Friday, February 04, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing:

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Friday, Feb. 4, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is meeting on climate change, trade and border security with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. But when they hold their news conference at 3:10, Egypt will dominate the questions.

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 for a day of speechmaking, not legislating.

THE HOUSE: In recess.

GOOD NEWS, TEPID NEWS: So, today’s Labor Department’s jobs report had a bright-spot headline: A drop in the unemployment rate to an even 9 percent in January, the lowest in 21 months, and a corresponding decline in the total number of jobless Americans. But the report also had a weak-spot headline: Job growth was very limited last month, when blizzards froze much of the country in its tracks. Construction and transportation payrolls fell, while retail and manufacturing employment rose. The net was a gain of just 36,000 positions — perhaps a tenth of what would be nice to have, but a gain nonetheless. And previously reported payroll gains for November and December were revised higher.

The drop in the jobless rate was the second straight monthly decline and total number of jobless workers now stands below 14 million. Moreover, fewer people lost their jobs in January than in December, and the number of people who are working part-time because they can’t find a full-time job also declined.

Republicans were quick on the draw to say the jobs report contained insufficient good news, and to reiterate their call for less government spending. “With a continued commitment to cut spending and damaging federal regulations, we will grow the economy and create private sector jobs,” Cantor declared. But if government payrolls shrink, private employers will have to pick up the slack. Indeed, governments shed 14,000 positions in January, almost all at the local level.

QUIET BRASS: Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen argued today against cutting off military aid to Egypt, an idea gaining support among top lawmakers.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty out there. I would just caution against doing anything until we really understand what’s going on,” Mullin said on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” where he also said the armed forces are in a high state of “awareness” but not in a formal heightened state of alert because of the instability in Egypt.

The Navy admiral spoke a day after Pat Leahy of Vermont, the Democratic chairman of the panel that writes the Senate’s version of the foreign aid budget, said he would move to send all help for Egypt at the start of next month, when the current stopgap federal funding law expires, unless a transitional government takes over until elections this fall. (On a voice vote and without any dissent, the Senate last night endorsed a measure calling on Mubarak to immediately transfer power to such a caretaker government.)

The Egypt package — which includes about $1.3 billion for its military this year and another $200 million or so in economic help — is a ripe target in any case because of the Republicans’ vow to cut tens of billions in discretionary spending in the final half of this fiscal year. At the same time, top GOP members of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees foreign assistance have sounded a more cautious note than Leahy about a suspension of aid.

Tens of thousands of anti-Mubarak protesters appeared jubilant in Cairo’s central square today, and the pro-Mubarak attackers seemed to have faded, as word spread that Obama administration officials were working with  Mubarak’s team on a plan in which power would be transferred to an interim government with a strong Army presence, which in turn would work with opposition groups — including the Muslim Brotherhood — on plans for free and fair elections in September.

PARSING THE NUMBERS: There are several ways to measure the depth of the budget cut proposed by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan. He and other house Republican leaders want the public (and the most conservative lawmakers) to focus on $74 billion, which represents a 7 percent reduction to Obama’s total discretionary spending request for the current year. Their second choice is that the focus be on $58 billion, or the 12 percent cut below Obama’s request for non-security spending — which the GOP defines as everything except the military, homeland security and veterans.

The number the GOP leaders like the least, for political and salesmanship purposes, is $32 billion, the amount that would be shaved across all current levels of spending during the final seven months of this fiscal year. But in terms of comparing the existing “apple” to the House GOP’s proposed replacement “apple,” that seems like by far the best number to use.

And, no matter which number you pick, it falls well below the $100 billion goal that conservatives say they’ll push for when the House takes up a comprehensive appropriations package the week after next. Which is why Ryan referred to his proposal as a “down payment” towards further reductions that would come later on, starting with the full-year budget for fiscal 2012, which starts in October.

But that $32 billion is undoubtedly the highest number that Ryan and House GOP leaders think they have even an outside longshot at forcing the Democratic Senate and the president to accept.

And to get even that far, the GOP would have to persuade the public (and thereby the Senate and Obama) that such a relative sliver of deficit reduction is worth the pain of these sorts of deep spending cuts: 17 percent below last year’s level for transportation and housing programs; a 16 percent cut at the departments of Justice, Commerce and State; another 14 percent cut from the USDA and the FDA; 13 percent from the Treasury; and 10 percent from energy and water programs. The Republicans also will have to persuade the nation – amazingly — that the smallest domestic discretionary budget cut of all (2 percent) should be for Congress itself.

FOLEY, FLIRTING? Democratic campaign operatives are delighting in spreading the evidence of an attempted political comeback by Mark Foley, whose salacious e-mails and encounters with House pages fueled the Democrats’ “drain the swamp” rhetoric at the height of their successful 2006 campaign to win control of the House.

Foley — who became a leadership insider and Ways and Means player before his resignation near the end of his sixth term — introduced freshman Republican Allen West on Tuesday at the “grand opening” of his House district office in West Palm Beach, where Foley considered running in this year’s nonpartisan mayor’s race. He spoke to Palm Beach County Young Republicans the week before. He also helped raise money for unsuccessful GOP Senate aspirant Sharon Merchant last fall and has his own talk radio show.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop of Georgia (64).

TODAY’S TWEETER: Check out Niels Lesniewski (@nielslesniewski), who covers the Senate for CQ.

— 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

Leahy: Aid to Egypt Should Be Frozen for Now (CQ Today)

It's the toughest language yet from the Senate's top foreign-assistance appropriator. » View full article

Ryan Calls for $32 Billion in Cuts (CQ Today)

House GOP appropriators now have the final target they need to write a stopgap funding measure to pay for the last seven months of fiscal 2011. » View full article

Hill Spending Feels Little Pinch in GOP Plan (Roll Call)

The operations of Congress itself would be funded at $4.6 billion in fiscal 2011, a 2 percent reduction from fiscal 2010. » View full article

Remodeling Fannie and Freddie (CQ Weekly)

Talk to anyone in Congress about how to replace the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and almost inevitably, the troublesome "sand states" come up. » View full article
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Thursday, February 03, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Cutting Crew

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE WHITE HOUSE: In a noontime speech at Penn State, Obama will propose a new tax credit (instead of the current deduction) for companies that retrofit their buildings to be more energy efficient. He’ll also call for federal loan guarantees for hospitals, schools and companies that make their existing facilities more green.

THE SENATE: Convened at 9:30 and is off to a very slow start on the aviation bill, which has so far been subjugated to the debate over repealing or altering the health care law. So far there’s just one proposed amendment — that would make it illegal to aim a laser pointer at a plane — but the debate could intensify if budget hawks propose ending $200 million in annual subsidies for flights to small airports.

Two hours of speeches begin at 1 honoring the centennial of Ronald Reagan’s birth. (The actual day is Sunday.)

At noon the Homeland Security Committee will release its report on the Fort Hood shooting 15 months ago. It concludes that the FBI failed to adequately share information with the military about the extremist views of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the psychiatrist accused of killing 13 and wounding more than 30 others. It also faults the Defense Department for not training commanders about how to recognize someone radicalized to Islamic extremism or how to distinguish that from the peaceful practice of Islam.

THE HOUSE: In recess until Tuesday.

RYAN'S NUMBERS: Early this afternoon, Budget Chairman Paul Ryan will announce the discretionary spending cap he has the power to set for the House for the rest of this fiscal year. The likely number would require cuts of about $60 billion from all discretionary spending programs that aren’t for defense, homeland security or veterans. That would amount to a rebuff  to the most conservative House Republicans — including many of the freshmen, who want  to cut $100 billion in domestic spending during the 210 days between when the current stopgap funding law lapses (March 4) and when fiscal 2011 ends (Sept. 30).

Ryan’s announcement sets the parameters for the year’s first budget battle in the House, the debate in two weeks on legislation to set spending for the rest of the year.  The package of cuts GOP leaders put on the floor  — which Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers is prepared to unveil next week — will then be subjected to a fusillade of amendments from conservatives, such as tea party favorite Michele Bachmann, calling for even deeper cuts.

Whatever emerges from that battle will then be sent to the Senate, where the Democratic majority is under no obligation to go along at all — let alone within two weeks, during which federal agencies, lobbyists and advocates will only be intensifying their campaigns to persuade lawmakers to leave their favorite programs alone.  Which is why another stopgap CR (which can only move quickly, presumably, if it keeps spending at current levels) that lasts for several weeks seems inevitable.

Postponing the settlement of the final budget, of course, makes it politically more difficult for Republicans to make good on their spending cut promises, because what’s required only becomes more draconian as the timeline shrinks. Cutting $60 billion over seven months amounts to a reduction of $286 million every day during that period. But waiting to cut that same $60 billion until March 18 (the likely target of the next CR, since that’s when a joint House and Senate recess is supposed to begin) would mean a daily trim of $306 million in spending. And waiting until April 15 (when the Easter-Passover recess starts) would mean a domestic spending cut of $357 million every day.

A PRAYER FOR EGYPT: Obama said this morning that he’s praying the “violence will end” in Egypt and that “a better day will dawn over Egypt and through the world.” His remarks, at the start of the annual National Prayer Breakfast, came as a second day of confrontations between Mubarak supporters and anti-government protesters seemed to lose a bit of their intensity in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square.

John McCain, who met with the president on Egypt yesterday, made two morning show appearances and said that, while the United States has to do “a better job of encouraging democracy” in the Middle East, he supports his 2008 presidential opponent’s call for an orderly transition away from the Mubarak government to begin immediately. “The best opportunity for a pro-democracy government and not a radical, Islamic government is an open, transparent process,” he said on ABC. “This virus spreading through the Middle East proves the human yearnings, and probably the only place you won’t see the demonstrations is Iraq.”

COULD HE BE ANY MORE CLEAR?: “A call rooted in faith is what led me, just a few years out of college, to sign up as a community organizer for a group of churches on the South Side of Chicago. And it was through that experience, working with pastors and laypeople, trying to heal the wounds of hurting neighborhoods, that I came to know Jesus Christ for myself and embrace him as my lord and savior,” the president said at this morning’s prayer breakfast.

Such a straightforward profession of Christian faith — which was not new for Obama — should help end the public’s confusion about Obama’s religion. In a Pew Research Center poll last summer, 43 percent said they do not know what the president’s religion is, 34 percent identified him as a Christian (down from 48 percent a year earlier) and 18 percent said they believed him to be a Muslim — which was 7 percentage points higher than when he took office.

SENATE SCRAMBLE: The 2012 Senate landscape seems to be taking shape faster than ever, with no early maneuver, fundraising figure or faux pas escaping immediate scrutiny. One of the most vulnerable Democrats, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, is now working hard to rebut reports that she worked to dissuade her party from holding its 2012 convention in St. Louis — because having all those liberals (not to mention Obama) in the state’s biggest city might have hurt her chances for a second term.

Most of the attention, though, has been focused on the first fundraising reports of the year, out this week, which revealed the Jan. 1 campaign bank balances of all senators and potential challengers. The biggest surprise: Wisconsin’s Herb Kohl, who had given every indication he was going to retire, has given his campaign $1 million from his department store fortune — as sure a sign as exists that he’s running for a fifth term.

The smallest surprises: The amounts raised in the final three months of last year by three other senators who really do seem to be headed for the exits: $2,000 for Hawaii’s Daniel Akaka, $13,000 for Virginia’s Jim Webb and $15,000 for Nevada’s John Ensign. (Arizona’s Jon Kyl, the Republican most likely to call it quits, hasn’t filed his FEC report yet.)

In the House, meanwhile, Democratic campaign operatives’ big wintertime task is to prevent as many incumbents as possible from leaving in frustration over the arrival of the new GOP majority. And they scored a big fish this morning when Barney Frank ended a wave of retirement rumors and declared he’d seek a 17th term in Massachusetts in 2012.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: To a pair of House Republicans, Rob Wittman of Virginia (52) and Tom Graves of Georgia (41).

TODAY’S TWEETER: Check out CQ Roll Call political blogger Craig Crawford on Twitter at @craig_crawford.

— 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

Budget Caps to Begin Fiscal Fight (CQ Today)

Ryan's release of spending limits will give appropriators the green light on spending battles. » View full article

GOP Leaves Bachmann Alone, Hopes She Behaves (Roll Call)

Republican leaders have a strategy for handling the tea party favorite: Ignore her. » View full article

Reports Offer First 2012 Glimpse (Roll Call)

Herb Kohl is clearly bankrolling a Senate re-election bid, but the retirement watch is on for Kyl, Akaka and Webb. » View full article

Ethics Report Highlights Thin Wall Between Congress and Campaigns (Roll Call)

A House panel finds that members' official duties and fundraising efforts are intertwined -- but that they're playing within the rules. » View full article

Law Professors, Legal Experts Divided on Health Care Law (CQ HealthBeat)

Testifying to a Senate committee, legal minds agreed to disagree on whether the 2010 overhaul is constitutional. » View full article

Political Economy: No Account For It (CQ Weekly)

Resolving the deficit will take a concerted, focused, rational and truthful assessment of how we got here and in which direction we must go to escape. » View full article

Money, Not Courts, Stand in Terry's Way (Congress.org)

The controversial activist must raise money from at least 600 individuals in order to run a gory anti-abortion ad during next year's Super Bowl broadcast. (There won't be one on Sunday.) » View full article
-----

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The Boxer

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 and between 5 and 6 will rebuff a proposal to repeal the health insurance law. The repeal is being offered as an amendment to the FAA bill. All 47 Republicans will vote “yes” and may be joined by a handful of Democrats facing tough fights for re-election. But Democratic leaders are sure of victory because they’ve got a way to require 60 votes for adoption. (They can raise a budget point of order that a repeal would add to the deficit.)

Senators will adopt, though, an amendment to repeal the widely opposed 1099 IRS reporting language in the health law.

THE HOUSE: In recess until Tuesday. One of it first actions then will be to clear a bill, which the Senate passed last night, naming the federal courthouse under construction in Yuma for John M. Roll, the federal judge killed in the Tucson shooting rampage.

GOP leaders are unveiling legislation, which the House will pass this month, to prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is signing the final New Start paperwork. Medvedev signed similar documents last week after the nuclear arms treaty was formally blessed by the Russian parliament. Ratification becomes final when both sides exchange the signed papers. Then each country will be limited to 1,550 strategic warheads, a 30 percent reduction.

The president has separate and off-camera Oval Office meetings this afternoon with his 2008 Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain, and with Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman.

Obama, Biden and Clinton also are conferring on Egypt, where there are violent clashes today between thousands of Mubarak supporters and the anti-government protesters who have filled the streets for the past week. “The United States deplores and condemns the violence that is taking place in Egypt, and we are deeply concerned about attacks on the media and peaceful demonstrators,” Gibbs said in a statement.

THE WEATHER: After a dawn in northwestern Pennsylvania that was even damper and drearier than inside the Beltway, Punxsutawney Phil emerged and did not see his shadow — which is supposed to be the harbinger of an early spring. It was the 125th annual repetition of one of the stranger slivers of American pop culture.

BOB AND WEAVE: Reid is showing this week how surviving (let alone succeeding) as Senate leader is all about appreciating and then embracing your shifting situation. Now that his Democratic caucus has shrunk to 53, the House has turned Republican and the president has started feinting to the middle, Reid has little choice but to learn to love the sort of realpolitik approach he’s now applying on both health care and earmarks.

Reid talked himself into a bind on both fronts last week, first by declaring that he would block Republicans from even getting a Senate vote on repealing the health law and then by declaring he would defy Obama’s veto threat and keep earmarking alive in the Senate.

By yesterday afternoon, both statements were no longer operative. “We want to get this out of their system very quickly,” the one-time middleweight pugilist said about why he was acquiescing so quickly in the GOP demands for a repeal vote. “Then hopefully, within a few minutes, we can move on and have a debate on creating jobs in America.”

At almost the same hour, Chairman Dan Inouye was announcing — undoubtedly with the majority leader’s blessing, if not encouragement — that Senate Appropriations (where Reid served for two decades) would be earmark-free for the next two years. Because the House GOP has already foresworn the pork barrel as it pursued  deep domestic spending cuts, the Senate announcement delivered to Obama exactly what he wanted — an early and clearcut victory to help burnish the reputation for fiscal prudence that he's going after.

For the Democrats it amounts to the elimination of a potentially distracting sideshow as the party digs in for an intense battle over discretionary spending being led by the dramatically expanded caucus of fiscally conservative GOP House members.

OUT IN THE OPEN: That the House Oversight Committee was getting off to a balky, partisan and slow start became clear from one of the more eyebrow-arching bipartisan pairings at the State of the Union: Chairman Darrell Issa’s date was Ed Towns, who had just been dumped by his fellow Democrats from the party’s top seat on the committee in the belief that he’d prove too chummy with the GOP majority.

But in recent days the friction between Issa and the Democrat installed as his counterpart, Elijah Cummings, has spilled into full public view — and has essentially put the brakes on the Republicans’ plans to use the committee as their venue for a constant and varied barrage of hard-hitting inquiries into the Obama administration’s policies. Issa may be the only House Republican who’s been on more than one Sunday talk show this year (he’s done three, to Boehner’s one) but so far he’s not put his gavel where his mouth is. His panel has conducted a single hearing — on a TARP inspector general’s report.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: To John Cornyn of Texas, the head of National Republican Senatorial Committee (59).

WHAT CORNYN WANTS: It’s safe to assume that, professionally, all Cornyn wants for his birthday is for John Ensign to decide that he’s not going to run for a third term in Nevada because he knows he can’t win — and might not be able to even secure the GOP nomination, especially now that the Ethics Committee has named prominent white collar defense lawyer Carol Elder Bruce to investigate whether Ensign’s affair with campaign aide Cynthia Hampton led him to try to find a lobbying job for her husband, Doug, the senator’s one-time chief of staff.

Whether Ensign stands aside or not, Rep. Dean Heller is almost certain to seek the GOP nomination. And Cornyn would much rather have him as the party's candidate against the incrasingly likely Democratcic aspirant, Rep. Shelley Berkley.

Cornyn got a bit of unwelcome news today when Norm Coleman announced he would not try for a Senate comeback next year, which dramatically boosts Amy Klobuchar’s chances of securing a second term.

TODAY’S TWEETER: Check out Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire on Twitter at @pwire.

— 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

GOP Freshmen Spurn Tea Party Caucus for RSC (CQ Today)

The more established Republican Study Committee has been the choice of dozens of newcomers. » View full article

Rough Beginning at Oversight Committee (Roll Call)

Issa and Cummings are having a hard time hiding their mutual antagonism. » View full article

Inouye Endorses Earmark Ban (CQ Today)

Lawmakers will have to sort out the specifics of the moratorium, including fine-tuning the definition of what an earmark is. » View full article

No Region Left Uncut (CQ Weekly)

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers has promised not to spare GOP strongholds this year. » View full article

Ensign Inquiry May Pick Up Speed (Roll Call)

Although the Ethics panel is permitted to hire special counsel, it rarely invokes that option and has not done so in nearly two decades. » View full article

Tea Partyers Lobby Democrats on Health Care Repeal (Congress.org)

As the Senate prepares to take up health-care repeal, tea partyers are targeting five Democrats they hope will break with their party and vote yes. » View full article
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dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Charlotte, He Named Her

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convened at 10:30 and plans to begin substantive debate on the FAA reauthorization bill this afternoon after the weekly party caucus lunches. One parliamentary glitch that needs to be solved: Because the bill includes revenue-raising provisions, it must catch a ride on a House bill that mentions revenue. (The Constitution says revenue bills have to start in the House.)

The Ethics Committee appointed a special counsel to review allegations against Nevada Republican John Ensign.

The Budget Committee is hearing various economists offer their vision of the U.S. economy during for the next decade.

THE HOUSE: In recess this week. Reconvenes at 2 on Tuesday, Feb. 8.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is holding a Cabinet meeting this morning. With more than a hundred thousand people protesting in the streets of Cairo today — and with King Abdullah trying to forestall any similar unrest in Jordan by replacing his prime minister — the uprising in Egypt and the political instability spreading across the Middle East are sure to be hot topics.

Obama is meeting this afternoon with both Defense Secretary Gates and a group of technology company CEOs. Tomorrow’s planned trip to Penn State’s energy-efficient building labs has been put off until at least Thursday because of the winter storm moving from the Midwest through the Mid-Atlantic tomorrow.

DIXIE DNC: Obama made a bold pick today by deciding to stage his 2012 nomination for a second term in Charlotte. (The Democratic National Convention will be Sept. 3-6, 2012.)  He won North Carolina by just 14,000 votes — less than a third of 1 percent and his closest win of any state. (Charlotte itself is safer turf; he  carried the city, 62 percent to 38 percent.)

The state that sent Jesse Helms to the Senate five times has been turning a bit more purple lately, thanks to an influx of Northeasterners. (Consider that a state known for NASCAR recently hosted the NHL All-Star Game.) Still, it lags behind Virginia, the other Southern state where Democrats have made inroads. And Republicans recently took over both chambers of the North Carolina legislature.

But the convention pick, coupled with a recent visit and some name-dropping in the State of the Union, show Obama has eyes for the Tar Heels. Still, in the end, he doesn’t really need to win North Carolina as much as keep it in play, tying up his eventual Republican opponent in what should be safe territory the same way he kept McCain from spending much-needed time in traditional battleground states.

The runner-up for the Democrats was St. Louis. The GOP convention will be the week before in Tampa.

GAMING IT OUT: The most obvious political conclusion to be made after yesterday’s judicial ruling against the health care law is that the debate over Obamacare is going to remain highly partisan at least until its constititutionality is decided a couple of years from now by the Supreme Court.

Judge Roger Vinson of Pensacola, who ruled yesterday that it was unconstitutional to require that most Americans buy a health insurance policy (and went on to say that the whole law should go away because that requirement can’t be filtered out) is a Republican. So is the first judge, in Virginia, who struck down the insurance purchase mandate in December. But the judges who have stuck up for the law in two other rulings are both Democrats.

So now there are two questions before the court: Is the individual mandate constitutional? And, if the court says no, then does the whole law have to be struck down as a consequence? At a very rudimentary level one could look ahead to the Supreme Court and conclude — because GOP nominees hold a 5-4 majority — that the law will be struck down altogether in the end. The slightly more nuanced, and a bit cynical, analysis is that Justice Kennedy isn’t really in either camp and is much more interested in using his swing vote to secure a grand compromise that also secures his place in history.

But that’s more than an year away. In the interim, McConnell is sure to use the Vinson ruling as leverage to push this winter for some sort of test vote in the Senate on the GOP repeal effort. And the administration is going to be compelled to make clear (and maybe ask for some help from Vinson’s superiors on the 11th Circuit) about what parts of the statute can remain in place, and what regulations can stay in the pipeline, while the litigation goes ahead.

KERRY’S PLAY: How presidents behave is of course different in many ways from how senators behave, so we can’t be sure whether John Kerry would have the same opinion about Egypt if this were the midpoint in his second term — which would be possible, remember, if just 60,000 people in had voted differently in Ohio in 2004.

But Kerry is instead chairman of Senate Foreign Relations, and he’s concluded that he is free to call unambiguously for Mubarak to step aside. “It is not enough for President Mubarak to pledge ‘fair’ elections.” Kerry said in a New York Times op-ed. “The most important step that he can take is to address his nation and declare that neither he nor the son he has been positioning as his successor will run in the presidential election this year.”

Kerry’s push on Mubarak makes him the most prominent Democrat by far to get out in front of the Obama administration on Egypt — although yesterday both Gary Ackerman of New York, the top Democrat on the House subcommittee overseeing the Middle East, and Bill Nelson of Florida, a member of Senate Intelligence panel, urged Mubarak to go. At the same time, Boehner, McConnell and the rest of the senior Republican leadership continues to be giving Obama wide latitude to manage the American response without facing GOP critiques.

COUNTERINTUITIVE: You’d think that an election year that began with the climax of one of the most consequential legislative debates in decades, and ended with one of the most productive lame ducks ever, would have been a boon for lobbying spending. And you’d be wrong.

Total lobbying expenditures dropped 3 percent last year, to $3.5 billion, according to an analysis of federal filings under the Lobbying Disclosure Act — making 2010 the first year since 2001 when such spending didn’t go up. The recession appears to be the main reason, along with the fact that the health care debate, which had so much of corporate America scrambling in 2009, only lasted until March of last year.

Lobbying dollars for health care dipped last year, along with spending in agriculture, defense, retail, real estate, transportation and construction. Energy, communications, finance and organized labor lobbying revenues rose, but all only slightly.

CARDINAL SENATORS? It sure doesn’t sound like much of a springboard: Last year only one of the three Republicans on House Appropriations succeeded after giving up that plum assignment to make a bid for higher office. (Mark Kirk got elected to the Senate, but Zach Wamp’s gubernatorial bid and Todd Tiahrt’s senatorial quest never got beyond the primary stage.) But already this year, two of the new subcommittee chairmen are ready to give up their zucchetti to go after Senate seats.

Denny Rehberg (Labor-HHS-Education) is set to announce this weekend that he’ll try to unseat Jon Tester after just one term. (And that means businessman Steve Daines, who has been in the early Senate hunt, will be slotted instead to run for Montana’s sole House seat, which Rehberg has held for a decade.) That decision makes Montana one of the hottest Senate GOP pickup opportunities for 2012, although Tester is in position to also make it one of the year’s most competitive races. (McCain only carried the state by 2 percentage points, after all.)

Meanwhile, Jo Ann Emerson (Financial Services) seems increasingly likely to give up that cardinalship if she can be anointed as the GOP establishment favorite to take on Claire McCaskill’s bid for a second term. That position is wide open now that Jim Talent has decided against a rematch, and Emerson may need an up-or-out strategy because the Missouri House delegation must shrink by one because of reapportionment. (But Small Business Chairman Sam Graves may have the same idea, and it’s unclear whether either of them could run an inside line to a primary victory in a state where the tea party movement is surging.)

To buttress her chances, McCaskill plans to spend the next two years burnishing her credentials as one of the more vigorous budget hawks among Senate Democrats, Today, for example, she and Tennessee Republican Bob Corker will propose legislation that seeks to reduce total federal spending from the current 24.7 percent of the size of the GDP to 20.6 percent in the next 10 years.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: To Republican Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming (67).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

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dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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Monday, January 31, 2011

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: The Water's Edge

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Monday, Jan. 31, 2011

 Today In Washington

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 to begin debating legislation (identical to a bill the Senate passed last March) that would reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration and raise the tax on corporate jet and other private-plane fuel to help pay for upgrades to the aviation system — including modernizing the air traffic control system and job-creating airport construction.

No votes are expected before tomorrow, allowing the brand new parliamentary truce in the Senate at least one test-free day.

THE HOUSE: In recess for the next six weekdays. Returns at 2 on Tuesday, Feb. 8. Democratic leaders will be spending part of the week refining their tactics for trying to slow the new GOP majority’s agenda.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Obama is meeting on Egypt this morning with senior officials as well as Middle East experts from think tanks and previous administrations.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, SBA Administrator Karen Mills and top White House economic officials Gene Sperling and Austan Goolsbee are unveiling the “Startup America Partnership” between the government and technology companies — an effort to encourage job creation through aid to entrepreneurial small businesses. AOL co-founder Steve Case will chair the Partnership, and Intel, IBM and Hewlett-Packard have promised to donate at least a combined $350 million.

KNOWING THEIR ROLE: Republican congressional leaders have collectively agreed to hold their tongues on the year’s first fresh international crisis. That decision has a dual benefit: It allows the GOP to live up to the old saying about “partisanship ending at the water’s edge,” and it puts all the pressure on Obama to try to extract the United States from an extraordinarily difficult spot between its loyalty to an important and reliable ally and its support for democracy and freedom around the world.

The general GOP silence also buys congressional leaders some time to decide how — if at all — to exercise their power of the purse to prod the Egyptian government. At a military-heavy $1.5 billion, Egypt’s annual slice of U.S. foreign aid is the second-biggest behind Israel. And before the uprising began last week, the most fiscally hawkish group of House conservatives had called for eliminating the $250 million of Egypt’s total that goes toward economic aid.

The administration’s carefully choreographed call for an “orderly transition” seems to firmly position the U.S. behind the protest movement that’s overtaking Egypt, even though many people on the streets of Cairo are angry that Obama is not calling for an immediate end to Mubarak’s three-decade regime. The wording seems to leave open the possibility that he United States would be willing to wait for Mubarak to step aside after the already scheduled presidential election in September.

“I don’t have any criticism of President Obama or Secretary Clinton at this point,” McConnell — whose main power post for two decades was as the top Senate GOP appropriator of foreign aid — said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And I think we ought to speak as one voice during this crisis.”

Boehner, making his first foray as Speaker into international crisis management on “Fox News Sunday,” said: “Our administration so far has handled this tense situation pretty well.” His only word of caution was for the administration not to push Mubarak so hard that “radical ideologies” are allowed to take control. (He made no specific reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.)

HALF-YEAR HAGGLING: Boehner said yesterday that he will allow fellow Republicans to decide — out in the open, on the House floor in two weeks — how far they will push domestic spending cuts for the rest of this budget year.

Given that fiscal 2011 is more than half over, the leadership is inclined to push for between $55 billion and $60 billion, saying that would meet the party’s campaign pledge of last fall. Budget Chairman Paul Ryan is expected to make a number in that range the starting point for the debate next week, when he uses his special power to tell appropriators how big a bill they can write. But GOP freshmen and members of the conservative Republican Study Committee are calling for an actual cut of $100 billion.

The Speaker reiterated on “Fox News Sunday” that the next spending bill (it’s still unclear how long it would last) will be subject to an open debate. “I can’t predict what the House will or won’t do,” he said. “But I clearly had some members who want to go further than what some others want to do. ... I’m going to allow the House to work its will.”

Boehner also said he expects the spending and debt ceiling debates to remain “as separate questions” (The current CR expires March 4, but the debt limit won’t be reached for at least several weeks after that.) Asked about the possibility of a government default because Republicans in Congress would block an increase in the borrowing limit, he said: “I don’t think it’s a question that is even on the table.”

Both Boehner and McConnell rebuffed questions about raising more revenue as a part of any deal to rein in debts and deficits over the long term.

NOT WASTING ANY TIME: Just days after declaring that their 2012 campaign slogan would be “Drive for 25” (the number of seats they need to gain to win back control) House Democrats handed out their first 19 bulls’-eyes this morning.

The DCCC said that during this week’s House recess it would be running radio and Web ads and making phone bank calls in the districts of two relatively senior Republicans — Thad McCotter of Michigan and Dave Reichert of Washington — and these 17 freshmen: Lou Barletta, Patrick Meehan and Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania; Charlie Bass of New Hampshire; Ann Marie Buerkle and Nan Hayworth of New York; Steve Chabot of Ohio; Chip Cravaack of Minnesota; Robert Dold of Illinois; Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, Blake Farenthold of Texas; Joe Heck of Nevada; Robert Hurt of Virginia; David Rivera and Allen West of Florida; Jon Runyan of New Jersey; and Joe Walsh of Illinois.

With two exceptions, the ad and phone call scripts maintain that the lawmakers support GOP budget proposals that would cut education and other domestic programs by 40 percent and that thousands of jobs would be lost or remain unfilled as a consequence. (Fitzpatrick and Rivera are singled out for alleged ethics transgressions.)

TWO SPINS THROUGH THE REVOLVING DOOR: Looks like Evan Bayh really was making a “farewell tour” of Indiana when he missed all those lame-duck Senate votes. Less than three weeks after his retirement took effect, he signed on 10 days ago to be the Washington presence for the New York private equity firm Apollo Global Management. And today, the D.C. office of the lobbying and law firm behemoth McGuireWoods announced that Bayh was becoming “a strategic advisor to the firm’s most significant domestic and international clients”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: To Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the new top Democrat on House Intelligence (65); fellow House Democrat Larry Kissell of North Carolina (60); and freshman House Republican Bill Huizenga of Michigan (42).

— David Hawkings, editor

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

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David Hawkings
dailybriefing@cqrollcall.com

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