Monday, June 27, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The 'R' Word

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, June 27, 2011

Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama and Biden have been with Reid since 10:30, the first meeting that puts the budget negotiations unambiguously onto the president’s personal agenda. McConnell is due at 5 for his own two-on-one.

The president’s only photo opportunity of the day is welcoming the Major League Soccer champion Colorado Rapids to the Rose Garden at 1:35.

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 for four hours of speeches but no legislating. (Bernie Sanders is preparing a 90-minute populist budgetary stemwinder.)

THE  HOUSE: Not in session this week.

WATCH MITCH: The government can keep borrowing to pay its bills for only another five weeks — a calendar benchmark that puts plenty of additional pressure on the people talking budget in the Oval Office today.

The meetings are getting so much attention because they begin the president’s long-anticipated direct involvement in bartering deficit-reduction tradeoffs. But the day’s biggest potential newsmaker is McConnell — who has been afforded a brief period to eclipse Boehner as the lead Republican negotiator. When the Senate minority leader emerges from the West Wing this evening, he will have the opportunity to help dictate the GOP terms on two fronts: timing and taxes.

If he continues to insist that a relatively incremental approach is the best course, then that may well be the way things go: A package of $1 trillion or so from among the most politically palatable spending reductions that the Biden negotiating group has identified — paired with an equivalent increase in the debt ceiling. But that would only keep the Treasury flush for a year, and it would really complicate life for the House GOP leadership, which worries that its troops have only one more debt-hike vote in them (and that even that one will be really tough to engineer) before November 2012. But they will have no recourse but to acquiesce in McConnell’s timetable if he holds firm.

On the other hand, if the senator uses the word “revenue” in the White House driveway, a much bigger deal could be in the offing — one that could total $2.5 trillion or so. (The signals in recent days have been that whatever cuts are coming will include much more from the Pentagon than the conventional wisdom assumed the GOP would countenance.) That would take care of the deficit-and-debt debate until after the election, and might even include enough concessions by Democrats on Medicare cost controls to make that issue go away for the House GOP next fall.

The Democrats might be willing to ease the pain Republicans faced after voting for the Paul Ryan budget if the deal allows them to claim some measure of victory against their favorite whipping boys — the multi-millionaires and the oil companies and other big corporations in which they invest.

Accelerating the end of the Bush tax cuts, which are due to expire next year, only on people making more than $1 million annually would nonetheless raise tens of billions over the next decade. Still, it’s probably the toughest thing to get the GOP to agree to, because there’s really no way to avoid calling that a “tax increase,” and the party will only be able to consider tax increases if they can be described as revenue enhancements or loophole limitations. And that’s the language that could be employed to describe curbs on subsidies for ethanol or other energy sources — or putting an end to corporations’ LIFO (last-in, first-out) accounting methods, which critics deride as Loophole No. 1 and which will cost the Treasury maybe $70 billion in the next decade. A change to how the government calculates inflation — which has an effect on entitlement payouts — is also on the table.

SPENDING IS FLAT: Consumer spending was unchanged between April and May — the first time it had been totally flat like that in 20 months, since September 2009, the Commerce Department reported today. (Adjusted for inflation, the spending that accounts for 70 percent of all economic activity actually dropped 0.1 percent.)

COURT ACTION: As the Supreme Court moved closer toward the end of its annual term, it issued a pair of important First Amendment decisions this morning. The justices ruled 7-2 that a state may not ban the sale or rental of violent video games to children. That decision upheld a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that a California law — which set a fine of $1,000 for each sale of a violent game to a person younger than 18 — violated minors’ free-speech rights. The court also voted 5-4 to strike down an Arizona law that gives extra cash to publicly funded candidates for state office who face privately funded rivals and independent groups. The law was enacted in response to a public corruption scandal and was intended to reward candidates who forgo raising campaign cash, but the court said it infringed on the speech rights of the better-monied interests.

SHE’S IN: Michelle Bachmann became the second House member to formally announce a 2012 presidential bid this morning. She made her declaration in Waterloo, Iowa — where she was born 55 years ago — one day after The Des Moines Register published a poll putting her in a statistical tie with Mitt Romney among likely Iowa caucus-goers.

“As a constitutional conservative, I believe in the Founding Fathers’ vision of a limited government that trusts in and preserves the unlimited potential of the American people,” said the third-term congresswoman from the Twin Cities suburbs, who started the Congressional Tea Party Caucus last year.

The poll showed her with 22 percent, and Romney with 23 percent, among people saying they were likely to participate in the first voting for the Republican nomination — planned for 32 weeks from today. Georgia businessman Herman Cain is at 10 percent. The other current House member in the race, Ron Paul of Texas, is at 7 percent, as is Newt Gingrich. (The former Speaker has been endorsed by four House members, but neither Bachmann nor Paul have any colleagues’ endorsements to boast about yet.) Tim Pawlenty is at 6 percent and Rick Santorum is at 4 percent.

Beyond the poll, Bachmann is getting another publicity bounce from her interview on Fox News yesterday in which Chris Wallace’s final question was, “Are you a flake?” “I think that would be insulting to say something like that because I’m a serious person,” Bachmann retorted — and the switchboard at the network soon lit up with conservative viewers supporting her and lambasting the anchor for perceived sexism. He later issued a statement that said: “In the end it’s really all about the answers and not about the questions. I messed up, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean any disrespect.”

NOT-SO-QUIET RECESS: Eight politically vulnerable freshmen Republicans have arrived home for this week’s House recess to confront advertisements lambasting their votes to provide “a trillion dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy” and at the same time “end Medicare as we know it.”

The House Majority PAC, a so-called super PAC that’s raising money independently of the official Democratic Party arms, has reported spending $147,000 on four days of radio and cable TV time, starting today. The targets are Steve King of Iowa, Joe Heck of Nevada, Scott Tipton of Colorado, Bobby Schilling of llinois, Chip Cravaack of Minnesota, Charlie Bass of New Hampshire and Tim Griffin and Rick Crawford of Arkansas. All of them voted for the Paul Ryan House budget resolution.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire (43) and three House members: Republican Jeff Miller of Florida (52) and Democrats David Scott of Georgia (65) and Mike Honda of California (70).

— David Hawkings, editor

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