Tuesday, May 03, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Back to the Home Front

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and will bask in bipartisan relief at the death of Osama bin Laden for one more day, by adopting a resolution commending the Seals and the spies who brought it about. (The vote will come after a senators-only classified briefing on the operation at 5 by CIA Director Leon Panetta.)

John Ensign’s resignation will take effect and fellow Republican Dean Heller will resign his House seat to become Nevada’s newest senator.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at noon and will be done for the day before 6, after passing bills that would repeal mandatory funding for state insurance exchanges and for school-based medical construction that was created in the 2009 health law.

A statue of the last House member who moved directly into national office — Gerald Ford, the minority leader before his appointment as vice president in 1973 — was unveiled in the Rotunda this morning by Boehner, Pelosi, Reid and McConnell.  Michigan decided last year that the 38th president should be one of its two favorite sons honored in the Statuary Hall collection.

THE WHITE HOUSE: After a Rose Garden ceremony that’s just getting under way to honor the Teachers of the Year, Obama will convene a Cabinet meeting at 12:45. He’s called members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to the State Dining Room for an off-camera meeting on immigration policy at 2:30.

WHAT NOW: The normal rhythms of springtime Washington are still off — but only by a little bit — on the second full day after the hunt for Bin Laden ended. It’s clear that by tonight the normal sounds of the season (partisan sniping about the other side’s misplaced priorities) will be approaching full volume.

That will herald a quick and not significantly debated decision, by the congressional leadership from both parties, to essentially ignore Obama’s overt effort to leverage a boost in national mood in the service of his agenda. “It is my fervent hope that we can harness some of that unity and some of that pride to confront the many challenges that we still face,” the president said at last night’s congressional dinner, to which every committee chairman and ranking member was invited.

The Republicans who run the House made no move to go along, holding intact their schedule for debating legislation this week that would pick fights with the president not only on health care but also on energy and abortion policy. And in the Senate, Reid made clear that he was willing to call only a one-more-day truce in his deepening rift with McConnell over even the most minor matters.

DOMESTICALLY SPEAKING: What this means is that both sides are concluding that the economy, energy prices and the budget debate will be the driving issues in the 2012 campaign much more than anything that happens overseas. And for awhile, lawmakers and their campaign strategists will be avoiding any suggestion that they would seek to use the killing of Bin Laden for political advantage.

Behind the scenes, though, Democrats are confident the president’s call for the daring raid has won their side new credibility on foreign and national security policy, while Republicans are sounding just as confident they will be viewed over the long run as the party that drove the war against terrorism toward Sunday’s undeniably climactic and cathartic victory.

EYES ON ISLAMABAD: The bipartisan “Gang of Eight” congressional leaders is congratulating itself on keeping the mission a secret. But there’s disagreement in Congress about whether the white House should release the grisly photographs of Bin Laden with a bullet hole over his left eye, and about  whether the al Qadea mastermind’s burial in the Arabian Sea was more dignified than it should have been.

That quibbling, though, is being readily overshadowed by one area of strong agreement about the meaning of all the details pouring out about the operation: Republicans and Democrats alike are incredulous about Pakistan’s behavior.

All day yesterday, and at a Senate Foreign Relations hearing this morning, lawmakers were demanding answers about what the country’s government knew about Bin Laden having moved within 60 miles of the nation’s capital. Members of both parties are suggesting that the approximately $4 billion in mostly economic aid to Islamabad should be placed under intense scrutiny — no matter which way Pakistani military and intelligence leaders respond: that they were totally clueless that Bin Laden was hiding in plain sight, or that they knew his whereabouts but were ignoring his presence to protect him.

“I think this tells us once again that, unfortunately, Pakistan at times is playing a double game,” said Susan Collins, a senior Republican on Senate Armed Services. Pat Leahy, who chairs the Senate Appropriations panel that directs foreign aid, called for a reassessment of U.S. assistance to the country.

In an essay published this morning by The Washington Post, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari denied suggestions his country’s security forces sheltered Bin Laden and said their cooperation with the United States helped pinpoint his location.

“We’re not accusing anybody at this point, but we want to make sure we get to the bottom of this,” John Brennan, the top White House anti-terrorism adviser, said on NPR this morning.

REID’S NEEDS: Reid still plans to force a vote in which the Senate will reject the House’s Republican-written budget, but Bin Laden’s death is among several factors that has scuttled his hope of scoring that symbolic victory this week. The vote is now off the table until next week (and Republicans then will be able to arrange an offsetting vote on Obama’s initial fiscal blueprint).

The majority leader has an equally party-defining, electoral hot button vote he wants to arrange before the one on the budget: on ending tax breaks and other forms of federal help for the oil and gas industry – which Democrats see as an obvious winner as gasoline prices continue to climb. He’s hoping a handful of Republicans — some who are pure deficit hawks and others who are politically endangered — will join the Democrats, but there’s no chance his move will get the necessary 60 votes.

Beyond that, he’s still got to extract the Senate from its comically long standoff over a bill to revamp a pair of small-business research programs, which has become flypaper for all manner of totally extraneous GOP amendments. Unless the Republicans abandon that tactic, a cloture vote tomorrow will fail, consigning the minor legislation to the back burner indefinitely.

GRACE PERIOD: The high drama in Abbottabad may have postponed the budget debate for awhile, but the Treasury says not to worry that precious days have been squandered before the looming debt ceiling standoff. Higher-than-expected tax receipts mean the demand for borrowing has been eased a touch, and so the new, absolute “drop dead” date for raising the limit on federal bowing has been pushed back three weeks — to Aug. 2, the Tuesday of the last week before the congressional summer recess is set to begin.

In a letter delivered to every lawmaker yesterday, Secretary Tim Geithner that in order to do so, the Treasury will stop selling a type of bond that helps states and cities finance their operations and will stop reinvesting U.S. securities in federal employee retirement funds.

And, in a subtle jab at those who say they will oppose a debt ceiling increase unless it’s accompanied by a deficit reduction package, Geithner reminded lawmakers that their vote would permit borrowing for obligations already approved — meaning that lawmakers in essence already voted in support of a debt limit increase by approving the House budget resolution.

REVISED ITINERARY: Rep. Gabby Giffords will now have another week to continue her recuperation in Houston before she gets on another airplane. NASA said today that the final launch of space shuttle Endeavour (under command of the congresswoman’s husband, Mark Kelly) is now scheduled for 11:20 a.m. next Tuesday, May 10. The mission was called off Friday because of concerns about the shuttle’s heating system, and the initial 72-hour delay to fix the problem has now been significantly extended, in part because of weather pattern concerns.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: The oldest House member, Texas Republican Ralph Hall, is turning 88. Three senators also celebrate today: Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon (62), and Republicans Jim Risch of Idaho (68) and David Vitter of Louisiana (50).

— 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

Bin Laden Mission a Success in Secrecy (CQ Today)

Information shared with congressional leaders remained closely held to the end, perhaps a sign that relations between intelligence agencies and their congressional overseers are improving. » View full article

Lawmakers Rethink Aid to Pakistan (CQ Today)

Some on Capitol Hill want the flow of funds blocked immediately. » View full article

Parties Assess Post-Bin Laden Politics (Roll Call)

The conventional wisdom, for now, is that Democrats will benefit in the wake of the al Qaeda leader's death. » View full article

Concern About Attacks Is High (CQ Homeland Security)

The federal government has issued warnings to emergency agencies nationwide, but officials who have worked at the state and local levels say that those advisories don't easily translate into actions for dealing with a heightened threat environment. » View full article

Ensign Reflects, Apologizes in Farewell Speech (Roll Call)

The senator asked for forgiveness from his Senate colleagues, none of whom joined him on the floor to publicly offer it. » View full article

John Cranford's Political Economy: Taxing Choices (CQ Weekly)

In the ongoing debate over the ever-growing federal debt, much of the focus has been on the rise in spending. But it's worth taking note of the other side of the equation, which would be the extraordinary decline in taxes as a share of the economy. » View full article
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David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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