Friday, January 21, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Cuts and Fractures

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, Jan. 21, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama heads to the birthplace of General Electric in Schenectady, N.Y., where he’ll introduce company CEO Jeffrey Immelt as head of a new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness — which is supposed to find “new ways to promote growth by investing in American business to encourage hiring, to educate and train our workers to compete globally, and to attract the best jobs and businesses to the United States.”

The president signed an executive order this morning creating that council (which is also designed to further buttress the administration’s relationship with the business community) to replace the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which had been headed by Paul Volcker for the past two years.

After three hours back in town this afternoon, Obama will helicopter to the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay in Cambridge, Md., and preview some themes for Tuesday’s State of the Union address in remarks to the House Democrats’ annual winter retreat.

THE SENATE: In recess until 10 Tuesday.

THE HOUSE: In recess until 10 Tuesday.

FRACTURES FORMING, PART 1: The headline-grabbing idea of cutting $2.5 trillion from domestic programs in the next decade is as much of a pipe dream for fiscal conservatives as it is beside the point for the next several months. What’s much more important — not only for the cause of budget discipline but also for the longevity of cohesion in the House Republican ranks — is how the party leadership finesses the deepening standoff over government spending between March and September of this year.

The Republican Study Committee, which counts almost two-thirds of the House GOP caucus as members, says it really, really wants to make good on last year’s campaign promise to cut $100 billion from non-defense discretionary spending in the current budget year. (In fact, the plan it unveiled yesterday would go further, cutting $80 billion from the current level for regular appropriations and taking back $45 billion in unspent economic stimulus money.)

But the party’s leaders, with Cantor as their trying-to-sound-cooperative frontman, have been working for weeks to explain the political impossibility of making such a deep cut into what is essentially a half-year’s budget. GOP leaders say the best that can be achieved is close to $60 billion before the new budget year starts in October.

And the sorts of cuts that would be required to bridge that $20 billion divide represent an enormous amount of political pain even within the GOP — long before the Democratic Senate would have a chance to start pounding away at the cuts, and even without Obama pointing out that he’s got a veto pen in his fist. (The trims would have to go a lot further than limiting congressional pay.)

The standoff is one reason why this year’s first meeting of the House Appropriations Committee, which was supposed to be next week, has already slipped to the following week. To get started, the panel needs its spending target for the rest of the year — and that won’t be unveiled by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan before the end of next week, after Wednesday’s release of the midyear budget review from CBO.

AN OBAMA OPENING: In his speech Tuesday night, the president is certain to make clear — in his most cordial and civil tone, to be sure — his view that deep cuts could poison an economy in the middle of a fragile recovery and could be self-defeating if both he and Congress are serious about making job-creation a top priority. And, if recent polling is to be believed, the public is highly likely to believe him and to conclude that economic growth must come before deficit reduction.

In fact, keeping Washington’s focus on jobs and the economy is sure to be a main theme of the State of the Union — one designed to distinguish the president from a new Republican majority in the House that’s so far been spending its attention on health care and, as of yesterday, unveiling a new drive to tighten federal curbs on the funding of abortion.

FRACTURES FORMING, PART 2: The speech also is going to feature Obama’s call for the first overhaul of the tax code in a quarter-century. As yesterday’s House Ways and Means hearing made clear, there’s broad bipartisan support for taking on that task — but no agreement at all on the most basic question of what it should accomplish.

The threshold choice is whether the rewrite should yield a code that raises the same amount of revenue each year as currently (which is what happened in 1986 and is what most Democrats want) or one that also cuts taxes (which is what Republicans want). The Business Roundtable, which speaks for big corporations, wants the revenue-neutrality decision set aside so that negotiations can focus instead on tax changes that boost corporate competitiveness overseas.

But the National Taxpayer Advocate, Nina Olson, came out in favor of something akin to revenue neutrality — taking the revenue from eliminating most income tax expenditures and applying it to lower rates.

A COMPLEX VIEW: An Associated Press poll out today pegs the president’s job approval rating at 53 percent — the same number as in yesterday’s NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll.

The AP poll found much better numbers for Obama on several other fronts: 83 percent call him likable, 62 percent see him as a strong leader and 61 percent view him as in touch with ordinary Americans. But the same survey also offered the president a series of much more sobering numbers:  Only 35 percent say the economy has improved on his watch (down 5 percentage points from an AP poll a year ago) and 34 percent say he hasn’t made good on the “change” promise of his campaign. The public is also split relatively evenly on the pace of change: 36 percent say he’s done too much, too quickly, 32 percent say it’s been about right and 31 percent say he’s not moving fast enough.

NOT TOTALLY ROSY: Gabby Giffords will not be headed straight to the rehabilitation wing once she arrives this afternoon at the Memorial Hermann hospital complex in Houston. The congresswoman's doctors at Tucson’s University Medical Center said today that, while her condition was stable enough to permit her  transfer, medical concerns they declined to detail would require her to be in the traditional hospital for probably several days.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: No lawmakers are getting cakes today, but there are six celebrations over the weekend. The oldest current senator, Democrat Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, turns 87 on Sunday. Other birthdays that day: Senate Democrat Tom Carper of Delaware (64), Democratic Rep. Joe Baca of California (64) and GOP Rep. Bobby Schilling of Illinois (47). Saturday’s birthdays are House Republicans Steve Chabot of Ohio (58) and Rick Crawford of Arkansas (45).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

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Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

Democrats Start Retreat With Positive Look at 2012 (Roll Call)

The recent bump in Obama's poll numbers is one of their reasons for optimism. » View full article

Boehner Backs Drive to Tighten Abortion Funding Curbs (CQ Today)

"It is one of our highest legislative priorities," the Speaker said of the new bill. » View full article

Cantor Praises Spending-Cut Proposal Without Embracing Details (CQ Today)

The majority leader's comments were the first statement by the GOP leadership on the plan offered by some of the House's most conservative members. » View full article

Matheson, Vitter Resume Fight Against Automatic Raises (Roll Call)

The Democrat says it's about the integrity of Congress as an institution; the Republican says automatic raises are offensive in a tough economic climate. » View full article

Chamber Foots Biggest Lobbying Bill of 2010 (Roll Call)

Health care and taxes were two of the issues that pushed the business lobby's expenditures past $100 million. » View full article

Activists Ready for Part Two (Congress.org)

Grassroots groups will be pressuring senators to bring the health care law's repeal to a vote. » View full article
-----

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dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Polls and Priorities

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011

 Today In Washington

HOUSE: Convened at 9 and has held its last vote of the week — voting 253-175 for a measure instructing four Republican-run committees to get to work on their plans for changing the nation’s health care system. One of them is Judiciary, where Chairman Lamar Smith is conducting a hearing this morning on proposals to overhaul medical malpractice liability law. (The other panels are Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Education and the Workforce.)

SENATE: In recess until Tuesday.

WHITE HOUSE: Obama and Biden will discuss jobs and the economy with a bipartisan group of mayors at a closed West Wing gathering this afternoon. At 7 the president will speak at a Kennedy Center event marking today’s 50th anniversary of the JFK inaugural. (Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the American Ballet Theatre and the National Symphony Orchestra will perform for an audience including about 100 Kennedy family members.)

NEW NUMBERS TO CHEW ON: A lopsided 87 percent in a Pew Research Center poll out today says strengthening the economy should be a "top priority" for Congress and Obama this year — with 84 percent also pointing to improving the job situation.

Controlling the budget deficit — the most overt goal of the new House Republican majority — ranked sixth among the 22 issues tested, at 64 percent, although that was a boost from the 60 percent who called it a top priority at the start of last year and the 53 percent in 2009. (The other issues in the top tier for this year, Pew found, were terrorism, education and Social Security; revising last year’s health care law, which has been the GOP’s focus for the first month, was ninth, at 56 percent.)

The poll found just 23 percent expressing satisfaction with current national conditions — and the number of people who are optimistic about the country’s future over the next half century continuing a sharp decline. The figure now stands at 54 percent, with 42 percent optimistic. When Pew last asked, nine months ago, the optimistic percentage was 61 percent. In 1999, during booming economic times, it was 70 percent.

SHORT LEASH: The other prominent poll out today is from the NBC News-Wall Street Journal. In it, only 25 percent say they believe the Republicans now sharing control of Congress will bring the right kind of change. That’s a decidedly smaller number than in comparable surveys taken after two previous congressional power shifts: 42 percent for the Democrats after they took over the House in January 2007, and 37 percent for the GOP after the party took control of Congress in 1995.

The poll also found 55 percent predicting Republicans will be too inflexible in dealing with Obama — but also 55 percent forecasting that Obama will be flexible enough in his dealings with the GOP. The president’s approval rating was 53 percent, the highest the NBC-WSJ poll has recorded since summer 2009. Still, 56 percent labeled the country as on the wrong track, 50 percent disapprove of the president’s economic stewardship and 82 percent view the war in Afghanistan as either getting worse for the U.S. or not getting better since Obama launched the current surge.

HIGH BAR: The most fiscally conservative bloc in the House, the Republican Study Committee, is setting down an aggressive deficit reduction marker today — calling for $2.5 trillion in spending reductions during the next decade, mainly by rolling back all non-defense discretionary spending to 2006 levels through 2021.

The group would also end Amtrak subsidies, intercity and high-speed rail grants and funding for new transit projects, many education programs, national and community service programs and Community Development Block Grants, a mainstay of federal support for cash-strapped states in recent years.

The group’s prescription for deep cuts would not take effect until October. The House will vote on Tuesday — just before Obama arrives to deliver his state of the Union address — to set a more limited discretionary spending cap for the final seven months of this fiscal year. Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, who has been given unusual power by the GOP to set that number, says he’ll do so once an updated budgetary baseline is issued in the coming days by the Congressional Budget Office.

TEN TO WATCH: Almost all the coverage of yesterday’s House vote noted that Republicans voted as a bloc for repealing the health care statute but were joined by only three Democrats, all of whom also opposed the law last year: Dan Boren, Mike McIntyre and Mike Ross. But it’s worth listing the 10 Democrats who opposed enacting the law last March but nonetheless voted yesterday to keep it on the books: Jason Altmire, John Barrow, Ben Chandler, Tim Holden, Larry Kissell, Dan Lipinski, Steve Lynch, Jim Matheson, Collin Peterson and Heath Shuler.

The symbolic exercise is now almost certainly at an end, regardless of McConnell’s “I assure you” promise that he’ll come up with some parliamentary maneuver that allows Republicans to force a Senate vote on the legislation.

RHETORIC WATCH, PART 1: Third-term Democrat Steve Cohen of Memphis is getting a lot more attention than he probably bargained for late Tuesday night, when he pushed the bounds of rhetorical propriety much further than any other congressman in the two weeks since Gabby Giffords was shot in Tucson.

Cohen’s office did not return calls this morning seeking comment about his remarks in defense of the health care law, in which he compared Republicans to one of the most reviled Nazis, World War II propagandist Joseph Goebbels. “They say it’s a government takeover of health care. A big lie — just like Goebbels. You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie and eventually people believe it.”

RHETORIC WATCH, PART 2: Before his luncheon speech this afternoon at the U.S.-China Business Council, Hu Jintao paid separate calls this morning on both Boehner and Reid , neither of whom was at the state dinner last night. Both meetings were closed to press coverage, so it was not possible to determine how (if at all) the Senate majority leader finessed a potentially awkward moment with the Chinese president, whom Reid labeled a “dictator” in an interview with a Nevada TV station Tuesday.

The row-back Reid tried yesterday was only something of a recant: “Maybe I shouldn’t have said dictator, but they have a different type of government than we have and that is understatement.”

Boehner, in a statement, said he and a handful of other House members from both parties pressed for stronger intellectual property protections in China and urged Hu's government to act more assertively to rein in North Korea. In addition, “we raised our strong, ongoing concerns with reports of human rights violations in China, including the denial of religious freedom and the use of coercive abortion as a consequence of the ‘one child’ policy.”

ELECTION DAY: There are five candidates for three spots in today’s election at the Capitol — for vacancies on the Standing Committee of Correspondents. That’s the panel of journalists that awards credentials to the vast majority of the print and online reporters who want to cover Congress and represents the press corps in the inevitable disputes with lawmakers over access.

The reason for all the hubbub is that terms last two years, so the winners this time around will have a hand in making press arrangements (and hotel assignments) for the 2012 presidential nominating conventions.

The winners are likely to be the candidates from three of the biggest newsrooms in town, where the editors are corralling their forces for big turnouts: Laurie Kellman of the AP, Jim Rowley of Bloomberg and CQ’s own Brian Friel. The underdogs are Bart Jansen of Gannett and David Lightman of McClatchy. The polls close at 5:30.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: House Republican Bill Owens of New York (62) and House Democrat Shelley Berkley of Nevada (60).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

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Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

Medical Malpractice Leads Off Rewrite Effort (CQ Today)

With the House vote on the health care law repeal out of the way, the GOP moves to its more complicated effort to replace the law. First up: proposals to revamp the medical malpractice liability system. » View full article

McConnell Vows House-Passed Repeal Will Get Senate Vote (Roll Call)

Republicans in the Senate have begun agitating for a vote on the health care law repeal and McConnell is preparing to force the issue. » View full article

Conservatives Propose Trillions in Cuts (CQ Today)

House conservatives would cut $2.5 trillion from the government's bankroll over a decade, indicating how bitter the coming fight over appropriations probably will be. » View full article

John Cranford's Political Economy: States of Denial (CQ Weekly)

Falling revenue and rising costs continue to crimp state budgets and may put Congress on the hook. » View full article

Feingold Held Most Town Halls Last Year (Congress.org)

In his final year in office, the Wisconsin Democrat held more public meetings than any of his Senate colleagues. Shelby and Grassley round out the top three on our list. » View full article
-----

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David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: What Next in Connecticut?

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011

 Today In Washington

WHITE HOUSE: “With this visit, we can lay the foundation for the next 30 years” of Chinese-American relations, Obama said at this morning’s formal welcoming ceremony for Hu Jintao, in which the president also noted that all nations need to show respect for the universal rights of every human being. “We have an enormous stake in each other’s successes,” Obama said. Hu, whose last state visit was five years ago, said he hoped his trip would “open a new chapter in cooperation as partners.”

The two presidents will hold a joint news conference at 1, after a series of closed-door meetings between them and their delegations  — and another that Hu and Obama will hold with American business leaders.

Michelle Obama’s office will unveil the guest list and menu for the state dinner at 4. The guests will start to arrive at 6. Boehner is the most prominent American official who won’t be attending; he has declined his third consecutive invitation to an Obama state dinner, although the last two times he was House minority leader, not Speaker. (Boehner and Hu will meet at the Capitol tomorrow, however.)

HOUSE: Convened at 10 and is on course to pass the health care overhaul repeal legislation at about 5:30, setting the stage for a debate starting tomorrow on what the new Republican majority would like to put in the law’s place. The new GOP committee chairmen are already starting to draft various narrow bills to dismantle the statute.

SENATE: In recess until next Tuesday.

THE NUTMEG TOSSUP: Wide-open fields in both parties are already forming for a second straight highly competitive and extremely expensive open-seat Senate race in Connecticut, even though Joe Lieberman isn’t formally announcing his retirement for another hour.

The Democrats should have a clear edge to win the seat, given that the state’s partisan tilt becomes only more pronounced in presidential election years. But the party risks squandering its initial advantage with the sort of intense and bitter primary race that could emerge — and give the GOP an unexpected opening as it works to assemble its national game plan for trying to win back the Senate next year.

Susan Bysiewicz, who spent 12 years as Connecticut secretary of state but then was stymied in her efforts to become either governor or attorney general last year, has already announced for the Senate. Party insiders view here as a problematic candidate, but could be stuck with her unless they can coalesce behind a single alternative: Chris Murphy, who just won his third term House term representing the state’s northwest corner. One of the state’s other Democratic congressmen, Jim Himes, is signaling he’ll defer his own ambitions to Murphy’s in 2012. But another contender, Joe Courtney, seems unenthusiastic about doing the same. And some Democrats are dreaming about wooing Ted Kennedy Jr. into the race, even though he’s demurred the several other times he’s been courted over the years.

Republicans face the prospect of internal warfare as well — if both well-known, extremely wealthy and recently frustrated candidates in their ranks go after the job. The likely scenario is that wrestling impresario Linda McMahon, who didn’t come as close as expected against Dick Blumenthal for the open Senate seat last fall, will get the GOP establishment’s backing to take another self-financed shot. But venture capitalist Tom Foley, who came much closer to winning the governorship last fall than many expected, is eager for another statewide shot as well. And so is Rob Simmons, the former congressman shoved aside by McMahon after being recruited to seek the Senate last year.

ANY JOE-MENTUM LEFT?  If Joe Lieberman gets his way, his departure from the Senate two years from now will not be into a life of retirement. He’ll still be a month shy of his 70th birthday then, and he sees his extraordinary political biography as having at least another chapter.

His age will surely preclude him from the job he’s always wanted most: Supreme Court justice. But Lieberman would love nothing more now than to become secretary of Defense, either in Obama’s second term or in the administration of whatever Republican might be elected instead in 2012. As a fallback, he’d happily accept an offer from a president of either party to be director of national intelligence or to claim a high-profile ambassadorial posting. His only challenge is whether he could win Senate confirmation to any of these jobs, given his record of confounding and infuriating colleagues of both parties during his passage from Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2000 through independent Senate winner in 2006 to McCain enthusiast in 2008.

RAISE THE ROOF: While working to keep the public focused for as long as possible on its “anti-Obamacare” crusade — which seems to  have the House Republicans unified — behind the scenes there’s continued dissonance in the new majority’s caucus about how to approach a public policy challenge that cannot be avoided. That, of course, is the requirement to extend government borrowing authority once the current $14.3 trillion debt ceiling is reached — perhaps as soon as the end of March.

Cantor is the GOP leader who’s assigned to bridge the divide between the two camps that are forming. On the one side are more senior Republicans, including all of those in the top positions, who want to set a relatively vague and modest price for their willingness to raise the debt ceiling — which they understand cannot be postponed long. But the freshman class says it’s willing to risk a government default and vote against any more borrowing unless they win an ironclad commitment from Obama on deep spending cuts, binding caps on appropriations in future years and other deficit reduction measures.

When asked (at yesterday’s weekly press briefing) if he could imagine Congress not raising the debt limit, the majority leader avoided a direct answer and said this instead:  “What we need to do and are committed to doing is making sure that we achieve spending cuts and effect real reforms so that the spending binge ends. We look at the debt limit vote as an opportunity for us to accomplish those goals.”

GRANULAR LEVEL: Once the House votes next week for the lower domestic spending levels Republicans want for the final seven months of this fiscal year, Hal Rogers says he’s ready to start wielding his new Appropriations gavel within days. He said his committee is not looking at an across-the-board cut to take effect once the current spending authority expires in six weeks; instead, each of the 12  subcommittees will propose some programs under their jurisdictions for cutting — using a spending reduction target Rogers will give them.

THE CHAPLAINCY: If the chairmen of the Appropriations subcommittees are known as the College of Cardinals, then maybe the minority party’s top members on each panel should be referred to as the chaplains — much less overtly powerful, to be sure, but still only a few steps behind the boss, who’s generally interested in the words of counsel and collaboration whispered in his ear.

Such have historically been the relationships on the House and Senate spending panels, which have been pools of relative bipartisanship in an ocean of congressional bile. How well the collaboration continues will have much to do with who the Democrats put in their top seats. Four House subcommittee positions are currently open: Labor-HHS-Education (because of Dave Obey’s retirement), Commerce-Justice-Science (because Alan Mollohan lost), Military Construction-VA (because Chet Edwards lost), and Legislative Branch (because third-termer Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced off of the committee altogether when the GOP shrank the size of the panel).

Agriculture will also open up, because Rosa DeLauro is going to claim the Labor-HHS seat. (Nita Lowey, who has more seniority on that panel, wants to remain ranking member at State-Foreign Operations.) The C-J-S job will be claimed by Chaka Fattah, but maneuvering over the other available plums hasn’t ended yet. (House Democratic appropriators use an unusual system in which subcommittee seniority trumps full committee longevity.)

HER NEXT MOVE: Gabby Giffords may move as soon as Friday from University Medical Center in Tucson to a rehabilitation center — probably in the Houston area so she could be near her husband, Mark Kelly, as he tries to keep up with his training to command the Endeavor space shuttle mission (the craft’s final voyage) set to launch April 19.

"I’m certain that she’ll be back, stronger than ever" to serve in Congress, Kelly told ABC in an interview aired last night, although he declined to predict when that might happen. He said the Arizona congresswoman isn’t aware that her aide Gabe Zimmerman, or anyone else, died in the Tucson rampage.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Kilili Sablan, the Democratic delegate to the House from the Northern Mariana Islands (56).

CORRECTION: Yesterday we got wrong the newspaper that published Obama’s regulatory review op-ed. It was the Wall Street Journal.

— David Hawkings, editor

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

-----

Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

Obama Urged to Address Human Rights (CQ Today)

Lawmakers called on Obama to press Hu Jintao on suppression of dissent, as well as currency practices and trade policy on rare-earth materials. » View full article

A Piecemeal Approach to Repeal (CQ Today)

House Republicans have begun work on specific bills intended to dismantle the health care law, knowing a vote to repeal the overhaul probably will go no further than their own chamber. » View full article

GOP Already Moving Past Token House Vote (Roll Call)

Cantor acknowledged that this week's debate is far different from the fight that kicked off the 112th Congress: "This is about health policy. ... We expect the debate to be about policy." » View full article

Retirements Shuffle 2012 Senate Landscape (Roll Call)

Kent Conrad's decision to retire makes the 2012 Senate map a little easier for Republicans aiming to retake the chamber majority and shines a spotlight on Democrats undecided about seeking re-election in what could be a tough cycle. » View full article

Mixed Seating Breaks Tradition (Congress.org)

By sitting together, Republican Tom Coburn and Democrat Chuck Schumer are breaking with a 170-year congressional tradition. » View full article

The Commuter Caucus (Congress.org)

Eighteen lawmakers commute to Washington every day rather than get an apartment in the city — some from as far away as Wilmington and Philadelphia. » View full article
-----

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David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: A Closer Look at Regulations

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011

 Today In Washington

HOUSE: Convenes at 2 and will begin debating the health care law repeal after passing legislation to reduce the Government Printing Office’s paper footprint. The measure is supposed to save $35 million over a decade by limiting the agency to printing only 75 hard copies of any bill or resolution — and only when asked to do so by a member.

SENATE: In recess again this week. Will reconvene Tuesday, Jan. 25, in time for that night’s State of the Union address.

WHITE HOUSE: Biden is meeting with Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp at the White House and will be at Andrews AFB at 4, when Chinese President Hu Jintao lands to begin his four-day state visit. Obama is in a series of Oval Office meetings with top advisers, including Gates and Clinton, and will host a private dinner for Hu in the Old Family Dining Room.

THE NEW BALANCING ACT: Obama signed an executive order this morning telling all agencies to look for federal health and safety regulations that are too burdensome on businesses and might be rolled back or repealed. It’s his boldest use of executive power since the election to outflank congressional Republicans in their sparring over which side is the better promoter of job creation and economic growth. And it’s his most substantive move since the midterm to make amends with corporate America, which will be crucial to his 2012 re-election prospects.

The review will be overseen by OMB Director Jack Lew but will be conducted in the office at that agency run by Cass Sunstein — a supporter of the sort of cost-benefit regulatory analyses that businesses love but that consumer, environmental and labor groups disdain.

“It’s a review that will help bring order to regulations that have become a patchwork of overlapping rules, the result of tinkering by administrations and legislators of both parties and the influence of special interests in Washington over decades,” Obama wrote in a Washington Post op-ed this morning. “We are also making it our mission to root out regulations that conflict, that are not worth the cost, or that are just plain dumb.”

The move could hamper the new messaging efforts of House Republicans, who left last weekend’s retreat in Baltimore resolved to frame this year’s debate as between a pro-job growth GOP and a White House and Senate bound to stand in the way.

THE NEXT MOVE: Republicans will make their next high-profile move tomorrow in their coming showdown with Obama and the Democrats over spending. That’s when the House Rules Committee will take up a measure allowing Budget Chairman Paul Ryan to propose a limit on spending through September that "assumes a transition to non-security spending at fiscal year 2008 levels." Approving or rejecting Ryan’s number will then become the first symbolic budget showdown vote of the year — and will be held hours before Obama arrives to deliver his State of the Union.

CONRAD’S GOING: Democrat Kent Conrad announced his retirement today — freeing him to push as hard as he wants for a bold deficit-reduction plan in the next two years and also creating the first big 2012 Senate open-seat pickup opportunity for the GOP.

The Budget Committee chairman has had a relatively easy time holding his seat since 1986, but his state is solidly Republican and its other two congressional seats flipped to the GOP only last fall — when John Hoeven moved from governor to senator on the retirement of Byron Dorgan, and Earl Pomeroy lost the state’s House seat after nine terms to Rick Berg.

Conservative groups had already signaled they would make a big push for the Conrad seat next year whether he ran again or not. Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk is already after the Republican nomination, but he’s likely to draw several rivals now. The Democrats are bullish on former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp unless Pomeroy, who just went to work for Alston & Bird, decides he wants to try for a comeback.

North Dakota is one of just seven states with a single House seat, so the 2012 political dynamics in the stated won’t be affected by the wave of redistricting fights now getting under way.

WHERE THEY LEFT OFF: The pause button is being turned off in the House this afternoon, for sure; what’s not clear is whether the volume and contrast controls are getting dialed back as well.

The talking points in the debate starting this afternoon have been well-rehearsed at the Capitol for more than two years now. The rhetoric about whether to repeal the nation’s new medical insurance regime is nothing more than a relitigation of what advocates and critics have been arguing about since Obama made an overhaul his top domestic priority. So there are really only four little mysteries in the hours before tomorrow’s vote to pass the repeal in the Republican-majority House, which will send the idea into indefinite limbo in the still-Democratic Senate:

• How many Republicans follow Boehner’s lead and offer even a tiny rhetorical olive branch to the Democrats — by describing the law as “job-destroying,” as the Speaker has decided to do, instead of using the old “job-killing” GOP mantra, which some Democrats labeled insensitive in light of the Tucson rampage?

• How many Democrats will join the GOP call for repeal? The floor here would seem to be 13 — because that’s the number of Democrats left in the House who voted against enacting the statute last year. (The other 21 were either defeated or departed.)

• How many of the 87 freshman Republicans, the group that made this week’s vote possible, will back an outright repeal? By the Democrats’ count, 19 of these new lawmakers shied away from the idea when they were candidates, mainly out of concern that wiping the law off the books altogether would mean throwing the proverbial baby (an anti-discrimination shield for people with pre-existing conditions, for example) out with the metaphorical bathwater (the government mandate, first and foremost.)

• How soon will Congress make a more modest change to the law? Partly to give those freshmen cover, the House will vote later this week to order committee chairmen to come up with plans for a GOP replacement health care overhaul package. The lowest-hanging fruit is the new Form 1099 requirement, which is supposed to raise $19 billion by making businesses tell the IRS about any vendor getting more than $600 in a year. Small businesses hate that, both parties are eager to make them happy and Obama will sign a repeal of the 1099 rule just as soon as Congress can find some clever, politically painless way to offset the cost.

DUTY TO REPORT: Your can forget about yesterday’s kerfuffle over an Arizona law that declares public offices vacant whenever the occupant is unable to “discharge the duties of office for the period of three consecutive months.” Pure and simple, the law does not apply to Gabby Giffords. The Constitution makes the House the exclusive judge of a member’s qualifications, and there is absolutely no way anyone will move to try to declare a vacancy in Arizona’s 8th District — especially now that it’s so clear how well the congresswoman’s recovery is progressing. (She’s likely to be discharged from University Medical Center in Tucson and move into a rehabilitation hospital later this week.)

There’s been only case of medical incapacity prompting the House to declare a seat vacant — Maryland’s 5th District, in February 1981. The occupant, Gladys Noon Spellman, had become irreversibly comatose after suffering a heart attack three days before her 1980 re-election. (Steny Hoyer won the special election to succeed Spellman, who died in 1988.)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: House Democrats Elijah Cummings of Maryland (60) and Michael Michaud of Maine (56); House Republican Kay Granger of Texas (68).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

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