Friday, January 07, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The Numbers Do Not Do the Talking

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, Jan. 7, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is visiting the Thompson Creek window plant in suburban Landover, Md., and is about to unveil his overhauled economic team.

The president’s biggest and most widely expected announcement is that Gene Sperling will replace the returning-to-Harvard Larry Summers as head of the National Economic Council. The 52-year-old Sperling, who’s been a senior official at Treasury, also ran the NEC during the second half of the Clinton administration.

Jason Furman, who’s already at the NEC, is being promoted to assistant to the president for economic policy and Sperling’s deputy. Katharine Abraham, a University of Maryland professor, will be nominated for the Council of Economic Advisers. Heather Higginbottom, who’s now a senior White House domestic policy advisor, is being nominated to be Jack Lew’s deputy at OMB.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 9 and is recessing for the weekend by lunchtime, having adopted the ground rules for debating the health overhaul repeal — with no amendments allowed — next week. The vote was 236-181, with a handful of Democrats joining the Republican majority.

The House also voted 257-159 to wipe the rolls clean of five votes cast Wednesday and Thursday by Republicans Pete Sessions of Texas and Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania — because they skipped the swearing-in ceremony on opening day. How many lawmakers test the honor system and aren’t on the floor for the en-masse oath-taking is a biannual mystery, but this time those two lawmakers were photographed (to be sure, with their right hands raised) watching the proceedings on TV while at a reception for Fitzpatrick’s constituents elsewhere in the Capitol.

THE SENATE: In recess until Jan. 25  

THE NO. 1 NUMBER: “While the slight drop from last month is encouraging, we need to do more to make sure people can get back to work,” Cantor said in rolling out the House Republican majority’s spin on today’s 9.4 percent December unemployment rate, which was the smallest in 19 months.

“That will start by empowering employers across the country to grow,” Cantor said, and the way to do that is to repeal the health care overhaul as the leading edge of a “ 'cut-and-grow' agenda which will signal to the private sector that we are ready and able to provide a pro-growth environment where businesses small and large can do what they do best — innovate, compete and lead.”

The jobless rate dropped four-tenths of a point from November mainly because employers added 103,000 jobs in December, an improvement from November’s revised total of 71,000. But the number was also skewed a bit because the government no longer counts people as unemployed when they stop looking for work. (Through all of last year, 1.1 million new jobs were created, a monthly average of 94,000.)

Evidence is growing that a “self-sustaining” recovery is taking hold, Bernanke told the Senate Budget Committee this morning, but the Fed chairman said it might take four or five years for the jobless rate to drop into the historically normal 6 percent range.

SLAMMING INTO THE CEILING: The new jobless number paired with the current $14.3 trillion debt “are by no means adequate to get our economy growing,” Boehner declared in the latest early salvo over this spring’s requirement to increase the legal limit on government borrowing.

The Republican positioning intensified yesterday after Geithner warned Congress that a default resulting from failing to raise the debt limit — which he said will be required between March 31 and May 16 — would have catastrophic consequences, starting with a surge in interest rates on public and private borrowing, a collapse of investment across the country and a suspension of Social Security and Medicare payments, military salaries and tax refunds.

He said that, even if Congress immediately cut spending by $100 billion — the loftiest of the GOP targets — that would delay the need for a higher debt ceiling by two weeks at the most. But both Boehner and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan signaled that sort of spending cut would be the price of house Republicans support for the higher debt limit. At the same time, senior Republicans making clear they do not support the idea — popular among many of the tea-party backed freshman — that the party should use a debt standoff to force a government shutdown. Those senior lawmakers’ memories are long enough to recall how the new GOP majority, not Clinton, was excoriated by the public for the shutdowns of 1995-96.

THE SPENDING BASE: At the other end of the House’s fiscal policy spectrum are these 13 Democrats, who cast the only votes yesterday against the measure cutting the chamber’s own budget by 5 percent: Gary Ackerman, Yvette Clarke, John Conyers, Keith Ellison, Bob Filner, Mike Honda, Jesse Jackson, Barbara Lee, Jim Moran, Donald Payne, Jan Schakowsky, Ed Towns and Lynne Woolsey. And what else do they have in common? For starters, all of them won their current terms with at least three-fifths of the vote, even in last fall’s Republican wave. (Filner had the tightest race, getting exactly 60 percent.) Nine of them took two-thirds of the vote or better.

ALL SPENDING CONSIDERED: Money for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and most specifically the subsidies for NPR, are sure to be back in Republican crosshairs — especially now that the news radio network has conceded that it botched last fall’s firing of conservative favorite Juan Williams and has fired top editor Ellen Weiss.

Colorado’s Doug Lamborn, who’s leading the effort to defund the CPB by next year, got 171 supporters in the lame duck on a test vote — and that was before the arrival of 87 conservative GOP freshmen. By his estimate the agency is getting $430 million this year and has enjoyed a 26 percent spending boost in the past decade. NPR says it gets only a tiny amount in direct federal funding, but critics say the number climbs to close to $100 million in indirect revenues in the form of licensing fees from the federally-funded local public radio stations.

DALEY UPPER: Bill Daley’s return to Washington — he’s expected to be unpacked in the chief of staff’s office before the State of the Union — is one of the few things that’s  created bipartisan accord in the Senate this week. It’s been impossible to find a doubting word from even the most liberal Democrats, who might have been expected to raise eyebrows about Daley’s recent work as an investment banker and corporate board member. And McConnell is being effusive — or at least as effusive as can be.

“As I used to say over the last two years: I don’t know if it’s technically true or not, but there’s nobody down at the White House who’s ever even run a lemonade stand, just college professors and former elected officials,” he said. “This is a guy who’s actually been out in the private sector, been a part of business. Frankly, my first reaction is, it sounds like a good idea.”

His remarks came after a GOP caucus to plot strategy for the year, after which all signs pointed to plenty of confrontation with the Democrats and plenty of maneuvering to force the majority into casting politically problematic votes. Senate Republicans will give virtually unanimous backing to whatever legislation is sent their way by the GOP House, McConnell said. “I think the real question is: How many of the 23 Democrats who are up in ’12 are going to be more interested in cooperating with us in trying to advance an agenda that’s ...  largely favored by the American people? ”

BIG DAYS: Today’s congressional birthdays are Senate Republicans Rand Paul of Kentucky (48) and John Thune of South Dakota (50), plus House Republican Jeff Duncan of South Carolina (45) and House Democrat Loretta Sanchez of California (51).

Saturday’s birthdays are House Republicans Charles Bass of New Hampshire (59) and Kevin Yoder of Kansas; Sunday is Democratic Rep. Mike Capuano of Massachusetts (59).

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

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For two Republicans who weren't in the chamber, the response is "rules are rules." » View full article

Conflicting Deficit Studies Set Off Rhetorical Volleys on Health Care (CQ Today)

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-----

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The Big Trim?

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10. A volunteer corps of members is reading aloud (as the new House rules require) the 4,400 words in the seven articles and 27 amendments of the Constitution. After that, lawmakers will exercise their powers under Article I, Section 9, clause 7 — by endorsing a 5 percent, $35 million cut in the budgets of their leadership, committees and rank-and-file members.

THE SENATE: In recess until Jan. 25.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama has nothing public on his schedule. He and Biden will have lunch and then meet with Treasury Secretary Geithner. Signs are growing that the senior staff reorganization will be unveiled by tomorrow, unless Pete Rouse needs more time to decide whether he wants to stay on as chief of staff or is ready to hand the reins to Bill Daley.

NUMBERS GAME: After trimming the House’s own overhead —  and then spending the next week focused on the going-nowhere bill to repeal the entire health care overhaul — House Republicans will have cleared the decks for their central mission of the year: Cutting spending. And they’re already having to combat the perception, fueled by Democrats, that they’ve abandoned their pledge to slash a whopping $100 billion this year.

That campaign promise was so boldly stated that it left little wiggle room, even though the realities of budget math can get pretty nuanced. The aim was to reduce discretionary spending to fiscal 2008 levels — back to a time before the numbers ballooned because of the financial bailouts and the economic stimulus. And doing so would have saved about $100 billion, but only when compared with the bottom line of the $1.13 trillion budget Obama put out a year ago. As a practical matter, though, that document has been stuck on a high shelf for several months. In its place have been a series of stopgap spending measures, enacted by the previous Congress, that are now setting the budget through March 4, or more or less two-fifths of the fiscal year.

That’s why Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, who’s been given extraordinary power to dictate the House’s spending target for the remaining three-fifths of the year, says $60 billion is the fair number for the GOP promise to be compared against. Congress will hit that number this winter, he says, with tens of billions more in cuts coming by the time the next fiscal year starts in October.

PENTAGON PREEMPTION: Most of the GOP targets will be domestic programs, but it’s been made clear to the Defense Department that the military been won’t be exempt. That’s why Gates is coming to the Hill today to tell lawmakers behind closed doors about $102 billion in savings he’d like to see in the next five years, including termination of the lands-like-a-boat, rolls-on-like-a-tank Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle that the Marines have been dreaming about for years. It’s classic example of a “limited modified hangout” — proposing something that sounds boldly self-sacrificing while hoping that Congress takes “yes, sir” for an answer and doesn’t propose anything more.

SO WHO DECIDES? In the end, Obama and the Democratic Senate will have to buy into any spending cuts. But the opening bid will be made by the House Appropriations Committee. And the power players there — the “cardinals” who chair the dozen subcommittees that divide up the discretionary pie — will be named tomorrow, after GOP leaders consider the recommendations of the panel’s new chairman, Hal Rogers.

There are currently three panels where last year’s top Republicans won’t be back: Homeland Security (Rogers’ old roost), Labor-HHS-Education (Todd Tiahrt left to try for the Senate) and Military Construction-VA (Zach Wamp left to run for governor). That could set off a wave of musical chairs, but the expectation is that the nine Republicans returning to the top of heap at a subcommittee will want to stay where they are for two years — after which the party’s term-limit rules will force many to move on. The one exception is Alabama’s Robert Aderholt, who wants a promotion from the relatively unsatisfying work of setting legislative branch spending.

First in seniority to choose a subcommittee is California’s Jerry Lewis, who had the top GOP chair on the full committee last year but was bumped-off by Rogers in the race for chairman. But Lewis may be persuaded to instead accept a low-ranking appointment to every subcommittee. If that happens, the three most senior appropriators without gavels would be John Culberson of Texas, Ander Crenshaw of Florida and Denny Rehberg of Montana.

BACK TO THE NEW NORMAL: After all the opening ceremonies, mock-swearing-ins, buffet receptions for the folks back home and boozy celebratory dinners with their best friends (and maybe even a few lobbyists), life for the House and Senate freshmen is something resembling a typical day today. Which is to say, senators are free to fly home because there are no votes scheduled, and House members have just one foreordained roll call before the legislative day will come to an end by mid-afternoon. Many of the newcomers — especially the conservative insurgents — are champing at the bit to do something dramatic. Instead, they’re  being counseled by their top aides, many of whom were hired for their familiarity with the rhythms of the Capitol, that the revolution is not being televised and that a more stately and transparent legislative pace will be good for their congressional health in the long run.

Also fading was the sort of compulsory bipartisan bonhomie that infused the Capitol only yesterday — when, for example, Democrat Sherrod Brown positioned himself to be the first to shake the hand of every guest arriving for the inaugural reception for Ohio’s other senator, Republican Rob Portman.

The water-cooler talk this morning was mostly about the refreshing “It’s still just me” tone that Boehner is striking at the start of his Speakership; about how he managed to keep his fabled tear ducts more or less under control, at least after he got up on the rostrum to deliver his remarks; about the motives and political futures of the 19 Democrats who did not vote for Pelosi to remain Speaker; about the still youthful countenance of 63-year-old Dan Quayle, who was on the Senate floor as his protege Dan Coats reclaimed the Indiana seat they’ve both held before, then on the House floor as his son Ben assumed an Arizona seat; and about the whereabouts of yesterday’s one missing House member: Democrat Peter DeFazio. He took the oath to begin his 13th term this morning, his office explaining that he had to be in Oregon yesterday for a meeting with the VA on proposed cuts at a health center.

THE D-TRIP TEAM: The new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, New Yorker Steve Israel, unveiled his roster of top lieutenants today. His rival for the top job, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, has accepted the consolation prize of being in charge of member and candidate services. Joe Crowley of New York will be in charge of fundraising. Allyson Schwartz of Pennsylvania will be the top recruiter of 2012 candidates. Keith Ellison of Minnesota will direct community outreach and Puerto Rico’s nonvoting resident commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi, will work on  community mobilization.

PIECE OF CAKE: Just one congressional birthday today: Oklahoma Republican Frank Lucas. The new House Agriculture chairman is now 51. (By the way, yesterday was Rep. Terri Sewell’s 46th birthday; we got the freshman Alabama Democrat’s age wrong.)

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

-----

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GOP leadership aides say the next moves will be mainly committee oversight hearings that will help focus members on more rifle-shot repeal bills. » View full article

Immigration Groups Switch to Defense (Congress.org)

Weeks after losing on the Dream Act, immigrant rights groups are fighting off a multistate effort to deny birthright citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants. » View full article

Pentagon Chief to Report Outcome of Cost Shuffling to Lawmakers (CQ Today)

The likely targets for reductions or production delays include the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, which has seen enormous cost growth. » View full article

Boehner Shows Humility as He Rises to the Top (Roll Call)

The Speaker vowed that Democrats "will always have the right to a robust debate in open process" and to make their case for their alternatives. » View full article

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The bipartisan event has stirred enthusiasm mainly among Republicans. Democrats have given it reluctant support, with some calling it political theater. » View full article

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-----

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dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Clowns to the Left, Jokers to the Right

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE HOUSE: Convenes at noon, with House Clerk Lorraine Miller presiding over an initial quorum call of members-elect followed by their election of the Speaker. That person-by-person roll call (Mr. Ackerman: “Pelosi!”) will last until about 2, when the loser will hand the winner the gavel she’s wielded for the past four years.

After Boehner delivers a speech pledging that the new Republican majority will make  “tough choices,” he’ll swear in the other 434 members before debate begins on the GOP’s package of changes to the chamber’s rules. At that point, most of the children allowed on the floor (so they can be with mom or grandpa on the big day) will be ushered out.

The opening day makeup will be 242 Republicans and 193 Democrats — a net gain of 63 seats for the GOP since the end of the 111th Congress. The freshman class is 87 Republicans and nine Democrats.

THE SENATE: Convenes at noon, with Biden on hand in his role as president of the Senate. He’ll swear in the 13 freshman senators (a dozen Republicans and a single Democrat; seven are former House members) and 21 others who won re-election last fall — plus the GOP’s Mark Kirk, who straddles those groups because he won both a special election and a full term in Illinois in November. By custom many former senators are on hand to escort the newcomers to the well for their oath-taking and registry signing.

Daniel Inouye of Hawaii will be re-elected president pro tem and remain third in line to the presidency (because he’s the longest-serving member of the majority), but otherwise the Senate — unlike the House — doesn’t have to reorganize itself at the start of each new Congress.

While some proposals will be unveiled this afternoon, the debate on making it tougher for the minority to delay legislation and nominations by filibuster has been put off for three weeks to allow time for bridging deepening differences among Democrats and perhaps find some compromise with the GOP. In the end, only modest changes are likely.

The Democrats will control 53 seats (including the two independents). The roster of 47 Republicans is a net increase of six since the election, a sufficient gain to allow McConnell to plan an array of new strategic approaches.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama will stay out of the way of the House Republicans on their takeover day, with no on-camera events planned. Instead, he’s mulling a revamp of his West Wing coterie — with Pete Rouse and Bill Daley the two apparent finalists for chief of staff and a decision likely by Friday. The president also has meetings with Secretary of State Clinton and other top advisers.

Gibbs revealed this morning that he would step down as White House press secretary in the next two months to become an outside political adviser focused initially on the Obama re-election effort.

A SOMBER START: “We gather here today at a time of great challenges: Nearly one in 10 of our neighbors are looking for work, health care costs are still rising for families and small businesses, our spending has caught up with us and our debt will soon eclipse the size of our entire economy,” Boehner plans to say at the outset of his speech. “Tough decisions will be required of the 112th Congress. No longer can we fall short. No longer can we kick the can down the road. The people voted to end business as usual, and today we begin carrying out their instructions.”

Excerpts the new Speaker’s office rolled out this morning also have Boehner promising the GOP’s aim “will be to give government back to the people,” by ending “some of the rituals that have come to characterize this institution under majorities Republican and Democratic alike” — remarks clearly designed to appeal to the tea-party insurgents who dominate his freshman class while also setting an early theme for the GOP in 2012. “We will dispense with the conventional wisdom that bigger bills are always better; that fast legislating is good legislating; that allowing additional amendments and open debate makes the legislative process ‘less efficient’ than our forefathers intended.”

Boehner is also putting a pragmatic cast on his obligatory lines about working to restore bipartisan comity to the House. “A great deal of scar tissue has built up on both sides of the aisle. We cannot ignore that, nor should we,” his prepared remarks say. Healing will come only if the House starts to “operate in a manner that permits a free exchange of ideas, and resolves our honest differences through a fair debate and a fair vote.”

THE OPPOSING VIEW: Before she hands over the gavel, Pelosi will promise Boehner that “you will find in us a willing partner” on advancing legislation that “creates jobs, strengthens our middle class and reduces the deficit.”

But that modest reach across the aisle — in a way that may yet help Pelosi unify her fractured minority — comes as her party’s campaign operation is wasting no time in excoriating House Republicans, the newcomers in particular. Yesterday the DCCC issued these calculations about the ideological predilections of the freshman class — based, the group said, on their public statements in the campaign: 68 want to repeal the health overhaul, 34 support at least a partial privatization of Social Security, 31 have expressed doubt about the existence of global warming, 27 support a flat 23 percent national sales tax, 18 would ban all embryonic stem cell research, 15 want to close the Department of Education and 3 believe in the “birther” theory that Obama was not born in the United States and so is unqualified to be president under the Constitution.

WHY TWO NUMBERS? There's already plenty of confusion about whether Boehner is going to be the 53rd Speaker of the House — or the 61st. Well, both can be considered correct. He's the 53rd different person to hold the job, but several people (Sam Rayburn, for example) have held it on more than one occasion, so today marks the 61st time the job has changed hands.

THE CELEBRATORY PART: Almost all the House and Senate freshmen and plenty of incumbents bring family and friends to Washington to celebrate their oath-taking, but it’s hard to top the retinue surrounding Boehner, which includes seven brothers, three sisters and dozens of nieces and nephews. They arrived in town after a 10-hour bus caravan from Ohio and then essentially took over the Capitol Hill Club last night. (“Big Dog” is a favorite nickname for their brother.) Today, they’ll be in the Speaker’s box in the House gallery for the opening ceremonies and then head to the Cannon Caucus Room to headline a reception featuring Cincinnati’s Skyline Chili, Montgomery Inn ribs and Graeter’s ice cream.

The brothers on hand are Bob, Steve, Rick, Drew, Pete, Jerry and Michael. The sisters are Nancy Roell, Sue Kneuven and Lynda Meinke. The only missing sibling his the No. 7 boy, Greg, who owns two Georgia restaurants and is the only one of the dozen Boehner kids who lives outside Ohio.

ON TO THE NEXT RITUAL: Once Boehner is officially Speaker, he can join Reid in the annual backstage ritual in which the House and Senate leaders ceremonially ask the president to describe his view of the state of the union to a joint session of Congress. A mutually convenient date has already been arranged, but it would be bad manners for anyone to say what it is before Obama formally accepts the invitation.

The default timing is the final Tuesday evening in January — the 25th, this year —  and that’s what all of Washington is planning on. (The Senate will be away for the previous two weeks.) But the occasion has occasionally slipped to Wednesday. In modern times the speech has been staged to precede the release of the president’s budget, which by law is supposed to come out by the first Monday in February. But OMB has already announced it will bust that Feb. 7 deadline by a week, so in theory the State of the Union could be delivered anytime in the first two weeks of next month.

BOEHNER ON BAKER STREET: If the new Speaker had been stuck for inspiration in writing his inaugural address as he takes the Speaker’s chair and becomes second in line to the presidency, he could have done worse than turn on the radio last night — where he was bound to hear the 1972 Stealers Wheel record that propelled the career of Scottish songwriter Gerry Rafferty, who died yesterday at 63:

Well you started out with nothing
And you’re proud that you’re a self-made man
And your friends, they all come crawlin’
Slap you on the back and say, ‘Please, please’
Well I don’t know why I came here tonight
I got the feeling that something ain’t right
I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair
And I’m wondering how I’ll get down the stairs
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you

A NEW DAILY NOTATION: Now you’ll know which lawmaker deserves birthday greetings each day. Today’s birthdays are House Democrats Carolyn McCarthy of New York (67) and Mark Critz of Pennsylavnia (49). Belated New Year’s Day good wishes go to Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey (57), GOP Rep. John Sullivan of Oklahoma (46) and Democratic Rep.-elect Terri Sewell of Alabama (57).

CORRECTION: Yesterday’s description of the 1997 re-election of Newt Gingrich as Speaker was incorrect. While six House members voted “present,” five were Republicans and the other was Dick Gephardt, that year’s Democratic nominee for the top job.

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

WHY TWO NUMBERS?: There's already plenty of confusion about whether Boehner is going to be the 53rd Speaker of the House -- or the 61st. Well, both can be considered correct. He's the 53rd different person to hold the job, but several people (Sam Rayburn, for example) have held it on more than one occasion, so today marks the 61st time the job has changed hands.
-----

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Activists Brace for New Senate Rules (Congress.org)

A weakened filibuster would make it easier for liberal activists to pass bills than for conservatives to stop them. But groups on both sides agree that the rules may need to change. » View full article

Senate Considering Modest Rules Changes on Secret Holds, Confirmations (CQ Today)

The chamber will go into a two-week hiatus until Jan. 24, giving leaders of both parties time to continue negotiations. » View full article

New Senate Offers Fresh Hopes, Big Challenges (Roll Call)

A typically reserved McConnell indicated during an interview Tuesday that he expects the Senate to function much differently than it did the previous two years. » View full article

New Political Environment Spurs Upton's Climate Changes (CQ Today)

The incoming House Energy and Commerce chairman made some noticeable changes to the Environment section of his website. » View full article

Day One: Let the Battles Begin (Roll Call)

Observers note that for Boehner, the job of Speaker will be different than his role as an adversarial House minority leader. » View full article

Democrats Find Unity Against a Common Foe (Roll Call)

For now, the party's moderates and liberals are on the same page. » View full article

Increase in Ranks of Former House Members May Affect Culture of Senate (CQ Today)

The footprint of former House members on the Senate will be more pronounced in the Republican caucus, where former representatives will account for 55 percent of the membership. » View full article
-----

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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Shuler's Play Action

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Negotiations on a set of probably modest changes to the filibuster rules continue behind the scenes. The 13 new senators will be sworn in after noon tomorrow, when the 112th Congress convenes.

THE HOUSE: Republicans will meet at 4 to approve their caucus rules for the next two years and endorse the package of changes to House rules that they will push through when they become the new majority tomorrow afternoon.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The First Family has arrived back home from its Oahu vacation. This afternoon Obama will sign the most sweeping overhaul of America’s food safety system since 1938.

“They are going to play to their base for a certain period of time. But I’m pretty confident that they’re going to recognize that our job is to govern,” Obama said about congressional Republicans when asked aboard Air Force One about the plan to push a health care overhaul repeal through the House next week. “My expectation, my hope, is that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell will realize that there will be plenty of time to campaign for 2012 — in 2012.”

FIRST VOTE WILL SPLIT DEMOCRATS: Election of the Speaker is always the House’s first vote of the year, an old-fashioned roll call taken even before the members are sworn in. And usually it’s a straight-party-line affair. But not tomorrow, when Heath Shuler says he’ll vote for himself and that he’s confident at least a handful of other moderates will join him in a symbolic rebuff to Pelosi. (There is not even a hint of a whisper that any Republican will vote for someone other than Boehner, so his election as the 53rd Speaker is guaranteed.)

Pelosi garnered the unanimous support of her caucus both times she was elected Speaker, although when the Democrats were last starting a Congress in the minority, six years ago, Gene Taylor of Mississippi (who was defeated last fall) voted instead for Jack Murtha (who’s since died.) This time, it’s likely Shuler will get at least two other votes, from Jim Matheson of Utah and Mike Ross of Arkansas. The former NFL quarterback, who got 43 votes when he challenged Pelosi for minority leader in November, says he’s not working to round up votes this time.

Hoping to tamp down the lingering discontent of the centrists — who blame the current leadership team for the party’s drubbing last fall — Hoyer is working to put more moderates into a new working group that would help him decide floor strategy.

Ten is the modern record for the number of partisan defections on a vote for Speaker. Six Republicans voted present, and four voted for other people, when Gingrich was elected to his second term in January 1997, just before he was reprimanded for ethics violations.

ONE LONG OPENING DAY: While the House’s opening day will be over by early evening, Reid will engineer a parliamentary move in the Senate that will freeze the chamber’s official legislative calendar on Jan. 5 for  fully 20 days — through a recently arranged scheduled two-week recess that ends Jan. 24.   

Doing so essentially buys time for more negotiations on possible changes to the filibuster rule; there’s general agreement that Senate rules may be altered by a simple majority vote only on the first day of a new Congress. Reid and a group of first-term Democrats led by New Mexico’s Tom Udall are looking to find some modest changes that the Republicans who are now in the minority would embrace — and that would be endorsed, too, by veteran, institutionalist Democrats who don’t want their cloture wings clipped if they ever find themselves in the minority again.

At the moment, one ambitious option has some traction: requiring obstructionist senators to actually stay on the floor and speak in order to keep a filibuster alive. But the GOP is signaling that it will strike a very hard bargain. “Voters who turned out in November are going to be pretty disappointed when they learn the first thing Democrats want to do is cut off the right of the people they elected to make their voices heard,” the new top Republican on the Senate Rules Committee, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, plans to tell the Heritage Foundation this afternoon.

THE BUDGETARY FINE PRINT: Turns out the internal spending trim the House will approve on Thursday is worth $35 million — with $1 million coming from leadership office budgets, $8 million from committees and the rest from rank-and-file staff salary and office expense accounts.

But it’s the welter of budgetary provisions buried in the new House rules that could do much more to help the GOP to make good on its promise to trim a whopping $100 billion from domestic programs in the coming year.

The rules, which will be adopted tomorrow, give new Budget Chairman Paul Ryan the power to set a discretionary spending cap for the final seven months of this fiscal year — starting when the current CR runs out on March 4 — that will be in line with fiscal 2008. That means spending through September will be many billions of dollars less than Democrats assumed. The rules will make it easier to cut spending by requiring that all appropriations bills include a lockbox in which savings from cost-cutting floor amendments will be applied to deficit reduction and may not be allocated to other programs. They also eliminate the “Gephardt rule,” which has speeded House adoption of legislation increasing the debt limit, and create a parliamentary brake against legislation that would increase mandatory spending by $5 billion or more in any of the next four decades.

The rules take an enormous step back from broader efforts to reduce the deficit, however, by exempting tax cuts from the House’s pay-as-you-go requirements and reconciliation limits.

Until now, the rules have required offsets for the costs of both increases in mandatory spending and reductions in tax revenues. The GOP’s new “cutgo” rule will apply only to mandatory spending, and will bar tax increases to pay for new mandatory spending. Under old reconciliation procedures (which were the magic bullet to ward off Senate filibuster) the rules could not be used to ease along any bill that would increase the deficit, including through tax cuts. But, starting tomorrow, deficit-boosting tax reconciliation bills will be allowed. Only bills that would cause a net increase in direct spending will be barred from the reconciliation process.

The proposed new rules also would abandon a current requirement that essentially has meant guaranteed full appropriations for every authorized road and bridge project. The change would allow Republicans to permit big surpluses to build up in the pot of money set aside for surface transportation spending — the Highway Trust Fund, which is filled with gas tax revenue — and thereby mask somewhat the size of the deficit. But the new chairman of House Transportation, Florida’s John Mica, is working feverishly to get the caucus to drop that language at its meeting this afternoon.

THE DALEY WAIT: If congressional Democratic centrists remain frustrated at the liberalism of their leaders, they should be mollified somewhat by Obama’s courting of Bill Daley over the holidays to consider coming back to town and replacing the interim Pete Rouse as White House chief of staff. It’s the liberal base that probably wouldn’t like the sound of any announcement that the president’s new top aide is the Midwest chief for JP Morgan Chase. Daley — who was Clinton’s second Commerce secretary, a Rahm Emanuel political mentor and of course a member of Chicago’s fabled political dynasty —  has been an investment banker in the year since he co-chaired the Obama transition.

THE GIPPER CENTENNIAL: Ronald Reagan was born in Tampico, Ill., on Feb. 6, 1911. The Illinois Republican Party hopes to mark the centennial a day early by drawing most of the top-tier GOP presidential contenders at a fundraising dinner in Chicago. Newt Gingrich, John Bolton, Mike Pence and Rick Santorum are confirmed. Haley Barbour, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty and John Thune are thinking about it.

— David Hawkings, editor

Become a Facebook fan at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

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