Friday, February 18, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Read My Lips

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, Feb. 18, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convened at 9 and appears on course for final passage of the $1 trillion, seven-month spending package sometime tonight. Talk of a Saturday session has been fading, even though all sides agreed late last night to allow up to 23 more hours of debate on as many as 129 more amendments.

Three amendments are getting the lion’s share of attention. One would cut all federal family planning aid. Another would prohibit any spending to implement last year’s health care overhaul. The last would impose an additional $20 billion in cuts from current levels (on top of the $61 billion in the legislation), which the conservative Republican Study Committee says would accomplish its goal of bringing non-security spending down to 2008 levels.

THE SENATE: Senators have started their Presidents Day recess and won’t convene again until Monday, Feb. 28, when they’ll begin debating a patent law overhaul.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is flying from San Francisco to Portland. He’ll tour an Intel semiconductor factory in Hillsboro and meet with student finalists in the company’s talent search before a 2:30 speech. He’s due back in Washington at 8:30.

CLOSING TIME: Government shutdown brinkmanship got off to an unexpectedly rollicking start yesterday, but it will fade for a few days while both parties suss out their answer to the following question: How small of a very temporary spending cut will Democrats have to permit for Republicans to be able to trumpet their first clear-cut triumph on budget restraint?

Since elections have consequences, and the Republicans won shared control of the government last fall, they’re entitled to demand at least an initial victory. Since the Democrats have plenty of torque left in the legislative system, they’re entitled to insist that their acquiescence in a GOP win be mostly symbolic. And the need for another stopgap spending bill affords both sides the opportunity to get what they want. It will probably last just two weeks — from March 4, when the current CR expires, until March 18, the start of another weeklong congressional recess.

Republicans will want that measure to dictate an across-the-board cut to non-security spending. They’ll probably push for 12 percent, to match the amount in the comprehensive measure now before the House. But they’ll probably be willing to keep the government open if they get a smaller cut for those two weeks (5 percent, say), on the condition that — if the final fiscal 2011 deal isn’t made sometime in March — the next stopgap will impose a deeper across-the-board cut.

Reid may well go along. His response to Boehner’s shutdown threat yesterday was not to unilaterally oppose any cut — but only to lament that “he’s resorting to threats to do just that without any negotiations.”

In the 15 years since the last government shutdown, the conventional wisdom in both parties has been that Washington should never, ever let that happen again. And that thinking will ultimately prevail again this year. Democrats don’t want the doors to social service agencies and environmental regulators to get locked, even for a day or two. More importantly, Republicans don’t want the sort of public relations drubbing they endured after the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns. Bill Clinton was so successful in portraying the Gingrich revolutionaries as heartless and cavalier that he muted their first-year-in-the-majority momentum and kick-started what had been his own uphill drive for re-election.

The last thing the GOP wants is to afford Obama the same opportunity. Which is why, just maybe, Boehner was sending a subtle (or even subliminal) signal yesterday when he echoed the most famous broken promise in modern Republican history — George Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign vow to never allow a tax increase. “Read my lips: We are going to cut spending,” the Speaker said in delivering his shutdown threat.

K STREET DEAD ENDS: Whatever side you’re on in this week’s great House spending debate, it’s hard to argue about one thing: It’s been great. Great political theater. A great civics lesson. A great range of federal agencies being challenged in public, from the NEA to the IRS. A great percentage of roll calls that are NOT falling on party lines, as GOP moderates bond with Democrats to ward off some of the deepest possible cuts. A great display of the legislative process at its most robust and its most nuanced. (There have even been some great uses of points of order!) Veteran lawmakers and freshmen alike showing great stamina — three nights in a row after midnight — and great preparation.

But it hasn’t been so great for K Street. It’s totally out of practice for the current exercise, which relies on quickly written amendments and rapidly executed legislative tactical maneuvers. Lobbyists and advocates are at their best when they’re fighting rear-guard actions, working behind the scenes to get the language they want laced into the legislative depths — and what they don’t want bottled up in committee for months.

Lobbyists persuade lawmakers to do their bidding over weeks of carefully choreographed meetings — an approach that can’t be applied when most House members are hanging around the floor for hours at a time. And these advocates solicit the help of Hill staff with a steady stream of e-mails and policy briefing books — an approach that’s pointless when there are several hundred proposals, arguments and counterarguments flooding in-boxes all at once.

CUTTING ROOM FLOOR: What’s also been less than great is the amount of attention paid to the House’s approach to cutting its own budget. The bill’s target is 13 percent — plus some more savings, potentially, from ending the “Green the Capitol” initiative so ballyhooed by Pelosi over the past four years.

But dozens of domestic programs would be cut much more. And, while business lobbyists are having a tough time getting members’ attention, insider lawmakers are working hard out on the floor to make sure there’s no more tinkering with congressional operations.

That’s one reason why a largely symbolic effort to make the House “Buy American” more often was quietly put to death without a vote. And it’s why Dan Lungren of California, the so-called mayor of the House, will likely win his argument that any more cuts would endanger the lawmakers themselves by compromising Capitol security.


TRAIL TIPS: (1) Janet Napolitano doesn’t seem likely to run for Arizona’s open Senate seat. The state’s former governor and attorney general “is devoting her time to getting the job done that the president asked her to do,” her spokesman at the Homeland Security Department, Matthew Chandler, said yesterday. But he did not categorically rule out the possibility she’d change her mind about trying to succeed the retiring GOP whip, Jon Kyl. Other names being mentioned by Democratic state leaders — other than their dream candidate, Gabby Giffords — include Rep. Ed Pastor, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and Felecia Rotellini, last year’s candidate nominee for state attorney general.

(2) The Minnesota Republican Party will host a GOP presidential candidate cattle call in Bloomington the second weekend in October. It will be an ideal forum for both Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann to bask in the applause of their home-state Republican friends — and for each to try to position themselves as their state’s favorite son or daughter. The former governor has a much deeper statewide organization, and a firmer commitment to seek the White House, and so the event will be a moment for Bachmann to test whether her tea party appeal close to home can help catapult her into the top ranks of the presidential field.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Deserving good wishes today — we were a day ahead of ourselves yesterday — are House Democrat Eliot Engel of New York (64) and House Republicans Steve Womack of Arkansas (54) and Brett Guthrie of Kentucky (47). For the record, celebrating on Thursday were Republicans Randy Forbes of Virginia (59) and Jim Jordan of Ohio (47).


SCHEDULING NOTE: With both the House and Senate in recess, there won’t be a Daily Briefing next week. We will resume publishing on Monday, Feb. 28.

— 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

Hill Bracing for Shutdown Showdown (CQ Today)

Boehner says even a short-term spending bill will need some cuts, or the government will turn off the lights in two weeks. » View full article

House Votes to Kill 'Green the Capitol' Initiative (Roll Call)

Pelosi's eco-minded effort has been pitched on the compost heap as part of the spending debate. » View full article

Republicans Take Aim at IRS With Budget Cuts (CQ Today)

The House GOP looks to take a chunk out of the agency's budget with hopes of a trickle-down effect on policy. » View full article

GOP's 'Tuesday Group' expands (CQ Weekly)

It seems the demise of the centrist Republican may be greatly exaggerated. » View full article

'Buy American' Rules: Patriotic, but Not Pragmatic (Roll Call)

Your gifts with purchase: confusing conditions and bureaucratic nightmares. » View full article

D.C. Decoder's Guide to Watching C-SPAN (Congress.org)

Craig Crawford cuts through the jargon to explain the procedural mess on everyone's favorite cable channel. » View full article
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David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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