Tuesday, September 06, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: All the Way Down

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 and at 5:30 will vote to break a potential filibuster and begin debating the House’s version of legislation to streamline the patent approval process. Proponents from both parties, who are marketing the measure as a jobs creator, will then start working to ward off all amendments so the bill might be sent to Obama by next week. The big showdown will be about whether to allow the Patent and Trademark Office to spend all the fees it collects — which would be a poison pill for the House.

Senators this evening will also confirm Bernice Bouie Donald, a federal trial court judge in Tennessee for the past 15 years, for promotion to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe will tell the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel at 2 how the Postal Service wants to deal with its mounting debt. (Its latest problem: On Oct. 1 it will not be able to make a required $5.5 billion payment to its retiree medical benefits trust fund.)

Two Appropriations subcommittees will unveil their spending ideas for fiscal 2012, which starts in four weeks: Energy and Water at 2 and Homeland Security at 3. Both will include boosts (without offsests) in funding for disaster aid in light of last month’s earthquake and hurricane.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 for a quick pro forma session; the first post-recess legislative business is tomorrow afternoon, with debate on three non-controversial bills.

THE WHITE HOUSE: There are no on-camera appearances on Obama’s schedule. He’s spending this morning in a senior staff meeting, having lunch with Biden and presumably working on his Thursday-evening jobs speech to Congress.

LOW, LOWER, LOWEST: All three polls released in the last day paint really grim pictures of how the nation views Washington — with Obama doing really poorly but Congress doing even worse.

But perhaps the most important truism shining through the numbers is that the public has minimally high expectations that this fall’s legislative push will do anything to improve the economy or start to drive down the unemployment rate. The polls make plain that voters have very low confidence that — in the last few months before the 2012 campaign comes to totally dominate the capital’s thinking — either their lawmakers or their president will stop mimicking Groucho Marx when he crooned in “Horse Feathers” 79 years ago: “Your proposition may be good, but let’s have one thing understood: Whatever it is, I’m against it! And even when you’ve changed it or condensed it, I’m against it.”

The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out this morning pegs Obama’s approval rating at 44 percent, the lowest of his presidency and a 3 percentage point drop from three months ago. He also scored just 37 percent approval for his economic stewardship. Those numbers are in line with the Washington Post-ABC poll out yesterday (43 percent overall approval, a low point in that survey’s history for him, and 36 percent approval for his handling of the economy) and a George Washington University/Politico poll published today (45 percent approval, a 7 point drop since May, and 39 percent approval on the economy).

However, the Post-ABC poll gave him better marks than congressional Republicans; their approval rating was just 28 percent, 40 points below the disapproval number. The Journal-NBC poll, meanwhile, found a whopping 82 percent  disapproving of Congress’ job — the highest-ever mark in that survey. And 54 percent said they would vote if they could to replace every member of Congress — including their own. (Just 41 percent opposed that idea.)

All three surveys found the public statistically divided when asked whether they trust Obama's or the Hill GOP's proposals more for boosting the economy and creating jobs, and in all the surveys the number answering “neither” to those questions was somewhat higher than earlier this summer.

STILL AT ODDS: The polls were all taken at about the time Obama and Boehner were bickering about the scheduling of the president’s address to Congress — which is destined to be remembered as a new nadir in the history of comity and statesmanship among the nation’s leaders. There’s been no sign since then that the raw partisan rancor and resulting pettiness has abated on either side.

What that means is that two of the ideas Obama test-marketed in his speech in Detroit yesterday — an extension and expansion of the current payroll tax holiday and a boost in federal spending to repair crumbling roads and bridges — are going to be rejected more or less out of hand by Republicans as soon as he formally unveils them the day after tomorrow. And that’s even though the former proposal is undeniably the very same tax break the GOP promoted two years ago, and public works spending has been embraced by Republicans for decades as part of their prescriptions for ailing economies.

At the same time, the president has essentially no interest in signing on to the Republican program for job growth — which Boehner is going to officially unveil next week and will be centered on reducing federal labor and environmental regulations.

NO FLIGHT PLAN: Evidence of the potential for total standoff and gridlock is no clearer than in the fate of the bill to revamp aviation programs. After the FAA was forced to shut down for two weeks this summer (because neither side was ready to give in on even a temporary extension of the agency's powers) Congress was excoriated for the resulting construction job furloughs and forgone ticket-tax revenue — and both sides promised to redouble their efforts to find a compromise on their remaining disputes, which have mainly to do with unionizing by rail workers. But the next deadline is the end of next week, and neither side is reporting any progress whatsoever.

ON THE PERIPHERY: The only two areas that appear ripe for dealmaking that could boost jobs are the patent bill coming before the Senate this week (which is supposed to increase employment by speeding the protection of innovative technologies) and the pending free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama — which would presumably boost exports but may yet be side-carred over a dispute about retraining funds for people who lose their jobs overseas.

At this point, there remains no agreement on whether the deficit supercommittee, which will hold its first open organization meeting Thursday morning, will take on the task of wrapping job-boosting measures into its deliberations over how to find another $1.2 trillion in red ink reduction during the coming decade. Like so many other decisions, that’s one that the dozen committee members (powerful as they are) will be leaving to the leadership.

CR SEASON: With only about a dozen workdays scheduled in both the House and Senate before the start of the next budget year, there’s absolutely no chance all the spending bills will get done on time. The House has passed six of the dozen regular measures and has no plans to bring any others to the floor; the Senate’s passed just one but is talking about trying to pass at least a few more. But there’s also no talk at all about government shutdowns and budgetary hostage-taking. Instead, next week the leadership — maybe even in a bipartisan way! — will decide how many weeks the first of the stopgap spending bills will last, and what spending level that CR will dictate. (The debt ceiling and deficit deal enacted in August, remember, allows $25 billion more in discretionary spending than the House GOP had in mind.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline, a Minnesota Republican (64), and House Democrats Sandy Levin of Michigan (80), Danny Davis of Illinois (70) and Bill Keating of Massachusetts (59). The only Labor Day celebrant was Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida (75).

— David Hawkings, editor

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