Wednesday, May 18, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: With or Without You

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and at 2:30 will vote to block the heart of the Republicans’ energy plan — legislation (similar to the package of bills passed by the House) that would increase the domestic oil supply by speeding up offshore lease sales the approval of drilling permit requests.

The bill needs 60 votes to advance, but the outcome will look very similar to yesterday’s 52-48 vote that blocked the Democrats’ top priority for changing energy policy, which is ending tax breaks for big oil companies. GOP centrists Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe may join the Democrats in opposing the “drill baby, drill” bill (as they did yesterday to support the tax break repeal). And Democrats Mary Landrieu, Mark Begich and Ben Nelson may side with the GOP for a second straight day.

THE HOUSE: Not in session this week.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is delivering his final commencement address of the year, to the 229 graduates who will be commissioned as ensigns by the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. He’s then off to Boston for a pair of fundraisers: He’ll speak to about 900 donors at the Boston Center for the Arts, then have dinner with 30 high-rollers in a private home (owner not yet revealed) before returning to the White House at 11:30.

THE EMPTY SEAT: Tom Coburn had always been the indispensable man in the Gang of Six. Had he signed on to raising revenue as part of a tough-love deficit deal, he’d have given cover to perhaps dozens of other anti-tax Republicans to do the same. So unless he’s persuaded to come back to the table (which looks only mildly possible, even though his office insists he’s only “taking a break”), there won’t be any any multitrillion-dollar, tax-hikes-for-entitlement-cuts grand bargain this summer.

Instead, all the attention will be focused anew on the Blair House summit, where Biden, four congressional Democrats and two GOP leaders appear to be looking only for as much deficit reduction ($1 trillion, maybe) as would be needed to get the GOP to vote to raise the debt ceiling high enough to allow borrowing to continue uninterrupted until after the 2012 election.

Their next session will be next week, when Obama will also press his fiscal policy case in separate meetings with all House Republicans and all House Democrats. (The newly named Table for Five, meanwhile, plans to meet today to decide what, if anything, they might accomplish without Coburn.)

What’s most likely is that, if the Biden group can reach a downpayment deal before the Aug. 2 debt-default deadline, then Coburn would be open to getting back into discussions on a long-term solution in the fall with fellow Republicans Saxby Chambliss and Mike Crapo and Democrats Dick Durbin, Mark Warner and Kent Conrad.

Coburn was a member of the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission and voted in December in favor of the panel’s plan, which called for $995 billion in tax increases over a decade. And ever since he has faced intensifying pressure to reverse course and say a hard “no” on taxes from Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, and from his supporters back home in Oklahoma, where he won his second term last year with 70 percent of the vote. The word being spread by Democratic aides overnight is that a deal got awfully close just before the April recess. But it fell apart when Coburn came back to Washington with demands that in return for supporting some higher taxes the Medicare cut would have to be $530 billion,  or one-third more than what the group tentatively agreed to accept.

YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP: Newt Gingrich’s supernova implosion as a presidential candidate is as predictable as it is disappointing for those in the Capitol press corps who remember how fun it was to have him as Speaker: his Falstaffian self-confidence, over-the-top bombast, Baroque mood swings, limitless store of crazy ideas, soap-operatic personal life and total lack of message discipline were as wonderful to cover as they were infuriating to the fellow Republicans who ultimately pushed him out of Congress — and as useful in raising his public profile as they are disastrous for a national campaign.

Apologizing to Paul Ryan on TV last night for terming the House Medicare plan “right-wing social engineering” was totally predictable and will prove to be far too little and far too late. Today’s coverage has focused instead on the footage of the (unidentified) man in Dubuque who grasped Gingrich’s hand yesterday and wouldn’t let go until he’d called the candidate “an embarrassment to our party” and then pleaded, “Get out now before you make a bigger fool of yourself.”

Just maybe, Gingrich could have survived his budget flip-flop and eventually  won back Rush Limbaugh and others in the conservative commentariat — and maybe even a few House Republicans other than Jack Kingston, the fellow Georgian who tossed him a lifeline endorsement yesterday. But the right is also angry that Gingrich has been confusing in trying to walk back his previous support for the sort of mandatory health insurance coverage that the Obama law requires. And now they are beside themselves with pique at revelations that he once was more than $250,000 in debt to Tiffanys. It's a story that will remind everyone not only about his mistress-turned-third-wife Callista, but also will raise “$400 haircut”-like questions about how well he understands the lives of regular people. (Conservatives don't care much that he got doused with glitter by a gay rights activist yesterday.)

LIFE AFTER DSK: Dominique Strauss-Kahn is tabloid catnip in both New York, where he’s now on suicide watch in his Rikers Island jail cell, and Paris, where he was until the weekend the clear frontrunner to become the next president of France. But Strauss-Kahn’s lurid downfall will become a story for the much more sober Washington media scrum soon enough.
That’s because, as Geithner put as delicately as possible yesterday, “He is obviously not in a position to run the IMF,” which along with the World Bank is the premier global financial institution within a cab ride of the Capitol.

No corporate executive or congressman could stay on the job while in the dock on charges that he sexually assaulted and tried to rape a chambermaid in his lavish hotel suite. But so far Strauss-Kahn (who may be out on bail by week’s end so long as he wears a GPS as an ankle cuff) has hung on, presumably realizing that resignation would be perceived as an admission of guilt. (He says he’s innocent.) Still, the jockeying to replace him for the last three years of his term is clearly under way.

The main debate is whether the next IMF head — who would have the opportunity to become a major political and social presence in Washington — should come from a developing country or the more customary Europe. Possible candidates who would fit the former scenario include a governor of Mexico’s central bank, Singapore’s top financial official, former finance ministers from Turkey and South Africa, an Indian economist , a former Brazilian central bank president and a top aide to Strauss-Kahn who’s Chinese. The four European candidates being mentioned most often are the French finance minister, a  former head of the German central bank, a former German finance minister and the head of the European Union bailout fund.

WASN’T EXPECTING THAT: The Los Angeles County Clerk’s office today will begin hand-counting 9,800 or so absentee, provisional and damaged ballots to see who the second candidate will be (to face labor-backed Democratic City Councilwoman Janice Hahn of L.A.) in the July 12 runoff for Jane Harman’s former congressional seat.

With all precincts reporting overnight, Republican businessman Craig Huey had a surprising but tiny 206-vote lead for the second spot on the ballot over California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, the Democratic favorite of environmentalists. If Huey’s lead holds, Hahn would become the overwhelming favorite to win the seat, which takes in some of California’s most fabulous beaches and aerospace firms and which Obama carried by 30 points three years ago.) There were 16 candidates on the ballot, and under a new state law the top two finishers advance in a special election when no one wins an outright majority.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY:  Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico (63).

— David Hawkings, editor

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