Friday, February 04, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing:

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, Feb. 4, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is meeting on climate change, trade and border security with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. But when they hold their news conference at 3:10, Egypt will dominate the questions.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 for a day of speechmaking, not legislating.

THE HOUSE: In recess.

GOOD NEWS, TEPID NEWS: So, today’s Labor Department’s jobs report had a bright-spot headline: A drop in the unemployment rate to an even 9 percent in January, the lowest in 21 months, and a corresponding decline in the total number of jobless Americans. But the report also had a weak-spot headline: Job growth was very limited last month, when blizzards froze much of the country in its tracks. Construction and transportation payrolls fell, while retail and manufacturing employment rose. The net was a gain of just 36,000 positions — perhaps a tenth of what would be nice to have, but a gain nonetheless. And previously reported payroll gains for November and December were revised higher.

The drop in the jobless rate was the second straight monthly decline and total number of jobless workers now stands below 14 million. Moreover, fewer people lost their jobs in January than in December, and the number of people who are working part-time because they can’t find a full-time job also declined.

Republicans were quick on the draw to say the jobs report contained insufficient good news, and to reiterate their call for less government spending. “With a continued commitment to cut spending and damaging federal regulations, we will grow the economy and create private sector jobs,” Cantor declared. But if government payrolls shrink, private employers will have to pick up the slack. Indeed, governments shed 14,000 positions in January, almost all at the local level.

QUIET BRASS: Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen argued today against cutting off military aid to Egypt, an idea gaining support among top lawmakers.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty out there. I would just caution against doing anything until we really understand what’s going on,” Mullin said on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” where he also said the armed forces are in a high state of “awareness” but not in a formal heightened state of alert because of the instability in Egypt.

The Navy admiral spoke a day after Pat Leahy of Vermont, the Democratic chairman of the panel that writes the Senate’s version of the foreign aid budget, said he would move to send all help for Egypt at the start of next month, when the current stopgap federal funding law expires, unless a transitional government takes over until elections this fall. (On a voice vote and without any dissent, the Senate last night endorsed a measure calling on Mubarak to immediately transfer power to such a caretaker government.)

The Egypt package — which includes about $1.3 billion for its military this year and another $200 million or so in economic help — is a ripe target in any case because of the Republicans’ vow to cut tens of billions in discretionary spending in the final half of this fiscal year. At the same time, top GOP members of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees foreign assistance have sounded a more cautious note than Leahy about a suspension of aid.

Tens of thousands of anti-Mubarak protesters appeared jubilant in Cairo’s central square today, and the pro-Mubarak attackers seemed to have faded, as word spread that Obama administration officials were working with  Mubarak’s team on a plan in which power would be transferred to an interim government with a strong Army presence, which in turn would work with opposition groups — including the Muslim Brotherhood — on plans for free and fair elections in September.

PARSING THE NUMBERS: There are several ways to measure the depth of the budget cut proposed by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan. He and other house Republican leaders want the public (and the most conservative lawmakers) to focus on $74 billion, which represents a 7 percent reduction to Obama’s total discretionary spending request for the current year. Their second choice is that the focus be on $58 billion, or the 12 percent cut below Obama’s request for non-security spending — which the GOP defines as everything except the military, homeland security and veterans.

The number the GOP leaders like the least, for political and salesmanship purposes, is $32 billion, the amount that would be shaved across all current levels of spending during the final seven months of this fiscal year. But in terms of comparing the existing “apple” to the House GOP’s proposed replacement “apple,” that seems like by far the best number to use.

And, no matter which number you pick, it falls well below the $100 billion goal that conservatives say they’ll push for when the House takes up a comprehensive appropriations package the week after next. Which is why Ryan referred to his proposal as a “down payment” towards further reductions that would come later on, starting with the full-year budget for fiscal 2012, which starts in October.

But that $32 billion is undoubtedly the highest number that Ryan and House GOP leaders think they have even an outside longshot at forcing the Democratic Senate and the president to accept.

And to get even that far, the GOP would have to persuade the public (and thereby the Senate and Obama) that such a relative sliver of deficit reduction is worth the pain of these sorts of deep spending cuts: 17 percent below last year’s level for transportation and housing programs; a 16 percent cut at the departments of Justice, Commerce and State; another 14 percent cut from the USDA and the FDA; 13 percent from the Treasury; and 10 percent from energy and water programs. The Republicans also will have to persuade the nation – amazingly — that the smallest domestic discretionary budget cut of all (2 percent) should be for Congress itself.

FOLEY, FLIRTING? Democratic campaign operatives are delighting in spreading the evidence of an attempted political comeback by Mark Foley, whose salacious e-mails and encounters with House pages fueled the Democrats’ “drain the swamp” rhetoric at the height of their successful 2006 campaign to win control of the House.

Foley — who became a leadership insider and Ways and Means player before his resignation near the end of his sixth term — introduced freshman Republican Allen West on Tuesday at the “grand opening” of his House district office in West Palm Beach, where Foley considered running in this year’s nonpartisan mayor’s race. He spoke to Palm Beach County Young Republicans the week before. He also helped raise money for unsuccessful GOP Senate aspirant Sharon Merchant last fall and has his own talk radio show.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop of Georgia (64).

TODAY’S TWEETER: Check out Niels Lesniewski (@nielslesniewski), who covers the Senate for CQ.

— David Hawkings, editor

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Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

Leahy: Aid to Egypt Should Be Frozen for Now (CQ Today)

It's the toughest language yet from the Senate's top foreign-assistance appropriator. » View full article

Ryan Calls for $32 Billion in Cuts (CQ Today)

House GOP appropriators now have the final target they need to write a stopgap funding measure to pay for the last seven months of fiscal 2011. » View full article

Hill Spending Feels Little Pinch in GOP Plan (Roll Call)

The operations of Congress itself would be funded at $4.6 billion in fiscal 2011, a 2 percent reduction from fiscal 2010. » View full article

Remodeling Fannie and Freddie (CQ Weekly)

Talk to anyone in Congress about how to replace the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and almost inevitably, the troublesome "sand states" come up. » View full article

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