Thursday, February 17, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Cut and Run

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convened at 9 (after going home for the night at 3:43 this morning) with only an outside hope of a final vote by tonight on the midyear spending bill.

The only way to limit the debate on several hundred potential amendments is a unanimous agreement — hard to come by because Boehner has made so much of his commitment to an open debate, and because Democrats aren’t eager to allow the $61 billion or more in cuts to pass any sooner than they have to. (In a series of 13 rapid-fire roll calls this morning, the House rejected proposals to cut off all funding for the National Labor Relations Board and halve what's left in the bill for Amtrak.)

Before returning to the appropriations package, the House voted 279-143 to clear a 90-day extension of three expanded Patriot Act powers designed to help the FBI track down terrorists.

Sam Johnson led a moment of silence in tribute to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was 38 years to the day after the Texas Republican returned to the United States from seven years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, a choked-up Boehner told the House.

Ways and Means will approve a bill to repeal the 1099 business tax reporting provision in the health care overhaul.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and is about to hold a crucial test vote on the aviation bill: whether to cut off a filibuster on an amendment that would set the stage for more long-distance flights at Reagan National. Reid says he won’t send senators home for their Presidents Day recess until the bill is passed.

Secretary of State Clinton is conducting a closed-door Middle East briefing for all senators.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers this morning to discuss ways to alter the “No Child Left Behind” education law: Tom Harkin, Jeff Bingaman, Mike Enzi and Lamar Alexander from the Senate, and John Kline, Duncan Hunter, George Miller and Dale Kildee from the House.

After a lunch with Biden, Pelosi, Hoyer, Clyburn and White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, the president will sign a law naming the new Tucson federal courthouse for slain Judge John Roll.

Then he’s flying to San Francisco for an off-camera dinner with a group of tech industry titans including Apple’s ailing Steve Jobs, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Eric Schmidt and Yahoo’s Carol Bartz.

CAN THE SENATE PLAY NICE? Whether the final House vote before the recess comes tonight or tomorrow, the outcome seems certain: Virtually all the Republicans will vote to make some of the deepest reductions in federal discretionary spending ever contemplated — a minor rebellion by the fringe group of GOP moderates having been put down — and virtually all the Democrats will vote against them.

And then Reid and McConnell will have a full week to ponder what to do next. Whatever approaches the leaders take, the result will be the first serious test of their commitment to running the Senate in a less confrontational way.

Even under the most optimistic scenario, though, there’s no way the Senate can pass its version of the appropriations package, and come to a compromise with the House that Obama will endorse, in the five days between when Congress returns on Feb. 28 and when the current stopgap spending law expires. So another short-term CR is a given.

What’s also a given — now that Senate Democrats have endorsed the five-year discretionary spending freeze proposed by Obama — is that some deep cuts are on the way.

“We believe there should be cuts in spending. We recognize that,” Reid said yesterday. Bur he made clear he will push his caucus to view that freeze as a ceiling for the level it will support, not a floor. Some Democrats, especially fiscal moderates facing intense fights for re-election in 2102 (Claire McCaskill, Ben Nelson, Jon Tester and Joe Manchin, for example) will want to go further, but their leaders are confident there is nowhere close to 13 of them — the number that would be required to team up with all the Republicans to get what will become a necessary 60-vote supermajority for cuts.

McConnell says Republicans will push the Senate to embrace the same grand total of cuts approved by the House, although he is signaling his troops won't robotically embrace line-for-line every trim sent across the Capitol. Instead, they might propose changing the priorities around somewhat.

SPOTLIGHT DANCE: The Democrats who run the Senate are a bit tired of finishing a distant third in this winter’s battle for the nation’s attention — behind Obama and the Republicans who run the House. And given the complex political map they’re looking at for 2102,  they need all the attention they can get for policies that could resonate with independent voters.

So it’s a bit unclear why they chose yesterday — when the House was drawing so much attention to its spending debate — to roll out their agenda for the year. Schumer, who was in charge of the effort, has a reputation for getting the maximum press exposure for whatever he's promoting.

In general, the agenda is for the Senate Democrats to get right in the president’s wake when he talks about “winning the future” with targeted spending that could spur job creation. And many of the things in Schumer’s plans have drawn some GOP support in the past, suggesting the agenda was written in an effort to portray the party as both moderate and sensible about what can be accomplished in the current environment. Among the ideas: updating the highway bill, revamping patent law, altering No Child Left Behind and extending the research and development tax credit indefinitely.

TRAIL TIPS: (1) Bill Burton has disappointed House Democratic recruiters happy by deciding not to run in the special election to replace one-term-and-one-month punch line Chris Lee in upstate New York — but he is moving on tomorrow after two years as deputy White House press secretary. Having been passed over for the top job, Burton is opening a political and strategic consulting firm with Sean Sweeney, who has worked for both of Obama’s first two chiefs of staff, Rahm Emanuel and Pete Rouse.

(2) Craigslist was at the heart of Lee’s egocentric downfall; Facebook might contribute to the downfall of another House Republican, Dave Reichert, whose suburban Seattle seat is already a top Democratic target for 2012. Junior staffer Quinton Hershiser posted pictures on his page of himself and two other aides unloading a moving van filled with the congressman’s belongings. (Reichert was nowhere in sight.) It’s not against the rules if these guys took a vacation day to help the boss (which they say they did) but the situation will undoubtedly be portrayed as evidence that the former sheriff has “gone Washington” and lost his ethical bearings.

(3) “Like a fractured bone, I have knit back stronger in the broken places,” Scott Brown writes in his new memoir, published just as he gets ready to launch a potentially intense 2012 campaign for a full Senate term in Massachusetts. Along with his “60 Minutes” interview, which CBS rolled out last night, the book reveals that Brown was sexually assaulted as a 10-year-old by a summer camp counselor on Cape Cod and was beaten by his stepfather.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY:  House Democrat Eliot Engel of New York (64); House Republicans Steve Womack of Arkansas (54) and Brett Guthrie of Kentucky (47).

— David Hawkings, editor

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