Thursday, May 12, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: To the Left, To the Left

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, May 12, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is meeting on the budget and the rest of his legislative agenda with all 47 Senate Republicans, in the same Eisenhower Executive Office Building room where he held yesterday’s parallel session with the Senate Democrats. Then he’ll have lunch with Biden to prepare for the third Blair House deficit negotiating session, which the vice president will convene at 2:30.

The president will honor the National Association of Police Organizations’ Top Cops award winners at 1:50, meet with the Congressional Black Caucus in the State Dining Room at 2:30 and sit for interviews starting at 4 with Telemundo and Spanish-language TV stations in Las Vegas, Miami and Dallas.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10, and at noon will return to the bill lifting the offshore oil drilling moratorium. After passing that, debate will begin on the annual bill authorizing the nation’s covert spying and other intelligence gathering operations. Lawmakers will be sent home by 5, meaning passage will likely be put off until tomorrow.

Financial Services is considering legislation that would delay the new strictures on  commodity and derivatives markets ordered in last year’s financial services regulatory rewrite.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and aspires to nothing more (before going home for the weekend at about 2) beyond the fourth confirmation of a federal judge this week: Michael Urbanski, who’s getting a promotion to the District Court for Western Virginia after seven years as the magistrate in Roanoke.

BOTTOM LINES: Today’s budget headline may come from measuring how emphatic Boehner sounds in the next few minutes about his bottom lines for this year’s budget debate: trillions of dollars in cuts; less than that amount in debt increases; and no new taxes.

After that, attention will turn for a time from the House Republicans to their fiscal policy opponents in the Democratic Senate. Conrad says he’s planning a budget markup for next Wednesday, suggesting that he has fine-tuned his plan enough to secure the united front he needs among the 12 senators on his side on the Budget panel. His new apparent top lines: $2 trillion in tax increases — including a surtax on millionaires — and $1.5 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade.

That’s a total non-starter (even with the president, of course), but apparently it was the macro formula required to win the liberal populist Bernie Sanders’ essential support for getting any budget onto the Senate floor. It also, in theory, creates even more running room before a compromise — so that the Senate might be able to say it went “more than halfway’’ to get a final deal.

(By the way, The government has run up $870 billion in red ink through the first seven months of the fiscal year, the Treasury says. That’s $70 billion, or 9 percent, higher than at the same point in fiscal 2010, which ended up with a record $1.3 trillion deficit.)

ATTACK DOG: What this next step means is that the top Republican on Senate Budget, Jeff Sessions, will have little more to do for the next few weeks beyond leading his side in laughing at the chairman’s plan. And he says he’s fine to be playing such a secondary, attack-dog-only role among the Republicans with titles that put them at any fiscal policy negotiating table — at least for now, because he concedes he hasn’t yet developed sufficient expertise during his first year in his post to weigh in with the gravitas that surrounded predecessors Judd Gregg and Pete Domenici.

House Republicans, meanwhile, have a tougher assignment next week: use their recess to shift from total defense to partial offense in discussing their Medicare vote with constituents. In town hall meetings, and maybe some early NRCC ads as well, Republicans will assert anew that their plan is the only responsible way to save federally funded medical care for the elderly over the long term, and that the status quo will lead to a collapse not too long from now in the entire system of health care for the elderly. But they are surely worried their “it will be good for you in the long run” argument may end up falling flat, the same way that, two years ago, the same argument failed to help the Democrats ward off the political damage from their cap-and-trade votes.

HAT IN THE RING: Yesterday’s tweet about his presidential bid may be remembered primarily as the only time Newt Gingrich ever announced anything in less than 140 words, led alone 140 characters. The former Speaker’s candidacy is being met with highly arched eyebrows across the spectrum of Republican pundits and plotters — and perhaps most tellingly on the House side of the Capitol, where supporters are especially tough to find. Only one in five members of this GOP majority was in office when Gingrich was last the most powerful Republican at the Capitol, in 1998. And a whole lot of them remain quietly but firmly amazed (and outraged) that the man who led them down the politically losing Clinton impeachment path believes he has a chance to overcome his own adulterous, sleeping-with-a-staffer past now.

Already, the Hill’s attention is being diverted to speeches today that could go a long way to deciding whether two other Republicans will be top-tier 2012 candidates. In Michigan at 2, Mitt Romney will test-market his rationale for sticking up for the health care law he signed as Massachusetts governor while lambasting the pretty-darn-similar law Obama signed a year ago. And tonight, Indiana first lady Cheri Daniels is expected to reveal whether she’ll reverse her long disdain for the political spotlight and essentially endorse her husband’s thoughts about running.

Whoever ends up claiming the nomination in Tampa next summer is almost certainly going to consider Florida’s rising conservative star, Marco Rubio, as a running mate. Presumably, by then he’ll have at least something of a senatorial paper trail for vice presidential vetters to look at. But not now. At the moment, Rubio is the only one of the 13 senators who took office in January who hasn’t made his maiden speech.

DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION: Several Obama policies would be reversed, and some of his weapons priorities reordered, under the annual defese authorization bill that was approved after 2 this morning. The only vote against it at House Armed Services was cast by Democrat John Garamendi of California, an ardent opponent of the bill’s provisions sustaining the Afghan war. (He decided not to put his proposal to bring the troops home to a vote, where it was doomed to a lopsided defeat because of the generally hawkish membership of the panel. Instead, he says he’ll push for a vote by the full House at the end of the month.)

The grand total the legislation would authorize the Defense Department to spend next year is $553 billion. That number is something of an apples to oranges comparison to the amount the House will be called upon to appropriate for the Pentagon next year, which is $20 billion less. But the disparate numbers nonetheless show that even national defense will come under the budgetary knife just a little bit.

ROGERS THAT: In fact, defense would get a 3 percent increase and is the only one of the 12 House appropriations bills that would be spared any cuts under the allocations Chairman Hal Rogers rolled out yesterday. And the military would get 52 percent of all discretionary spending, meaning the eight entirely domestic spending bills would have to absorb a collective 10 percent cut to achieve the $30 billion in reductions the House is aiming for.

And that number will likely grow bigger whenever there’s a deficit-reduction-for debt-increase swap. Which may be why the chairman has decided that, rather than following the customary pattern of pushing all the bills through the House before the summer break, he’s going to keep three proposing deep cuts in his pocket until after Labor Day (which means after the  deadline for raising the borrowing ceiling).

They are the measures governing foreign aid (which he already wants to slash 18 percent below this year’s final funding level), the transportation and housing (14 percent less), and labor, health and education (12 percent). Holding them hostage would give the House GOP added leverage when the next big budget battle climaxes in the  middle of the summer.

BURR IN THE SADDLE: Richard Burr, who’s one of Boehner’s genuinely best friends in Washington, has been awarded the GOP seat on Senate Finance opened up by John Ensign’s resignation. McConnell tapped the North Carolinian instead of Dan Coats, Jim DeMint or Mike Johanns. The minority leader also gave New Hampshire freshman Kelly Ayotte the Budget seat Ensign used to hold.

HOUSE CHAPLAIN: A bipartisan vote at the end of the month to install the Rev. Patrick Conroy as House chaplain seems assured, now that Pelosi has decided she’s no longer worried about him. The minority leader’s office said she was satisfied after talking to the Jesuit priest yesterday. His order, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, agreed in March to pay $166 million to settle more than 400 claims of sexual abuse across the Pacific Northwest, but no one in the case is suggesting Conroy did anything wrong, and he may have turned in one of the pedophile priests two decades ago.

Pelosi conceded she didn’t know that background when she initially endorsed Conroy, and Boehner’s office isn’t disputing that he was ignorant as well. Both leaders are Roman Catholics, and this weekend Boehner’s giving the commencement address at Catholic University — even as dozens of professors at Catholic colleges have signed a letter to him lamenting his record on protecting the poor.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey (65) and Democratic Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado (36).

— David Hawkings, editor

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Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

Defense Authorization Approved by Committee (

House Armed Services reversed several national security policies and re-ordered Pentagon weapons spending in its measure. » View full article

Conrad Seeks Balance on Budget (CQ Today)

Liberal pressures are reshaping the Senate's budget resolution but adding political risk. » View full article

Medicare Vote Returns for the Recess (Roll Call)

House Republicans are bracing for an earful from constituents over the entitlement overhaul in the fiscal 2012 budget plan. » View full article

Sessions No Budget Wonk (Roll Call)

The top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee has taken a back seat in fiscal talks -- and he says he's fine with it. » View full article

Rogers Urges More Intelligence Spending (CQ Today)

The House Intelligence chairman wants to press the offensive as a follow-up to the bin Laden killing. » View full article

Rubio Silence: Waiting for His Maiden Speech (Roll Call)

Florida's senator is the only one in the freshman class yet to make a floor speech. » View full article

More Asian-American Judges Nominated (CQ Weekly)

Going by confirmations, Obama has already doubled up both Clinton and Bush -- but there are still only 13 on federal benches. » View full article

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David Hawkings

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