "how much the leadership is not on the same page," as one outside observer put it. » View full article

D.C. Decoder: Unemployment (Congress.org)

Each month the nation awaits the latest unemployment figures. In this D.C. Decoder, Craig Crawford shows why those numbers don't tell the whole story. » View full article
-----

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David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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