Friday, September 23, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: No Plan C. No Point A, Either?

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, September 23, 2011

Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 9 and is voting now to reject the stopgap spending and disaster aid package the House passed just before 1 this morning.

THE HOUSE: Convened at noon and before 1 will pass legislation to restrain environmental and emissions regulation for power plants. (Votes on a dozen amendments are now under way.) After that, the lights will be dimmed and lawmakers will start an into-the-weekend holding pattern while the GOP leadership ponders its next move in the current budget impasse.

THE WHITE HOUSE: “Our kids only get one shot at a decent education. They cannot afford to wait. So, since Congress has been unable to act, I will,” Obama said an hour ago in announcing the administration’s plans to waive many requirements in the No Child Left Behind law for states that embrace the policies the president has been unable to get enacted as a replacement.

He’s meeting in the Cabinet Room now with the 15 members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. It’s the last announced event on his calendar for the day.

WHERE TO START? There is no Plan C yet for avoiding a partial shutdown of the government next weekend. All that’s clear this morning is that Boehner and Reid are ready to hold their troops in town for this weekend — and beyond that, into a supposed recess week — to signal that they’re digging in their heels. What the Republicans and Democrats say their dispute is about is at the top of their current list of disputes. In other words, they’re arguing about what they’re arguing about.

The Democrats who run the Senate say they are dead set against any effort to spend less on discretionary programs than what the debt-hike-for-deficit-cut law of August allows — even if it’s only for seven weeks, because they fear the precedent would soon become a bargaining floor for the House GOP. (The House bill would spend at a 98.5 percent rate between Oct. 1 and Nov. 18, and the Republicans say they’re digging in on that.) Beyond that, Reid’s forces are united for now against allowing any cuts to offset the emergency spending on disasters — especially from programs they see as job creators. (The House bill would cut $1.5 billion from green-car research and another, largely symbolic, $100 million from the solar-energy program that propped up Solyndra. Republicans say the deficit is so out of hand that offsets for disaster have to be the new normal.) Democrats say they’re insisting on twice as much disaster aid as the House measure would provide — $6.9 billion versus $3.7 billion. Republicans say the budget cannot afford any more than that.

It had appeared that next Friday's deadline for the stopgap spending bill would come before the deadline for replenishing the disaster fund. Not so. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says the money may well run out as soon as Tuesday because of so many claims from people and local governments clobbered by Hurricane Irene, Texas wildfires, the Joplin tornado and other natural disasters.

THE BREAKDOWN: The vote for the House bill was 219-203, because of the 23 Republicans who voted “yes” even though they’d opposed a nearly identical measure (only the Solyandra tweak was new) on Wednesday. The switchers were Barletta, Bucshon, Burgess, Burton, Campbell, Canseco, Chaffetz, Duncan, Fincher, Fleming, Gowdy, Tim Johnson, Lamborn, Landry, Marchant, Jeff Miller, Neugebauer, Posey, Rohrabacher, Ross, Royce, Mike Turner and Walberg. Still, 24 Republicans voted no, while just six Democrats voted for the bill: Altmire (who also voted yes on Wednesday), Holden, Kissell, Carolyn McCarthy, Michaud and Welch.

FAVORITE GUEST: Members of the super committee have held their third secret meeting of the last two weeks — spending even more time yesterday with Thomas Barthold, the top staffer on the Joint Tax Committee, after their four-hour public hearing came to an end. As in the past, the two chairmen signaled that there would be solid bipartisan consensus — at least on the need to keep the really substantive work of their all-powerful panel a secret. “Productive,” was all that the Democratic co-chairwoman, Sen. Patty Murray, would say about the discussion. “Educational,” added the House GOP co-chairman, Jeb Hensarling.

Those two adjectives didn’t apply all that much to their on-camera portion of the deficit reduction panel’s day. Yes, all 12 of them agreed that in an ideal world they would include in their $1.2 trillion-or-more proposal an overhaul of the tax code that would make it simpler and fairer. But no, there was no agreement at all as to what that overhaul would look like or what the definitions of “fair” or “simple” should be. Instead, it was partisan policy presentations as usual when the talk turned to taxes on the rich, which tax code provisions were closing-worthy “loopholes” and  whether an IRS rulebook rewrite should be revenue-neutral or not.

Panetta, meanwhile, told House Armed Services yesterday that he is close to completing and sending to the supercommittee a proposal for achieving $450 billion in Pentagon savings over 10 years — which would be $100 billion more than the floor amount the supercommittee will be looking for under this summer’s debt deal. He offered no details beyond saying the cuts would aim to reduce overhead and redundancies and stressing they would be considered “strategically” without affecting military capabilities. He said he was going to be offering the bigger number because he wants to help the supercommittee get to an enactable deal that avoids the triggering of across-the-board cuts, which he says would be much worse for the nation’s military posture.

McCOTTER UNPLUGGED: When Thaddeus McCotter ended his quirky and quixotic campaign for the presidency yesterday and endorsed Mitt Romney, the reason was pretty obvious to fellow Republicans back home in the Detroit suburbs: He urgently needs to devote all his attention to holding his own House seat. (He made clear yesterday that he would not challenge Sen. Debbie Stabenow instead.) If he wants to win a sixth term so he can keeping playing guitar in as many congressional garage bands as possible, McCotter will have to ward off a serious primary challenge from State Sen. Mike Kowall. (He’s formally announcing his candidacy tomorrow as state GOP officials gather on Mackinac Island.) The contours of the Livonia-based district have been redrawn by the legislature to be more Republican in the next decade.

McCotter’s departure leaves two House members in the race for the GOP nomination. “I’m in it for the long haul,” Minnesota’s Michele Bachmann said on CBS this morning, after another debate in which she was unable to get much sound-bite traction against apparent frontrunners Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. She also conceded that her vaunted early fundraising machine has slowed significantly, and she said she was skipping the Florida straw poll to focus her energies on Iowa, where her straw poll victory in August gave her campaign viability. (McCotter finished last in a field of 11 and never improved his standing after that.) Ron Paul of Texas, meanwhile, declared on the stage in Orlando last night that he viewed himself as in third place in the race and had every intention of staying in as well.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “My next-door neighbor’s two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this current administration,” former Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico declared last night — his breakthrough moment at the first GOP presidential debate to which he’s been invited since May.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: No lawmakers celebrate today or tomorrow, but four House members do on Sunday: Republican Mario Diaz-Balart  of Florida (50) and Democrats Gregory Meeks of New York (58), Jerry Costello of Illinois (62) and Doris Matsui of California (67).

PUBLISHING SCHEDULE: If the planned Rosh Hashana congressional recess is under way by Monday, the Daily Briefing will not be delivered for the next week. Publication will resume on Monday, Oct. 3.

— David Hawkings, editor

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