Friday, January 28, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Shuffles, New Hands, Familiar Games

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, Jan. 28, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE SENATE: In recess today. Convenes at 2 on Monday, when Reid promised to begin a “good old-fashioned Senate debate” on legislation to revamp federal aviation programs.

Negotiations on such a bill faltered in the lame duck, although both the House and Senate passed bills last spring that would modernize the air traffic control system and boost the private-plane fuel tax. The main sticking points were whether to allow more long-distance flights in and out of Reagan National, whether to boost the ticket tax that finances airport improvements and whether to apply the same federal labor laws to Federal Express that now apply to its rival UPS.

THE HOUSE: In recess for the next seven weekdays. Returns at 2 on Tuesday, Feb. 8.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama offered a vigorous defense of the medical insurance overhaul law in a State of the Union reprise speech this morning to Families USA’s 16th Annual Health Action Conference.

GOOD NEWS, BUT NOT ENOUGH OF IT: As widely expected, the Commerce Department reported today that the economy grew faster in the final three months of last year than it had since the first quarter, with fourth quarter gross domestic product expanding at a 3.2 percent annual rate. That’s roughly in line with the post-World War II average, and a sign that the recovery has staying power. But GDP growth was lower than many economists had expected, lower than is typical when the economy is rebounding from recession, and lower than is likely to produce sufficient job growth to greatly reduce the unemployment rate.
 
At the Labor Department, a less widely watched report showed that employers had to pay 0.4 percent more for wages and benefits in the fourth quarter than they had in the third, and that those employment costs were 2 percent higher for all of last year than in 2009. Both the quarterly and yearly figures suggest that labor costs aren’t going to push up inflation anytime soon — and perhaps that employers can afford the cost of taking on more workers. The 2010 rise in employment costs was the second lowest annual increase since these figures were first calculated in 1982. The smallest increase was the 1.4 percent rise in 2009.
 
Bernanke and his fellow monetary policy-makers at the Federal Reserve said this week that they were staying on course to pump cash into the economy through purchases of Treasury securities. Nothing in the GDP or employment cost reports today will steer them in a different direction.

FILIBUSTER FIZZLE: The changes in Senate procedures that came into focus yesterday are arguably the most important internal procedural improvements since the 1970s, and at the same time much less ambitious than the Democratic majority was capable of.

At a minimum, the chamber will be a marginally more efficient legislative machine for at least the next two years. Reid and McConnell have a handshake deal in which Republicans won’t filibuster efforts to get legislation onto the floor so long as they get to offer plenty of amendments once bills are under debate. And there were two formal changes in the rules: one limiting secret holds and another doing away with the power to demand the reading of amendments so long as they’ve been publicly available for three days.

So why didn’t the Democrats try to tamp down on GOP delaying options even more — by using the so-called constitutional option to force through rules changes by a simple majority vote? Because they concluded that it was in their best long-term interests to take that option out of their hands, and the Republicans’. In other words, they really think they might be in the minority after 2012, and they don’t want McConnell to have the power to run roughshod over them.

As Reid’s whip, Dick Durbin, said yesterday: “The nature of the Senate is to try to anticipate, if the tables were turned, what it means.”

REAL BILLS: Even as the delay-limiting deal was being struck, Reid signaled that he will do whatever it takes to prevent the Republicans from advancing their health care repeal on his side of the Capitol. “I know the procedures of the Senate,” Reid said, in what appeared to be an acknowledgment that the GOP has some openings to force some sort of floor vote. “But I’m not going to be a part of it.”

The GOP does not seem inclined to press the issue in the first few weeks, however, because a parliamentary standoff would look  wrong for them so soon after their promise to try to make the Senate run more smoothly.

So for now, Reid has every reason to set aside a week or more for a freewheeling FAA debate (and after that several days on updating federal small business programs). Not only can he plausibly market both those bills as efforts to boost job creation — but also there’s really no other legislation in the senatorial pipeline.

The reason for that is that none of the committees could get their work started until now, since it was only yesterday that Senate leaders decided (as a sidebar to their filibuster handshake deal) what the ratio of Democrats to Republicans would be on each panel. As soon as that was decided, though, the panels took shape in a matter of minutes.

POWER PLAYER AND PALINDROME: Some of the shuffling happened because Daniel Akaka decided to give up the Veterans Affairs gavel in favor of becoming chairman of Indian Affairs, where he can focus on his efforts to get the best possible federal benefits for native Hawaiians. Patty Murray will take over Veterans Affairs. Elsewhere, it will be Debbie Stabenow of Michigan at Agriculture, Tim Johnson of South Dakota at Banking and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania at Joint Economic.

NO NEW GUYS AT FINANCE: The 16 freshmen Republicans (who amount to one-third of the GOP caucus) got seats on every committee except Finance. The two GOP openings on the tax panel were claimed by leading budget hawk Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John Thune of South Dakota, who can use that post as a springboard to running for president. The Democratic opening went to Ben Cardin of Maryland, who had a reputation as a savvy bipartisan dealmaker when he was on House Ways and Means.

Appropriations, which will be Ground Zero for the GOP drive to win deep cuts in discretionary domestic spending, will have seven new Republicans — and only one of them, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, is not a freshman. The six newcomers are Mark Kirk of Illinois, who focused on foreign affairs on House Appropriations last year; Jerry Moran of Kansas, who castigated the earmarking prowess of his GOP primary rival last year, House appropriator Todd Tiahrt; Dan Coats of Indiana, who was on Armed Services and Intelligence the last time he was a senator; former House GOP Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri; former Gov. John Hoeven of North Dakota; and former businessman Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. (There was no room for any new Democrats on the panel.)

TEA FOR HATCH: The biggest beneficiary of the GOP caucus’ term-limit rules, which allow senators six years in the top seat of a panel, was Orrin Hatch, who now becomes the top Republican on Finance. (His predecessor, Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, claims the top minority seat on Judiciary.) But that was the No. 2 story about Hatch’s political future yesterday.

Ever since Bob Bennett got bounced off the ballot last year by tea party insurgents, who were able to replace him with Mike Lee as the GOP Senate nominee in Utah, the state’s other senator has been living in significant fear that he’d meet the same fate next year, when he’s planning on seeking a seventh term. (Rep. Jason Chaffetz is eager to take down Hatch at next year’s state competition and thinks he can do so with tea party support.)

But the Tea Party Express — the wing of the movement that propelled Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell to upset GOP Senate nominations last year — said yesterday that it was fully behind Hatch. “He was an original tea partier,” Sal Russo, the group’s chief strategist, told National Review in describing Hatch’s work for Ronald Reagan’s insurgent presidential candidacy back in 1976.

THE BIG PROMOTION: The installation of Jay Carney as press secretary may be getting all the mainstream media attention. But, on the Hill, the biggest news in yesterday’s West Wing staff overhaul was that Rob Nabors is taking over for Phil Schiliro as the president’s top congressional lobbyist.

Nabors rose to be House Appropriations staff director during eight years as a top aide to Dave Obey, then was named deputy OMB director at the start of the administration. After a tour in Rahm Emanuel’s office as senior adviser to the chief of staff, he was put in charge of OMB during the interregnum between Peter Orszag’s departure and the confirmation of Jack Lew. “His mastery of the budget and appropriations process is matched only by his knowledge of the ins and outs of Capitol Hill.” Lew said of Nabors.

Schiliro, who had spent a quarter-century in the House as a top aide to Henry Waxman before going to work for Obama, was totally wired into the inner workings on the Hill when he arrived as chief legislative liaison, but he spent almost all of his political capital and goodwill with his old Democratic staff buddies in the past two years. Still, Bill Daley has asked him to stay on for a couple of months as a senior presidential adviser “in order to lend his wise counsel and guidance in the transition period.”

The other names in the shuffle that will be most important for members of Congress and their aides to memorize: Danielle Crutchfield, the new director of scheduling and advance; David Cusack as her top deputy for advance work; and Jessica Wright as the director of scheduling.

NUMBERS OF NOTE: This week’s midyear budget review from CBO forecasts that, under federal law as it is now, net interest payments on the current national debt  would total $5.45 trillion in the next decade — increasing from $225 billion this year to $792 billion in fiscal 2021, which means interest would almost certainly become a bigger piece of the federal budget pie than non-defense discretionary spending. And another $1 trillion in interest would be due during that time if current tax and spending policies are continued beyond their scheduled expiration at the end of next year.

R.I.P. MIKE MICHAELSON: One of the most important figures in Congress’s balky transition into the television age died last week at age 86. He worked in the House Radio-TV Gallery for almost three decades and was its superintendent from 1975 until 1981, the time when live TV coverage of the House began. He then moved to C-Span and was executive vice president for the next 12 years, during which broadcasts from the Senate and many committee hearing rooms began.

MANY HAPPY BIRTHDAYS: There are five lawmaker celebrations today: Senate Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire (64); House Democrats Bennie Thompson of Mississippi (63) and Linda Sanchez of California (42), whose present is the top Democratic seat on the ethics committee; and House Republicans Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania (55) and Brian  Bilbray of California (60) — who got a full-on smooch on the cheek from his State of the Union seating buddy, California Democrat Bob Filner, during their live local TV appearance after the speech.

Four House Republicans celebrate this weekend. On Saturday, Chip Cravaack of Minnesota (52), Lee Terry of Nebraska (49) and Paul Ryan of Wisconsin (41). On Sunday,  Frank Wolf of Virginia (72).

— 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

Senate Adopts Procedural Changes (CQ Today)

Secret holds will be handled differently, and senators will be prevented from forcing the clerk to read legislation or an amendment if the text has been available for 72 hours. » View full article

Changes to Senate Rules Fall Short of Drastic Proposals (Roll Call)

Although the broader plans couldn't get enough votes, Reid said the two approved changes would lead to a more open Senate floor. » View full article

Daley Announces Wave of White House Staff Changes (Roll Call)

Along with a new press secretary, there will be new deputy chiefs of staff and a shakeup among other advisers. » View full article

Regulatory Plan Sends a Centrist Message (CQ Weekly)

Obama has asked agencies to examine how their regulations affect business. Republicans see the move as a political ploy, but the White House says it has been in the works for awhile. The tug-of-war is a sign of things to come. » View full article

Tea Party Caucus Sets Low Expectations (Congress.org)

Five lawmakers and dozens of tea partyers met on Capitol Hill Thursday, but they said their group will be more of a forum for ideas than a legislative force. » View full article
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Thursday, January 27, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Chicken and Tea

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 10:30 and by 8 is expected to reject five proposals for changing its own rules. As a consolation prize, Reid and McConnell have a handshake agreement in which Republicans won’t filibuster efforts to put bills on the floor so long as Democrats allow plenty of GOP legislative amendments.

Because it’s not Jan. 5 any more, on anybody’s calendar — the magic opening day when the rules maybe could be changed by a simple majority — 60 votes will be needed to adopt a measure ending secret senatorial holds and a proposal to end the delaying tactic of requiring the clerk to read the entire text of the bill before the Senate. But two-thirds of senators would need to vote for the other three proposals: Shrinking the supermajority of 60 required to invoke cloture and limit debate, making senators stay in the chamber and talk in order to keep a filibuster going and an alternative package of delay-limiting ideas.

THE HOUSE: In recess for the next eight weekdays. Reconvenes at 2 on Tuesday, Feb. 8.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is in his monthly national security team meeting in the Situation Room on Afghanistan and Pakistan. At 2:30 he will answer questions from the grassroots during a YouTube interview with Steve Grove — one of the administration’s efforts to shape the State of the Union spin using social media. Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Austan Goolsbee and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are answering questions on the administration’s Facebook page. Tomorrow, Biden will answer questions submitted through Yahoo.

THE WEATHER: It’s sunny, federal government offices have opened after a two-hour delay, and temperatures are expected to rise to about 40 across the region this afternoon, allowing last night’s 6 to 12 inches of snow to start melting — and easing the process of restoring power to more than a quarter-million customers in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

A GAME OF CHICKEN: The Obama administration said today that it would alter its borrowing strategy to buy as much time as possible before hitting the government’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. (An accounting maneuver, essentially shifting debt for the Federal Reserve to debt for the Treasury, will yield an extra $195 billion for regular borrowing needs.) But officials said the move would not change the window in which the debt ceiling will be reached. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has told Congress it will be between March 31 and May 16.

What the maneuver might do, however, is push the moment when more borrowing is needed into the back end of that window. And that would mess up the Republicans’ current strategy for forcing their budget showdown with Obama: Continue stopgap appropriations — but only for about one month beyond their current March 4 expiration date, and hope that the debt ceiling is met at the same time in order to create a double witching-hour for the government.

The Republicans are gambling that, especially in light of the record $1.5 trillion (9.8 percent of the GDP) deficit forecast for this year, they will be able to win the argument with Obama by persuading the public that it’s past time to force deep domestic spending cuts.

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan won’t be using his power to set that spending limit until the House returns from its weeklong recess. The break will give GOP leaders more time to determine what level they want him to set. Leaders are still under pressure from their most conservative ranks to go for cuts worth $100 billion. And now those conservatives (in the form of the Republican Study Committee) have a new idea: Pass a bill directing Treasury to prevent any default by paying principal and interest due on debt held by the public before making any other payments.

TEA FOR FIVE: That many Republican senators — Jim DeMint of South Carolina and freshmen Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, Pat Toomey off Pennsylvania and Jerry Moran of Kansas — turned up this morning for the first meeting of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, where movement leaders from around the country were planning to press lawmakers on their strategy for combating Obama on the budget.

Just last night, Toomey and Moran had said they wouldn’t be joining the caucus or hadn’t given it any thought — and skeptics were saying that was a clear signal that the all the power the movement claimed it would have over this Congress may already be starting to fade just a bit. (Two other freshmen who garnered the backing of tea party activists, however, were notably absent today: Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Marco Rubio of Florida.)

UNFASHIONABLE PALETTE: One of the most frequently mocked government reactions to 9/11 is going away: the color-coded system of declaring a nationwide "threat level." DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano will announce (at 2 in a speech at GW University) that by April the green-to-red threat alert system will be replaced by a new National Terror Advisory System that will point to either an "imminent" or "elevated," specific and credible threat and make clear what geographical areas are at risk — a change Congress has been clamoring for in the last several years.

WHITE HOUSE WANNABES: The field of 2012 Republican presidential aspirants who are now members of Congress is about to shrink from three to two, and maybe all the way to zero.

Mike Pence has promised to decide by the end of this month (which is Monday) whether he’s going to give up his House seat to run for president or governor of Indiana next year. The growing consensus among Hoosier GOP insiders is that he’ll go after the statehouse.

John Thune promised yesterday to make up his own mind by the end of next month, advancing his initial self-imposed springtime deadline after concluding he’s so little-known outside South Dakota that if he’s going to make his move he needs to get started right away. More and more Republicans now expect he will run and point to his boosted visibility this week. He was first on the Senate floor yesterday morning with a State of the Union react, and he had a highly photographed bipartisan date with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand during the speech.

Jim DeMint remains the wild card. He said a clear-cut "No, no I’m not" when asked on CNN yesterday whether he would run, but this morning he let Iowa Republicans know he would be traveling to the first-in-the-nation caucus state March 26. The South Carolina senator says he’ll be headlining a "conference" (not a fundraiser) for Rep. Steve King in Des Moines, even though the congressman’s district doesn’t include that city.

Meanwhile, the former senator who is running for sure, Rick Santorum, has become the first 2012 aspirant with both a state chairman and a state director in the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire. He’s signed up Claira Monier, a Reagan administration veteran and longtime campaign activist, as state chairman and Mike Biundo, who managed the campaign of freshman Republican Rep. Frank Guinta, as state director.

THE BIG GET: Billy Tauzin is joining the lengthening number of former congressional power players at Alston & Bird. (Bob Dole and, as of this month, Earl Pomeroy are two other marquee hires.) Tauzin quit his Louisiana House seat seven years ago, when he was still chairman of Energy and Commerce, an soon thereafter signed on as PhRMA’s top lobbyist. Last summer he and his son, Thomas, set up their own firm and it has recently moved into Alston & Bird’s D.C. space.

QUOTE OF NOTE No. 1: "I think it’s taking power away from the legislative branch of government and giving it to the executive branch of government," Reid said on ABC in declaring that earmarks would be a part of appropriations bills this year, despite Obama’s State of the Union vow to veto spending bills with pet projects. "The executive branch of government is powerful enough and I think that I know more about what Nevada needs than some bureaucrat down on K Street."

QUOTE OF NOTE No. 2: "His theme last night was WTF: Winning the Future," Palin said in talking about the State of the Union last night on Fox. "I thought, okay, that acronym: Spot on. There were a lot of WTF moments throughout that speech."

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: To the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Florida Republican John Mica (68).

— 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

Senate Tea Party Caucus Launches as a Work in Progress (Roll Call)

The general idea, for now, is that the group will help communicate the desires of the movement's activists to the the Republican leadership. » View full article

Staffers: Activists Outweigh Lobbyists (Congress.org)

Aides say their bosses are more likely to be influenced by voters than lobbyists. » View full article

Change to Threat Alert System Gets Early Approval From Lawmakers (CQ Homeland Security)

Sens. Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins have been proposing such a revamp for several years. » View full article

No Love Lost Between Pelosi and Cantor (Roll Call)

One GOP aide says the relationship was "basically nonexistant" before this year. » View full article

Senate Set to Debate Modest Rules Changes (CQ Today)

A few proposals to make sweeping changes will probably come up for votes. But none of those appear to have the support of even a simple majority. » View full article

Deficit Sets Up Spending Showdown (CQ Today)

The parties responded to the CBO's numbers with strikingly different rhetoric about spending priorities. » View full article
-----

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David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Back to Bean-Counting

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama has made Wisconsin (which he carried by 14 percentage points) the location of the traditional presidential trip into the heartland on the day after the State of the Union. At 1 he’ll make a speech at Orion Energy Systems, a power technology company in Manitowoc. Biden is in Indiana (Obama by just 1 point) visiting Ener1 Inc., a manufacturer of advanced lithium-ion battery systems in Greenfield.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and lawmakers will be released to run for the snowy airports by about 3, after passing Republican legislation that would end the public financing of presidential campaigns and conventions in order to save an estimated $617 million over a decade. The bill is likely a dead letter in the Democratic Senate, and Obama has vowed to veto it.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and will adopt a resolution at about 2:15 condemning the Tucson shooting and honoring its victims. Reid said nothing this morning about being any closer to a deal on a handful of modest, narrow changes in the rules for filibusters and senatorial holds.

ENORMOUS NUMBERS: The Congressional Budget Office dramatically upped its projection of the fiscal 2011 federal deficit today, estimating that the difference between government expenditures and revenues would reach $1.480 trillion by the end of the current fiscal year in September. The last CBO projection, in August, was for a $1.066 trillion deficit in fiscal 2011. The deficit for fiscal 2010, which ended Oct. 1, was $1.294 trillion. The fiscal 2009 deficit remains, for now, the biggest in American history at $1.416 trillion.

About a dozen Republicans will introduce a proposed amendment to the Constitution today that would require balanced federal budgets. The group’s ideology ranges from conservative Orrin Hatch to moderate Olympia Snowe; the freshmen sponsors will be New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, Ohio’s Rob Portman, Missouri’s Roy Blunt, Illinois’ Mark Kirk and North Dakota’s John Hoeven.

SOFT SURPRISES: Mixed in with all the president’s business-friendly and centrist-sounding “win the future” rhetoric about innovation and job creation were a handful of bold proposals and promises that lawmakers weren’t entirely expecting to hear — and which landed in the House chamber with a series of modest thuds. (That may have been largely because of the dynamics in the room created by all the unusual seating arrangements, which Republicans and Democrats alike confessed had appropriately tamped down on the customary cavalcade of partisan standing ovations.)

Obama’s version of a “Sputnik moment” filled with bipartisan goodwill and congressional collaboration included one significant — and significantly difficult to meet — new challenge to lawmakers of both parties: They must go cold-turkey on parochial pet projects in spending legislation. In his first presidential speech to Congress (after he’d been a senator for four years) Obama declared that earmarking was a defensible practice. But no more. “If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it,” he declared — and if he makes good on that threat he’ll almost certainly have the votes in the House and Senate to sustain such vetoes.

The call for a five-year freeze in non-security discretionary spending transformed the boundaries of this year’s congressional budget debate, because now the Democrats are limited in how far they can realistically push to counterbalance the Republican drive for deep cuts in domestic programs. (In other words, the fight is now freeze vs. cut, not increase vs. cut.)

It’s also a bit bewildering to lawmakers how they might freeze this overall slice of the budget pie (which is about 12 cents on the dollar) while at the same time giving the president the spending increases he wants — for education, broadband, high-speed rail, scientific research and clean energy technology. Obama’s only specific suggestion on this score was ending tax breaks to the oil industry to help pay for his clean-energy investment ideas.

OF DEFICITS AND DETAILS: Obama said he’s fully aware that it would take more than his $400 billion in domestic spending savings to rein in deficits in the next decade, but he offered no specific way forward beyond saying he would revive his interest in ending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest people when those provisions are up for renewal at the end of next year.

Which is why Boehner (despite getting a shout-out from the president for soaring above his tavern-sweeper teenage years) led the GOP chorus about smelling something fishy: “A partial freeze is inadequate at a time when we’re borrowing 41 cents of every dollar we spend, and the administration is begging for another increase in the debt limit,” he said.

The president’s promise to push a significant government reorganization this year was all about creating a bureaucracy “that best serves the goal of a more competitive America,” and Obama made no mention of cutting bureaucratic overhead along the way.

And his aides have made clear that, when the president talked last night about shoring up the long-term solvency of Social Security — “without putting at risk current retirees” and “without slashing benefits for future generations” — he was NOT making that effort part of any deficit-cutting effort.
 
Obama said the same thing about his interest in reducing the number of narrowly crafted credits, deductions and exemptions in the corporate tax code and using the savings to lower the 35 percent overall corporate tax rate — but without reducing the total amount of revenue collected from businesses.

ONE THING NOT TO EXPECT: Obama declared himself “willing to look at” Republican ideas for limiting medical malpractice litigation, but almost nobody at the Capitol thinks that any agreement is in the offing — even though changes could take a bite out of the deficit. In late 2009 the CBO estimated that government health care programs could save $41 billion over a decade if there were nationwide limits on jury awards for pain and suffering. But trial lawyers, who are major political donors to Democrats, are emphatically opposed to such caps.

THE VIEW FROM THE COUCH: A CBS survey found 91 percent approval for “the proposals Mr. Obama put forth” last night, while CNN’s instant poll found 84 percent expressing either a “very positive” or a “somewhat positive” view of the speech. In general, the State of the Union is mostly viewed by the president’s core supporters, so the numbers aren’t all that useful. And presumably some of the audience was wooed by the most oft-repeated words: “jobs” was in the text 25 times, while “dream” got 11 uses.
 
ROSCOE’S ANGELS: The award for the most unexpected bipartisan hookup of last night goes to the otherwise obscure Republican Roscoe Bartlett, who insists that sitting with Nancy Pelosi was HER idea — because he’s from Maryland and she grew up there. But the 84-year-old congressman is also boasting that he should be counted as having two Democratic dates — because California’s Judy Chu, whom he describes as a chatting-in-the-hallway kind of buddy, asked for the other seat next to him. “I listened to his State of the Union speech sitting between two attractive ladies,” Bartlett said in a statement, “so I was a lucky man.”

Not so lucky was Eric Cantor, who was publicly rebuffed when he reached out for a majority leader/minority leader pairing on Monday — but only after telling reporters that Pelosi “is continuing to drive an ideological agenda, just the same as she has over the last four years.” She quickly sent word (via Twitter) that she already had a date. Cantor ended up with a fellow Virginian, Democrat Bobby Scott.

GOOD NOW: Gabby Giffords was transferred by ambulance this morning from the intensive care unit to the rehabilitation center on the other side of the Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center campus, a few hours after her doctors in Houston upgraded her condition from serious to good. The congresswoman and her husband,Mark Kelly, watched part of the State of the Union together last night — where she presumably saw her colleagues’ black-and-white solidarity ribbons and the empty seat reserved in her honor between two fellow Arizonans, Republican Jeff Flake and Democrat Raúl Grijalva.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California (46), House Democrats Albio Sires of New Jersey (60) and Xavier Becerra of California (53).

HOW THEY VOTED: It can be tough keeping tabs on your lawmakers. Sign up for CQ Roll Call’s free MegaVote newsletter and we’ll e-mail you how they voted on the top issues each week, with plain-English descriptions of what the vote really meant. You can register online here.

— 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

Senate Moderates Hope Seating Is Just the Start (Roll Call)

Centrists should have more power in a closely divided Senate, but their ranks were hit hard by retirements and defeats in 2010. » View full article

Obama Seeks Cooperation, but Proposals May Spark Battles (CQ Today)

Republican leaders didn't see the speech as an attempt to meet them halfway. » View full article

Coordination Critical for Boehner, McConnell (Roll Call)

The two leaders rarely differ on policy, but their relationship will be put to the test now that Republicans control the House and Obama has signaled a shift to the center. » View full article

John Cranford's Political Economy: Jobs Remain Job No. 1 (CQ Weekly)

Joblessness hasn't been this bad in a quarter-century, and the degree to which there has been little rebound in employment is all but unprecedented in the case of post-World War II recessions. » View full article
-----

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David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: A Packed Balcony

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: The joint session of Congress formally convenes at 8:40, and Obama is supposed to enter the House chamber at 9 to deliver his State of the Union address. Senior administration officials will brief reporters at 3 on the details of some of the language, and other hints will be parceled out throughout the day. On the morning shows, for example, Valerie Jarrett said the speech will support both “targeted investments” for job creation and overall cuts in the budget.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 to face a standoff in its very first substantive debate of the year — over how, if at all, to limit filibusters, holds and other delaying tactics.

THE HOUSE: Convened at 10 and will adopt (almost certainly along party lines) a resolution endorsing GOP efforts to try to cut domestic discretionary spending back to fiscal 2008 levels for the final seven months of this fiscal year — meaning a reduction of between $50 billion and $60 billion.

(The White House today promised a veto of legislation the House will debate tomorrow that would end the public financing system for presidential elections.)

POMP, YES. BUT CIRCUMSTANCE? Tonight’s ritual of early evening happy hours, motorcades, closed streets, camera crews packed into Statuary Hall, power ties and primary-colored blouses, potentially soaring rhetoric and double-digit standing ovations is something George Washington surely wouldn’t recognize. The constitutional mandate that the president report to Congress “from time to time” on the state of the nation was first carried out 222 years ago — in what remains the shortest such speech ever. At 1,089 words, it likely took the first president less than 10 minutes to deliver.

How did Obama’s first State of the Union last year compare? (By custom, the speech modern presidents deliver soon after their inaugurations doesn’t get that designation, in the view that the new guy isn’t yet ready to speak definitively about the state of the union.) It took him 70 minutes to deliver the 7,304-word speech, about 2,000 words longer than the historic average. Obama also broke a modern tradition by not referring to any everyday Americans by name  —  a custom that began when Ronald Reagan in 1982  invited and celebrated government employee Lenny Skutnik for saving a woman’s life after a plane crashed in the Potomac.

Tonight, the president seems prepared to celebrate all sorts of people — he’s arranged for 26 guests to pack into the first lady’s box in the gallery — and to use their stories to underscore the themes of his speech.

Mark Kelly declined to join the group, saying he wanted to stay close to his wife as she recuperates and prepares to begin intensive rehabilitation in Houston. But Gabby Giffords intern Danny Hernandez, the University of Arizona student who applied pressure to her gunshot wounds, will be there along with the congresswoman’s trauma surgeon, Peter Rhee, and the family of Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year-old who was one of the six people killed in the Tucson shootings.

Other guests include Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, the most recent winner of the Medal of Honor; chief executives Ursula Burns of Xerox and Wendell Weeks of Corning; Brandon Fisher, who owns the small business that made the drill bits used in the rescue of the Chilean miners; and teenage inventors and scientists Amy Chyao of Richardson, Texas, Brandon Ford of Philadelphia, Diego Vasquez of Phoenix and Mikayla Nelson of Billings, Mont.

DATE NIGHT UPDATE: Boehner, of course, is already spoken for in tonight’s bipartisan dating game; as Speaker, he’s obligated to sit up on the rostrum, in one of those high-backed chairs designed by Jefferson, and make collegial eye contact with Biden all night long. But the rest of the Ohio delegation — a dozen House Republicans and five House Democrats, and one senator from each party — has decided it’s time for a group gathering. They’ve decided to try to pack in together in a couple of rows at the rear of the chamber.

Among the other people paired up for the night: House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton and his Democratic Michigan predecessor, John Dingell; House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa and his ranking Democrat, Ed Towns; Nebraska’s senators, Mike Johanns and Ben Nelson; Reps. Peter King and Anthony Weiner of New York; North Carolina’s Sen. Kay Hagan and Rep. Renee Ellmers; Reps. Sue Myrick of North Carolina and Lois Capps of California, Reps. Michael McCaul and Henry Cuellar of Texas, and Reps. Judy Biggert and Luis Gutierrez of Illinois.

ANOTHER ONE GONE? Phil Schiliro, the president’s top congressional lobbyist for the past two years, has also scored a seat in the first lady’s section tonight — an honor that has Capitol Hill speculating about whether he may be getting a nice shout-out just before he announces he’s leaving the West Wing.

Carol Browner, who has been White House energy and climate change czar and ran the EPA throughout the Clinton years, is the latest high-profile departure. Her decision to move was likely fueled by Bill Daley’s decision to pass her over for one the two deputy chief of staff openings. The front runners for those jobs are Alyssa Mastromonaco, who’s run the scheduling and advance office, and White House health czar Nancy-Ann DeParle.

LESS PESSIMISM FROM WALL STREET: Obama’s approval rating of 53 percent with the general public — the number pegged in pair of polls in recent days — is also matched by a niche constituency that’s essential to his hopes for a sustained economic recovery: 53 percent of investors now view him favorably, up from 49 percent in November, according to a quarterly poll of 1,000 Bloomberg customers who are investors, traders or analysts both domestically and abroad.

To be sure, 56 percent of U.S. investors say they are pessimistic about the administration’s impact on the investment climate, but that’s significantly better than the 68 percent pessimistic number in Bloomberg’s November survey. Among U.S. investors, 53 percent have a favorable view of Republicans, compared with 43 percent who hold a negative impression. But with foreign investors factored in, the numbers slip to 47 percent unfavorable and  38 percent favorable.

SPIN AND COUNTERSPIN: Paul Ryan is preparing an official Republican response to Obama’s speech that calls for ending “Washington’s spending binge” and offers the party’s rationale for holding an obligatory increase in the debt limit hostage until it gets its way on deep cuts in domestic appropriations. (Ryan won’t be in the chamber for the president’s address, because his own nationally televised broadcast will be broadcast live from the House Budget Committee hearing room in the Cannon Building only a few minutes after Obama stops talking.)

Without waiting to see Ryan’s text, Democrats are jumping all over him anyway — by trying to draw the public’s attention to the  Budget chairman’s most dramatic proposals, even though they haven’t been endorsed by anyone in Congress yet. “Paul Ryan owes it to the national audience tonight to explain why he wants to privatize Social Security and Medicare,” Sen. Chuck Schumer said. “He can’t sweep his roadmap under the rug just because the spotlight will be shining brighter than usual.”

WHAT DAY IS IT? In the Senate today it’s still officially Jan. 5 — a bit of creative clock-keeping that was supposed to allow plenty of time for a bipartisan agreement on changing the filibuster rules. But Reid said this morning that no deal has been struck yet. That’s mainly because the three Democrats who are pushing for the most ambitious changes — Tom Udall of New Mexico, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Tom Harkin of Iowa — aren’t satisfied with the much more modest package that has been negotiated between Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican Lamar Alexander, the leaders of the Rules Committee. And they’re still threatening to try to force through what they want on a simple majority vote — which they say is their power to do because it’s still (technically) the first day of the new Congress. A final disposition of the standoff is likely after the two parties meet for their regular Tuesday caucus lunches.

Democratic and Republican leaders haven’t reached agreement on new, narrower committee ratios, either. That’s why there’s been no appointment of the freshman senators to committees and no panel-switching by the veterans yet. The biggest target for committee switching is Appropriations, where there will be either seven our eight available GOP seats. Two seem certain to be filled by North Dakota freshman John Hoeven (McConnell promised him during the campaign) and South Carolina’s Lindsay Graham, who’s made clear he’s ready to give up his seat on Armed Services.

The Senate’s own budget also remains up in the air, with Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker pushing for a 5 percent (about $20 million) cut in senatorial overhead to match what the House decided to do three weeks ago.

WATER COOLER GUIDANCE: “The King’s Speech” got a dozen Academy Award nominations this morning, including best picture and acting nods for Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush. The other nine best picture nominees are “Black Swan,” “The Fighter,” “Inception,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “127 Hours,” “The Social Network,” “Toy Story 3,” “True Grit” and “Winter’s Bone.” The Oscars will be handed out on Feb. 27.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: To three House members, eighth-term Democrat Bill Pascrell of New Jersey (74) and freshman Republicans Richard Hanna of New York (60) and Andy Harris of Maryland (54).

CORRECTION: There was Udall confusion yesterday. Sen. Tom Udall is from New Mexico; his cousin Sen. Mark Udall is from Colorado.

— David Hawkings, editor

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

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