Tuesday, May 24, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Blair House Bump

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Today In Washington

CONGRESS: Benjamin Netanyahu is starting to lay out his vision of a “secure peace” agreement with the Palestinians before a joint meeting.

In his appearance, which began 20 minutes late, the Israeli prime minister was expected to reiterate his categorical rejection of making the 1967 lines the starting point for talks about a Palestinian state, as Obama suggested last week. That’s sure to get a sustained and bipartisan ovation from the lawmakers, who are overwhelmingly in Israel’s corner whenever the Jewish state is at odds with anyone — even a president of a congressman’s own party. "No one should set premature parameters about borders, about building or about anything else," Reid told AIPAC last night, for example.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and after the Netanyahu speech will resume debating the four-year extension of three Patriot Act provisions set to expire Friday. A small band of civil libertarian opponents is vowing to delay the legislation as long as possible, which could mean the next procedural vote (on the formal motion to proceed to the bill) might not come until close to midnight.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and will be done legislating by 6, after passing legislation designed to curb federal aid for medical education by $185 million in the next five years. Debate will begin on the coming year’s $690 billion defense authorization bill, but the first votes on amendments won’t come before tomorrow.

Appropriators will advance their Homeland Security, Military Construction-VA and Agriculture measures for fiscal 2012.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama’s first overtly political meeting during a mostly ceremonial first day of his state visit to Britain is at noon, when he’ll arrive at 10 Downing Street to spend an hour with Prime Minister David Cameron. He’s meeting after that with Labor’s Ed Miliband, the opposition leader. Promoting his aid plan for the Middle East is a top priority.

After tonight’s state dinner hosted by Queen Elizabeth II, the Obamas will spend the first of two nights in Buckingham Palace — in the suite last used by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, aka Will and Kate, on their wedding night. (The couples met before this morning’s palace welcoming ceremony, which featured a 102-cannon salute.)

BLAIR AFFAIR: The Blair House summit resumes at 3 — but this time the meeting between Biden and the six lawmakers will be at the Capitol, not the presidential guest house. (Netanyahu has the place booked.)

And last night the top White House aide in those talks, OMB chief Jack Lew, declared himself optimistic that they wold reach a meaningful deal to raise the debt ceiling above $14.3 trillion and commit to hundreds of millions in spending cuts in plenty of time to ward off a default in August. “There’s a shared sense of purpose” to get a deal soon, he told the Economic Club of Washington, “because it’s not going to be easier to act six months or nine months from now.”

The first handful of meetings have produced $150 billion in tentative agreement, and so now the negotiators are going to move on to possible savings from the most expensive and politically voluble entitlements, such as Medicare and Medicaid.

“I can’t argue that it’ll be pretty,” Lew said of the potential deal and the path to getting there. But an accord will be struck in the end because of “a shared understanding that it’s just unthinkable” for the United States to default.

That shared understanding will be hard to find, at least in Congress, for the next several weeks at a minimum. It’s now probably going to be after the one-week Memorial Day break that senators make their next move, which will be entirely kabuki theater — casting offsetting votes rejecting both the Obama and House GOP budgets, and then maybe voting to reject some more conservative budgets as well. The only suspense there is how many Republicans in addition to Scott Brown and Susan Collins will vote against the House plan — and in particular its call for a Medicare revamp. Republicans know there’s a cost to their own base of coming out against the Paul Ryan plan to voucherize the system,but they also know there’s an even bigger cost among independents and Democrats to keep standing up for the plan (especially after it’s become a legislative non-starter).

LIBYA LAG: Another week of rapidly deflating senatorial momentum means there also probably won’t be a vote before the Memorial Day break on the Kerry-McCain resolution endorsing Obama’s decision to join the NATO campaign in Libya. (The coalition today launched perhaps its most intense bombardment yet against Qaddafi’s headquarters.)

The support of the Foreign Relations chairman and the top Republican on Armed Services — and a handful of other prominent senators on military and foreign policy from both parties — should mean smooth sailing for the resolution, which Obama asked for last week, just as his 60-day deadline for doing so under the War Powers Act was passing. But with each passing day without a formal Senate vote of endorsement — and no action yet announced in the House — the congressional assertion of its prerogative to have a say about war-making (which presidents including Obama don’t really recognize) will seem more and more marginalized.

STORM FRONT: Obama will head to tornado-ravaged Missouri on Sunday, the morning after he gets back from Europe. “All we can do is let them know that all of America cares deeply about them and that we are going to do absolutely everything we can to make sure that they recover,” the president said this morning about the people of Joplin, where the death toll now stands at 117 — even as 17 people have been pulled from the rubble alive in the past day.

Obama ordered FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate to travel to Missouri to coordinate what is for now an open-ended federal aid program — although this spring’s flooding and tornado outbreaks have increased the chances that Congress will have to go above the newly set spending limits in order to put sufficient money in the disaster relief fund. To “save money” on the books, Congress and the president have traditionally gambled that the weather won’t be too bad and kept the fund as low as possible. For the coming year, lawmakers are considering boosting the account to $3.5 billion, or 32 percent more than Obama asked for.

UPSTATE UPSET: The polls close at 9 in the upstate New York congressional special election, with Republicans more or less openly conceding they expect to lose what had been a rare bedrock GOP bastion in the Northeast. (The suburbs of Buffalo and Rochester were represented by Jack Kemp and former NRCC heads Bill Paxon and Tom Reynolds before Chris Lee suited up for the job, albeit for only 25 months.) In one sure sign of GOP pessimism, several of Jane Corwin’s campaign aides were sending out resumes overnight to incumbent Republican House members.

Democrats are preparing to crow that a victory by Kathy Hochul, who’s now the Erie County clerk, is a clear sign the nation is turning against the new GOP majority because of its plans to remake Medicare. (Corwin, a state legislator, endorsed the House budget.) The GOP is preparing to rebut that analysis and blame their loss instead on the presence of a tea party spoiler, Jack Davis, who’s spending about $3 million of his own money and will likely draw about 10 percent of the vote. There are solid arguments to support both claims — and so in the end the Democrats won’t be able to make their bellwether-rebuke-to-Ryan argument stick for too long.

DEMOCRATIC SHUFFLE: Steve Israel this morning reshuffled the roles of some of his top lieutenants at the DCCC to account for Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s move to become chairwoman of the Democratic Party. Allyson Schwartz of Pennsylvania will expand her role beyond being in charge of recruiting; she’s now also in charge of allocating fieldwork and fundraising expertise to candidates. Jim Himes of Connecticut is taking over the Frontline Program, which provides special fundraising and organizational help to about 15 incumbents. And Maryland’s Donna Edwards and Colorado’s Jared Polis will be in charge of the Red to Blue program, which targets money and media to districts that are prime takeover targets.

DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS: Justice Department lawyers are scratching their heads about what to do once the state Senate clears, and Gov. Rick Perry signs perhaps by the end of this week, a law making invasive security pat-downs at Texas airports a misdemeanor. Under the bill, TSA agents could be fined $4,000 and jailed for a year for junk touching — which the legislation describes in explicit detail. Generally, officials in Washington don’t like it much when a state decides that federal agents are committing a crime by carrying out their assigned duties.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “The reason it thrives, the reason why this is such a natural partnership, is because it advances our common interests and shared values. It is a perfect alignment of what we both need and what we both believe. And the reason it remains strong is because it delivers time and again. Ours is not just a special relationship, it is an essential relationship — for us and for the world,” Obama and Cameron wrote of U.S.-British relations in a Times of London op-ed published this morning.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Three House members: Democrat Steve Cohen of Tennessee (62) and Republicans Doug Lamborn of Colorado (57) and Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania (51).

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

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